Illustrating the Silliness of Polls

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


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.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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