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Too large a Democratic advantage in new L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll?

June 25, 2008 |  4:32 pm

A well-known Republican research firm argues that the voter pool tapped for the new L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll was too skewed toward Democrats -- a challenge that causes the GOP strategists to question the double-digit lead the survey gave Barack Obama over John McCain.

The case against the poll, laid out in a memo sent out today by Public Opinion Strategies, in turn sparked a response from survey director Susan Pinkus, who stood by its methodology and findings.

Part of the dispute reflects a long-standing disagreement between independent pollsters and partisan operatives (something The Times wrote about four years ago) -- whether or not to tinker with a poll to make sure its respondents reflect the nation's political composition at some fixed point, such as the most recent election.

Pinkus, like most nonpartisan pollsters, rejects that notion. Discussing the current survey, she says, "The poll was weighted slightly, where necessary,  to conform to the Census Bureau’s proportions of sex, race, ethnicity, age and national region. The poll was NOT weighted for party identification since party ID is a moving variable that changes from one election to another, or when one party may be favored more than the other."

As a result, the survey simply asked respondents their party affiliation or inclination, and came up with this breakdown: 39% Democratic, 22% Republican, 8% something else, 4% refused to say.

There's the rub, insists the memo from Bill McInturff, Liz Harrington and David Kanevsky. They write that these figures, and the 17 percentage-point gap between the two parties, are "greatly out of line with what most other surveys are reporting."

The memo cites several other recent polls in which the party ID gap ranged as low as  plus 6 percentage points for the Democrats to as high as plus 14.

It then asserts: "McCain’s double-digit deficit is not a reflection of reality, simply a result of an unusual party identification result in this survey.... If party identification on the L.A. Times survey is recalculated to ... 29% GOP / 39% Dem / 27% Ind / 5% Don’t Know/Refused, the ballot would be 40% McCain – 47% Obama."

Pinkus responds that ...

... while the result for self-described Democrats may seem high, "this is what the poll got from a random sample of 1,233 adults nationwide, including 1,115 registered voters (which includes listed, unlisted and cell phone users)."

She also notes: "These days, the Republicans are not doing well -– (in the new poll) 78% think the country is seriously off on the wrong track, 82% think the economy is doing badly, 75% said the country is worse off economically since George Bush became president almost eight years ago, and more voters blame Bush and his administration for the rise in gas prices.  Only 23% of voters and all Americans give Bush a positive job approval rating (the worst rating since President Nixon's last days in office).  With all the negatives associated with the Republican Party and President Bush, I am not surprised that the public would move away from the party in power."

You can count on this type of argument over poll results flaring periodically during this campaign ... and in future races.

The Public Opinion Strategies memo makes this good point: "It is important that both the campaign, as well as reporters covering the campaign, not over-react to every single survey that is released. "

And, as pollsters such as Pinkus continually caution the journalists they work with, surveys are useful for spotting trends but they also are only a snapshot of a particular moment in time.

-- Don Frederick

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