Polls on the Republican race are mostly misleading and badly misreported

As an inveterate poll-watcher, I find that the surveys at this early stage of the race for the Republican presidential nomination are in a class by themselves — if I might use the word “class” in this context. These polls are useless for the most part. Their only importance is that weak numbers might prompt marginal candidates to withdraw from the race for lack of money. Fat-cat donors aren’t likely to waste too much moohlah on somebody who seems doomed to defeat even before the contest heats up. Another problem with these early polls is that the mainstream media generally don’t know how to interpret the numbers and accurately report their real meaning. For example, we’ve read a lot in recent days and weeks about how Donald Trump is leading the race, but the headlines are highly misleading. How many media have been straightforward in reporting that the vast majority of Republican poll respondents don’t see Trump as their preferred choice for the nomination? How many media have reported the percentages of Republican poll respondents who say they would NEVER vote for Trump? How many media have reported on the margins of error in the polls they cover? There’s a new poll out today from Rasmussen Reports that has a margin of error of 4 percentage points. That’s as much or more as the percentage of respondents favoring Chris Christie, John Kasich, Rand Paul or any of  half a dozen other candidates. In other words, some of these candidates might have nearly zero support among prospective Republican voters. When was the last time a network newscast really delved into poll numbers on the Republican race? The answer is never. All we get are misleading headlines or statements that say Trump is leading by a wide margin. No wonder so many people seem to think that the Trump bandwagon is rolling along at break-neck speed. It’s not, and the polls don’t really say that it is. The problem is that almost nobody in the media will bother to tell the truth about the poll numbers. By the way, HERE are some highlights from the latest Rasmussen poll: Donald Trump remains the leader in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but his support has fallen by a third over the past week-and-a-half. Carly Fiorina is now near the front of the pack. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds Trump with 17% support among Likely Republican Primary Voters, down from 26% in late July before the first GOP debate.  Senator Marco Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush are in second place with 10% support each, in a near tie with Fiorina and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who both earn nine percent (9%) of the likely primary vote. Next with eight percent (8%) come retired neurologist Dr. Ben Carson and Senator Ted Cruz at seven percent...

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Is Donald Trump paying the Wall Street Journal to toot his horn?

Here’s the situation: New Hampshire ranks 42nd out of the 50 states in population. It has fewer residents than the combined Illinois counties of DuPage and Kane, which are mostly just suburbs of Chicago. Politically, New Hampshire is a swing state, but it has voted for the Democratic candidates in the last three presidential elections. New Hampshire is important in presidential politics only because it has the first primary election. Still, winners of either party’s primary in the Granite State don’t always win the White House. Nevertheless, the media pay a lot of attention to New Hampshire simply because a primary victory there can give a candidate significant momentum — “the Big Mo,” as the senior George Bush once called it. But the media should be careful, methinks, to avoid overstating the importance of a candidate’s standing in pre-primary polls, especially with regard to polls conducted  six months before any votes are cast. Which brings us to the following headline this morning on the Wall Street Journal’s website: “Trump Surges in Popularity in N.H., Taking Second Place in Suffolk Poll.” Wow! Big news, right? The Donald has finished second in a new poll. But let’s take a closer look at the numbers, shall we? The poll actually shows that Trump is the choice of barely one in 10 Republicans who participated in the survey — perhaps even fewer than that, considering the survey’s stated margin of error of 4.4 percentage points. Given that sizable margin of error, it can be said that Trump is statistically tied with Scott Walker and Marco Rubio among New Hampshire Republicans. And then, there’s this: The Wall Street Journal grossly contradicts itself:  First, It says that “there is no denying that the appetite for Donald Trump among Republican primary voters is real.” But a few paragraphs later, the Journal says the poll indicates that Trump “remains the most disliked GOP candidate in the field. Suffolk found he is the only GOP candidate with a net unfavorable rating in New Hampshire — 37% of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of Mr. Trump, compared to 49% who had an unfavorable view.” How can you say that a candidate who is so widely disliked, and who is supported by barely one in 10 Republicans, “surges in popularity”? The offending piece from the Wall Street Journal is...

