With the public and the pundits hungry for more information about the election, the focus on polling seems to be greater than ever. Unfortunately for the pollsters, so has skepticism about their results. Part of that lies in the natural unwillingness of partisans to accept that their side is losing. Thus, Republicans take polls that show their side winning as truthful while scoffing at those that show Democrats ahead; Democrats play the same game. We’ve seen a lot of this during this election cycle. But as much as we should guard against the partisan knee-jerk when reacting to certain polls, that doesn’t mean that they must all be taken at face value. Case in point is the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll of the presidential race published today. It gives President Obama some much-needed good news by showing that he leads Mitt Romney 49-46 percent. That three-point margin is an improvement by one point over the last Post poll taken two weeks ago.
But the problem with the Post poll is revealed in the paper’s story about its findings:
Partisan identification fluctuates from poll to poll as basic orientations shift and with the sampling variability that accompanies each randomly selected sample of voters. In the current poll, Democrats outnumber Republicans by nine percentage points among likely voters; the previous three Post-ABC polls had three-, six- and five-percentage-point edges for Democrats. The presidential contest would now be neck and neck nationally with any of these margins.
In other words, the pollsters know this is a bad poll but went ahead and published it anyway.