We are now faced with a steady drumbeat of bad news. If you listen to NPR, if you watch CNN or one of the older networks, if you read Pravda-on-the-Hudson, Pravda-on-the-Potomac, or even, alas, The Wall Street Journal, you will be told ad nauseam that Mitt Romney is behind, that he is in grave danger of losing the swing states -- and you may well succumb to pessimism and not vote in November. That is the aim of American journalists, who are nearly all by now fiercely partisan Democrats; and this year, no less than in 2008, they form what one contributor to Ezra Klein's Journolist dubbed in that year "the unofficial campaign." The 2012 campaign is a test of the power of the legacy press in purveying what one can only term disinformation.
If you want to get a grip, I suggest that you read Dick Morris's recent post Why the Polls Understate Romney's Vote. I do not mean to say that Dick Morris is always reliable. In reading him, one must always ask whether the man who was spinmeister for Slick Willie back in the 1990s is up to something. In these matters, there is no substitute for the application of common sense. But, in this case, I would suggest that Morris's commentary stands the test. Here is the gist of what he has to say:
All of the polling out there uses some variant of the 2008 election turnout as its model for weighting respondents and this overstates the Democratic vote by a huge margin.
In English, this means that when you do a poll you ask people if they are likely to vote. But any telephone survey always has too few blacks, Latinos, and young people and too many elderly in its sample. That’s because some don’t have landlines or are rarely at home or don’t speak English well enough to be interviewed or don’t have time to talk. Elderly are overstated because they tend to be home and to have time. So you need to increase the weight given to interviews with young people, blacks and Latinos and count those with seniors a bit less.
Normally, this task is not difficult. Over the years, the black, Latino, young, and elderly proportion of the electorate has been fairly constant from election to election, except for a gradual increase in the Hispanic vote. You just need to look back at the last election to weight your polling numbers for this one.
But 2008 was no ordinary election. Blacks, for example, usually cast only 11% of the vote, but, in 2008, they made up 14% of the vote. Latinos increased their share of the vote by 1.5% and college kids almost doubled their vote share. Almost all pollsters are using the 2008 turnout models in weighting their samples. Rasmussen, more accurately, uses a mixture of 2008 and 2004 turnouts in determining his sample. That’s why his data usually is better for Romney.
But polling indicates a widespread lack of enthusiasm among Obama’s core demographic support due to high unemployment, disappointment with his policies and performance, and the lack of novelty in voting for a black candidate now that he has already served as president.
If you adjust virtually any of the published polls to reflect the 2004 vote, not the 2008 vote, they show the race either tied or Romney ahead, a view much closer to reality.
To this, Morris adds that, when job approval for an incumbent falls below 50% (as it has with some consistency in the case of Barack Obama), the undecided voters tend to break for his opponent. When the polls show "Obama ahead by, say, 48-45, he’s really probably losing by 52-48!"
Add these two factors together and the polls that are out there are all misleading. Any professional pollster (those consultants hired by candidates not by media outlets) would publish two findings for each poll — one using 2004 turnout modeling and the other using 2008 modeling. This would indicate just how dependent on an unusually high turnout of his base the Obama camp really is.
Keep in mind that virtually all of the polls at this point in the cycle -- including Gallup -- are polls of registered voters. Rasmussen is an exception. His is a poll of likely voters, and, come election time, he ordinarily turns out to be right.
We should also keep in mind the possibility that turnout in 2012 will more nearly resemble turnout in 2010 than either 2008 or 2004. Our side is fired up -- and the only thing that we have to be pessimistic about is pessimism itself. The power of the unofficial campaign's disinformation effort -- that really is a worry!
Addendum: Here is something else to consider: the party affiliation data collected by Gallup. Here is what that organization reported in September 2010 -- on the eve of an historic Republican victory:
Slightly more Americans identify as Democrats or lean Democratic (44%) than identify as or lean Republican (41%) in September to date, re-establishing a Democratic edge that disappeared in August, when the parties were even. The Democrats' current positioning remains much weaker than it was at the time President Barack Obama took office, when they enjoyed a 17-point edge in party affiliation.
Here is what Gallup reported in early September, 2012 in the wake of Barack Obama's post-convention bounce. Take a close look at the data for June, July, and August. The odds are excellent that, after the bounce wore off, it drifted back towards the recent norm. Furthermore, keep in mind that Gallup is sampling registered voters, not likely voters, and that, except at the most unusual moments, self-identified Democrats greatly outnumber self-identified Republicans. When the former do not greatly outnumber the latter, the latter win when the ballots are cast.
Second Addendum: For further evidence, see Comment No. 64. The visual is telling.