Excuse me, but I saw something this morning that annoys me to no end.

I and many others have taken the position that the media will do whatever possible to create the perception of a close race. With each network fighting for to be ratings-king on November 4, broadcast and cable news has a very tough decision to make when choosing the narrative for the final week of the campaign:

Do they cover the campaign as is, or do they look for any signs of a “horse-race”?

Perhaps the easiest way to create the perception of a close race is to cherry-pick the polls. And this has become a little easier as certain pollsters now produce up to three variants of the same poll for readers to choose from.

Which leads me to my pet-peeve with the mainstream media. Cherry-picking polls to manufacture “momentum”. Now, I’m no polling expert. I’m just your average political junkie, addicted to any and all types of polls that I can get my hands on.

I also like detail and consistency (I know . . . I’m crazy like that). So when I see what appears to be a misrepresentation of the polls . . . well, I just might take a couple of minutes to write a rant like the one you’re reading right now.

Take the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll. It recently began producing three different versions: Registered Voters, Likely Voters (Expanded), and Likely Voters (Traditional). Now, please keep in mind that the media has just recently begun to pay close attention to these three different polling samples from Gallup.

The “Likely Voters (Traditional)” sample is an estimate that assumes a similar turnout to 2004. Gallup describes it as such:

Gallup’s “traditional” likely voter model, which Gallup has employed for past elections, factors in prior voting behavior as well as current voting intention. This has generally shown a closer contest, reflecting the fact that Republicans have typically been more likely to vote than Democrats in previous elections. (emphasis added)(Gallup)

“Expanded” tries to anticipate the number of new voters that will vote in 2008. Gallup describes it as such:

Gallup’s “expanded” likely voter model determines likely voters based only on current voting intentions. This estimate would take into account higher turnout among groups of voters traditionally less likely to vote, such as young adults and minorities. (emphasis added)(Gallup Expanded)

Wait . . . there’s more . . .

Still with me? Ok. So news outlets like MSNBC constantly refer to the Gallup poll as a means, I believe, to support their daily narratives. Three different Gallup polls yield three different sets of numbers. Consequently, stations like MSNBC have the luxury of choosing from three different narratives to feed their audience depending on the numbers.

Sooo . . . if a media source wants to paint a close race . . . guess which poll they’re gonna cite? Yup. They’re gonna pretend it’s 2004 all over again and cite the poll that affords the opportunity to create a “horse-race” to feed their ratings. Kinda like constantly referring to Pennsylvania as a “battleground” state when most polls give Obama a consistent double digit lead.

Memo to the Media: If a 12% lead makes PA a “battleground,” what do we call the following:
Arizona (where Obama trails by an average of 9%)
Georgia (where Obama trails by an average of less than 4%)
South Dakota (where, on average, Obama trails by less than 7%)
Mississippi (where an average of the polls still has Obama within 10%)

A perfect example of McCain water-carrying took place a couple of weeks ago when people like Matt Drudge and Joe Scarborough made a big deal over a Gallup Likely Voters (Traditional) poll that showed Obama with just a slim 2% lead (49% to 47%). What you might not have known was that this poll was cherry picked to portray a close race when, in fact, the race wasn’t that close at all. On that same day, The Daily Gallup Tracking Poll for “Likely Voters (Expanded)” had Obama at +6 (51% to 45%) and at +7 among “Registered Voters” (50% to 43%).

Hmmm . . . Now, I wonder which poll I’d cherry-pick if I wanted to create the illusion of a McCain comeback???

Yup! You guessed it. Morning Joe played that “Traditional” poll for all it was worth.

Which leads me to this morning. The following is what I believe to be a slight, but significant case of McCain water carrying . . . for some reason, MSNBC decided to cite the Traditional Poll despite having cited the “Registered Voters” poll a few days ago.

MSNBC had a segment interview with Jon Decker of Reuters wherein news anchor, Alex Witt, discussed the “tightening polls” by essentially conflating Gallup’s “Likely Voters (Traditional)” poll with Gallup’s model for “Likely Voters (Expanded)”. Only no one felt it important enough to distinguish between the two models, leaving the average viewer to assume that both sets of numbers came from the same poll. . . . only one small problem . . .

BOTH SETS OF NUMBERS CAME FROM TWO SEPARATE POLLS!

