Are Republicans Rigging the Poll Averages?
Some Democrats think the GOP is flooding the zone with bad polls to create a sense of momentum
The optimism that buoyed Democrats this summer has receded, and expectations among many political observers went from Democrats defying political gravity to a Red Wave washing away the House, the Senate, and maybe democracy itself. Amidst these dark assessments, Democrats are looking for what Nate Silver humorously, if not somewhat obnoxiously, refers to as “hopium.” Some are analyzing the early vote to see if there is evidence of a hidden Blue Tsunami. To date, there are definitely positive signs in some states’ early vote counts. It is, of course, an incomplete picture without a real establishing baseline.
Among the hope-seekers, another theory emerged. Steve Shepard wrote in Politico:
Some Democrats have fretted that Republican firms are deliberately flooding the zone for the purpose of affecting these polling averages — and the subsequent news coverage that comes with apparent momentum. Simon Rosenberg, a strategist whom POLITICO West Wing Playbook called “the most optimistic Dem online” this summer, appeared on MSNBC Monday night to call polling averages “effectively Republican propaganda” because the GOP is gaming them.
Is this possible? Are Republicans once again using their powerful propaganda apparatus to pull the wool over the eyes of the media? Is the reality better for Democrats than the polling averages suggest?
Well – like everything else in this weird, unpredictable election – it’s complicated.
Are Republican Polls Flooding the Zone?
This is a documented fact. Nate Cohn noted this in his newsletter:
The flip side: Most of the polling over the last few weeks is coming from partisan outfits — usually Republican — or auto-dial firms. These polls are cheap enough to flood the zone, and many of them were emboldened by the 2020 election, when their final results came close to the election results even as other pollsters struggled.
A couple of the nontraditional firms are worth taking seriously — CBS/YouGov in particular — but a lot of the polls that are filling up the averages just aren’t underpinned by credible survey methods.
Now, the balance between independent and partisan polls has shifted a bit as polls from well-respected, independent pollsters have come out in the last few days. But the math is clear – absent the partisan polls, the polling average looks a little better for Dems.
Is this Part of a Coordinated Plan?
While I put nothing past the Republicans, there is no evidence to suggest the existence of coordinated efforts to rig the polling averages to create the false impression of a Red Wave. To be honest, this collection of clowns tends to commit their crimes in public.
But… creating a false sense of momentum is a long-running Republican strategy. Many Republicans believe the best way to win elections is to convince voters that you are already winning. The strategy is loosely based on the idea of social proof – people want to be with the winners, not the losers. If the cause seems lost, voters will stay home.
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