A new article out from the Columbia Journalism Review uses a Colorado example for why journalists should not report on internal polling – because it’s easily manipulated. PeakNation™ may remember last election cycle when Democratic candidate for the Sixth Congressional District Andrew Romanoff’s campaign released an internal poll that showed Romanoff was down by just one point, which was well within the margin of error. The research firm, Keating Research, was dead wrong. Coffman slaughtered Romanoff by 11 points on election day (a final tally of the votes showed Coffman beating Romanoff by a whopping nine points).
The question is whether Keating Research was bad at its job or was cooking the books. Columbia Journalism Review started by scolding the media for not being skeptical:
“…for the news media to have allowed such data to appear—especially without any scrutiny or rebuttal—is illustrious of a troubling trend in political journalism. Where, critics ask, was the comparison to other polling, perhaps even Coffman’s internals? Or an explanation of the polling methodology, a reference to its margin of error, or any other details that provide context?”
But, quickly, moved onto a primer on how firms, like Keating, can sway polls to mislead journalists:
“The problems with such data are vast and fundamental. As Broder noted in his response to CJR, “The polls are obviously partisan, subject to bias, and released only when in the self-interest of the candidate. Any experienced political reporter will raise an eyebrow, or two, when a campaign operative says, ‘Psst, our internals show us up six over so-and-so in Cuyahoga County, but you can’t attribute that to me.’ ”
Reporters can be misled by internal data in myriad ways. Campaigns sometimes have access to multiple polls and “leak” the most favorable version. Questions can be asked in a certain order or with a certain tone that inflates a candidate’s numbers. Sometimes the “ballot test,” or horse-race question, is asked several times to gauge the effectiveness of certain political messages, but the figure provided to reporters may be the most favorable outcome.”
The lesson learned is buyer beware. We’re talking to you, politicians and journalists.