Illustrating the Silliness of Polls

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Over at Open Left, they’ve noted something about national polls in the general election. Specifically, they’ve found that two of the most famous polling companies, Rasmussen and Gallup, consistently poll a closer race everyone else. In the 34 Gallup and Rasmussen polls taken since the general election began, Obama has been up an average of 2.2%. In all the polls taken by 11 other polling companies, Obama has been up 5.4%.

Most times a Gallup or Rasmussen poll comes out, it fuels the conventional wisdom that Obama is under-performing because he is locked into a dogfight in a election season heavily favoring Democrats. As a result, everyone from the media to committed Democrats freak out.

It’s nonsense. The counterfactuals could easily go in either direction. If Gallup and Rasmussen were more in line with everyone else, Obama would be seen as having a thin but comfortable lead. If a few more polling companies were like G & R, McCain might even be winning. The lesson? Don’t freak out and don’t get overconfident either. Things on the whole are better for Obama than the media’s evaluation of his performance suggests (after all, as Nate Silver noted, “If you had told a Democrat a year ago that, on the last day of July, their candidate would be ahead in Ohio and Florida, well ahead in Pennsylvania , way ahead in California, tied in Montana, within single digits in a couple of states that went really red in 2000 and 2004, they’d be pretty thrilled with that set of polling.”) but things can change at any moment, and have in the past.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

payment methods

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate