John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Insight to Make You Think Twice Before Attacking Pollsters

Posted on October 14, 2013
ABC Post Budget Poll

ABC Post Budget Poll



I didn’t believe the polls in 2008.  I thought there was a secret group of voters who would come out to vote and propel John McCain to the White House over Barack Obama.

I believed the polls in 2010 because I thought that the American people were all on board to reject the President’s signature achievement, Obamacare.

I didn’t believe the polls in 2012.  I thought the methodology was wrong.  How could they oversample Democrats so much and how could independent voters skew so much towards Romney and have him still losing?

I was wrong in 2008 and wrong in 2012.  I was right in 2010.

In each case, the polls were roughly correct.  Not exactly, but close enough for government work.

When Republicans don’t like the result, they often blame the polls and the pollsters.

But that turns out to be self-defeating.

The polls are not sacrosanct.  They are not missives from God.  But they give you a pretty good snapshot into the minds of the voters.

Politicians commission polls because they know that they tend to be enclosed in a bubble.  They tend to visit crowds that already know them.  They tend to go to fundraisers where the participants pretty much tell you what you want to hear.

Listening to the choir is not the best way to build a congregation.

There is a science to polling.  It’s imperfect, but better than hearing from your friends down the block about what’s really happening.

Bill McInturff and Peter Hart have been doing a poll together for a long time.  It is commissioned by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News.  McInturff is a highly respected Republican Pollster.  Hart is a highly respected Democratic pollster.

Neither of these two highly respected pollsters has any reason to throw the results one way or the other.  And even if they wanted to, they wouldn’t be able to get away with it.

A poll came out last week that showed that the Republican Party was taking it on the chin because of the shutdown.

That’s really not that surprising.  Republicans were demanding something that was completely unreasonable.  Demanding that a President repeal his signature achievement or else face a government shutdown or a default on the debt is not reasonable.  It is not even within the bounds of reasonable.

But Republicans have convinced themselves, chiefly because they talk to their own echo chamber and tend to hear their own voices amplified in stereo, that they are winning this debate.

They are not winning the debate.  I wish they were.  I don’t like Obamacare and I think it will be hurt a lot of people.  But you don’t repeal a law by forcing the repeal down the throat of the President who signed it in the first place.

That’s not how our system of government works.

So the polls haven’t been good.

In fact, the WSJ/NBC poll revealed that Republicans now have the lowest approval rating in their history.

The only group that appreciates what they are doing are Tea Partiers, and more people dislike the Tea Party than at just about any time since the movement was born on CNBC.

So how did the chief architect of the Obamacare defund strategy respond to the news about these desperate poll numbers?

He attacked the poll.

He said that it oversampled.  He said that it was biased.  He said he didn’t believe it.

And a lot of Republicans bought his spin, hook, line and sinker.

But I don’t buy it.  I am not going to blame the pollsters.  I played that game in 2008 and 2012.   I put all of my hopes in the fact that the polls were wrong and that my candidate was going to win.

Luckily for the GOP, we have some time before the next really big election.

Yes, we are going to lose the race in Virginia, but that was expected even before the government shutdown.

We have to right this ship.  We have advocate more for common-sense and less for rigid ideological nonsense.   We have to get better candidates and get rid of bad candidates.  We have to use these polls not as guide, but as a measuring stick.

If we don’t measure up in the polls, we probably aren’t going to measure up in the election.

Attacking the pollsters might make some feel good, just like Kings used to put to death those who brought bad tidings in the Medieval times.  But shooting the messenger, is bad business.  Here is a passage from Plutarch’s Lives:
“The first messenger that gave notice of Lucullus's coming was so far from pleasing Tigranes that he had his head cut off for his pains; and no man daring to bring further information, without any intelligence at all, Tigranes sat while war was already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him...”

Let’s avoid being the Party of Tigranes.