Yesterday I wrote a piece about political polling and how it was being used to manipulate rather than measure. In it, I asked whether it was my failing memory that made it seem to be a new phenomenon. The answer, according to Jeffrey Lord in The American Spectator, is a resounding "yes!" Lord's analysis of a series of New York Times stories involving several so-called battleground states in the 1980 Carter/Reagan election is devastating. The twisted logic and the nearly laughable use of selective polling data in a blatant attempt to influence the outcome of that race is shocking, even for the Times. One example from the article:
The Reagan-Carter race in Texas, the paper claimed, had "suddenly tightened and now shapes up as a close, bruising battle to the finish." The paper said "a New York Times/CBS News Poll, the second of seven in crucial big states, showing the Reagan-Carter race now a virtual dead heat despite a string of earlier polls on both sides that had shown the state leaning toward Mr. Reagan."
The narrative? It was like the famous scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her friends stare in astonishment as dog Toto pulls back the curtain in the wizard's lair to reveal merely a man bellowing through a microphone. Causing the startled "wizard" caught in the act to frantically start yelling, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" In the case of the Times in its look at Texas in October of 1980 the paper dismissed "a string of earlier polls on both sides" that repeatedly showed Texas going for Reagan. Instead, the Times presented this data:
A survey of 1,050 registered voters, weighted to form a probable electorate, gave Mr. Carter 40 percent support, Mr. Reagan 39 percent, John. B. Anderson, the independent candidate, 3 percent, and 18 percent were undecided. The survey, conducted by telephone from Oct. 1 to Oct. 6, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
In other words, the race in Texas is close, assures the Times, with Carter actually in the lead.
What happened? Reagan beat Carter by over 13 points. It wasn't even close to close.
It might not be an apples-to-apples comparison to what's going on today, but it is a reminder of how far media outlets were willing to go to keep Ronald Reagan out of the White House. Fortunately for America, the Gipper did manage to squeak in despite the polling. Given the daily drumbeat about what the polls show in this upcoming election, Lord's piece is well worth a read.