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Poll: Most American Jews support U.S. deal with Iran on nuclear issues

The Religious Right, which postures as Israel’s best friend in America, is famously wary of any agreement the Obama administration might strike with Iran on the issue of nuclear power. But American Jews generally take a different view. HERE‘s the story: American Jewish support for an agreement with Iran exceeds support for the deal among the general US population, according to a new poll. American Jews express strong support for a final agreement with Iran that increases inspections in exchange for economic sanctions relief. Fifty-nine percent say they would support such a deal, compared to 53 percent of American adults in an April CNN poll that asked the same question. The question comes from a poll of American Jewish attitudes on the US’ Middle East policy, released today by J Street, just weeks ahead of the June 30 deadline for negotiations. When provided further details about a final agreement Jewish support grows further. A striking 78 percent of American Jews would back an agreement that imposes intrusive inspections of Iran and caps its enrichment of uranium at a level far below what is necessary to make a nuclear weapon in exchange for phased relief from US and international sanctions. “When it comes to the best way to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, these results make clear that American Jews overwhelmingly support the president’s diplomatic efforts,” said J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. “The numbers just go to show—once again— that pundits and presumed communal representatives are flat-out wrong in assuming American Jews are hawkish on Iran or US policy in the Middle East in general.” (Snip) Overall, President Obama’s approval rating remains higher among American Jews than among Americans in general. Fifty-six percent approve of the way he is handling his job as president, compared to 45 percent of the general population, according to the Real Clear Politics’ calculation from the same period during which the poll was conducted.  ...

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Political labels liberal and conservative can be highly misleading

A few weeks ago, I posted something here about a Gallup poll showing that identification of themselves as liberals was roughly equal to claiming that they’re conservatives among Americans in general. This finding was represented as an improvement for the liberal side, especially as time has passed since Republicans first succeeded in demonizing the L-word some 30 years ago. And now there’s THIS about another poll: A new analysis of Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll data finds a marked  increase in the share of registered voters identifying themselves as liberals, and an even bigger drop in the share saying they are conservatives. But, the more I think about it, the more I think these findings are at least a little misleading. The big question is exactly how Americans define these labels, liberal and conservative. And the big problem is that we don’t really know the answer to that question. It’s fairly certain that some folks who embrace the liberal view on most issues do not consider themselves liberals. Consider, for example, that polls show majority support for gay marriage and legalization of marijuana, which are liberal positions by any reasonable measure. But some people who hold those positions likely do not consider themselves liberals. And then there are people who say they’re liberal on social issues but conservative on economic issues. Does that make them so-called moderates. And what about the minority of self-declared Republicans who think of themselves as liberals? In the past few decades, the GOP has moved considerably farther to the right on the political spectrum; so how can there be any liberals who still call themselves Republicans? Another factor to consider: In five of the past six presidential elections, the popular vote has been carried by Democratic candidates, each of whom was decidedly more liberal than the Republican choice. Does that not show that the liberal bent is more popular than the conservative slant? In the final analysis, I think lots of people aren’t really sure what these labels mean — or their definitions vary from what the political scientists say. After all, we’re talking about a populace that is notoriously apathetic and/or ignorant on political matters. How can someone who can’t correctly identify the three branches of the federal government accurately declare that he or she is a liberal or a conservative?  ...

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On two counts, public attitudes on economic issues seem to bode well for Dems in 2016

In a recent national poll — and for the first time in more than five years — a plurality of Americans (49 percent) gave President Obama positive marks for his handling of the economy. That same poll also showed that a sizable majority of Americans, even most Republicans, express concern about the growing economic gap between the rich and everyone else. Both of those survey results would seem to be good for Democratic Party prospects in next year’s elections, as Ed Kilgore explains HERE: So it may well be that Hillary Clinton’s talk about inequality isn’t just a response to progressives unhappy with Obama’s “centrism,” but a theme we’ll be hearing more of both from her and from Obama himself as the obvious thing for a left-of-center pol to talk about when the overall direction of the economy is looking better. It also probably means that we’ll hear Republicans continue their awkward efforts to suggest shrinking government will unleash upward mobility. All in all, optimism about what a Democratic president is doing plus concerns traditionally associated with Democrats is a pretty good public opinion backdrop for a Democratic non-incumbent. There are lots of different “fundamentals” that will affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential contest. But this data positively affects two of them for the Democratic nominee: greater satisfaction with the economy and less “time for a change” sentiment.  ...

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