At least, that’s the only conclusion I’m left with. If you look at the Traditional Poll, Obama’s lead was (at the time of that interview) exactly the same as it was on Oct. 20 (the date of MSNBC’s comparison), 51% to 44% – that’s right, a lead of 7%. In fact, that 7% is a full 3% higher than it stood earlier last week when the Traditional Poll had Obama up by 4% (50% to 46%) on Oct. 22. (Update . . . Today’s Traditional Poll has Obama +5 . . . don’t be surprised if they discuss this poll on Morning Joe tomorrow)

Ain’t that somethin’??? How do you like that? MSNBC actually took a poll where Obama gained 3% in the past week and had the audacity to say he LOST 3%.

Now look at the “Likely Voters (Expanded)” model. In that poll, Obama held a 10% lead on Oct. 20, down 2% to his his 8% lead today.

At no point in Oct. did Obama ever hold a 10% lead in the “Likely Voters (Traditional)” model of the Daily Gallup Tracking Poll. His biggest lead in that Traditional Poll was what it actually was this morning: 7%.

So, if you follow me, it’s easy to see how MSNBC just carried McCain’s water regarding the polls. They used the “Likely Voter (Traditional)” model to erroneously ascribe an imaginary 10% lead to Obama that he never had. They then took that imaginary 10% lead and compared it to Obama’s high-water 7% lead in the Traditional Poll. They then combined these two numbers to come up with the media-hyped narrative that Obama had LOST 3%. Which then allowed Alex Witt the opportunity to ask a question like the following (paraphrasing):

Does McCain have reason to believe he can close the gap? After all, Obama lead by double digits, 10%, on Oct. 20. That lead is now down to single digits at 7%.

When in fact the appropriate comparison would have been as such:

John McCain was down by 7% in the “Likely Voter (Traditional)” poll on Oct. 20. And he’s still down by 7% as of the morning of Oct. 26.

But by reading the polls as Alex did and posing the question in the manner she asked, MSNBC magically created campaign momentum for John McCain where there was none.

Fact is, Obama’s had a consistent 8-10% national lead for some time now. And Gallup’s national numbers have consistently swayed between a low of 7% to a high of 11% among registered voters. Any way you slice it, 7-11% is not a nail-biter, and it’s certainly no cause for the media to try and imagine a newfound momentum for John McCain. As of this morning . . . it’s just not there. Especially when Obama is consistently polling at or above 50% (remember, once you cross 50%, simple mathematics says undecided voters can’t sway the election).

At the time of this post, Gallup’s “Registered Voters” model has Obama leading by 9%, which is just 2% shy of his 11% lead on Oct. 20. Not bad, considering a large portion of Obama’s young base isn’t home to answer the phone on a Friday or Saturday because they, unlike me, still have a social life during this campaign season (LOL!).

By the way . . . that 9% virtually matches the average poll of polls on Pollster.com (51.2% to 42.5%).

A point or two here or there in one direction? Sure. But far from any shift in momentum. And certainly far from any reason to revisit (which has proven to be the next step in line) some of those tired media narratives we’ve grown accustomed to hearing (Obama can’t close the deal . . . buyer’s remorse . . . Obama can’t get white women . . . white men . . . white working-class men — Aww just say it . . .psst! Obama’s black!).

To her credit, Ms. Witt stopped just shy of saying the word “momentum.”  But she came very close.  Close enough to imagine Joe and Mika running with the story tomorrow morning.

So why did I just type this long rant???

I find it irresponsible of the media to manufacture momentum for a campaign where there is none. Because news organizations like MSNBC frequently switch between Gallups three polls (Registered, Expanded and Traditional) when they want to push a certain narrative. Aaaaannnd I’m confident that the media (preocupied with winning the ratings war on Nov. 4) would love nothing more than to spend the last week imagining some great McCain comeback story.

Fact is (as I’ve said before) the national polls mean nothing compared to the state polls. And, yes, even in the state polls, Obama is far ahead (leading by more than 100 electoral votes in even the most conservative of estimates).

Let me make this clear. I’m not saying any of this to encourage complacency or to predict that this race is over. But I will say this . . . we have earned the right to be confident. NOT arrogant, but confident that Obama will win on November 4. This is the time to double our efforts and push this thing over the finish line.

But I made this post for one particular reason. . . . “close” polls invite nervous hand-wringing and second guessing. Understand that there is no reason to assume that the media won’t do everything in it’s power to create the perception of a close horse-race whereever possible.

My guess is that some in the media will find it their duty to spice things up as we head down the stretch. . .

Stay focused . . . Don’t take the bait!

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