Two polls have suggested that Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman is in the lead in the race for the 23rd Congressional District in the State of New York.
The first poll released yesterday, comes out this way: Hoffman with 31.3%, Democrat Bill Owens with 27.0%, and Republican Dede Scozzafava with 19.7%. Twenty-two percent are undecided.
The second poll released today has Hoffman again in the lead with Hoffman at 34 percent, Owens with 29, Scozzafava with 14 and 23 percent undecided.
Both polls have Scozzafava in third place and it looks like her campaign in collasping while Hoffman is surging.
While Scozzafava might indeed not be doing as well, one would need to take both polls with a grain of salt. The first poll was issued by Club for Growth, an organization that has endorsed Hoffman and given him $300,000 to help his campaign. The second one came from the Minuteman PAC, which has also endorsed Hoffman.
Are these polls false? Not necessarily. But they could be misleading and as Nate Silver states, their purpose could be more about altering rather than reflecting reality. Here are some of the questions Silver has about the Club for Growth poll:
— The Club for Growth endorsed Hoffman and just last week threw $300,000 into the race on his behalf.
— The sample size is tiny (300 people).
— The pollster that Club for Growth is using, Basswood Research — I’m sure does perfectly good work for its clients — but is not that well known** and is therefore not taking too much reputational risk with this poll. (** I’m told that Basswood does in fact do a decent amount of work for Republican candidates like Tom Coburn and Mark Sanford.)
— The number of undecideds in the poll — 22 percent — is unusual for a poll just eight days out from an election and is higher than what the public polls show.
— The poll was conducted entirely over the weekend. Although Sunday is a fairly good polling day, Saturdays are not.
— The narrative that Club for Growth constructs around the poll is that Hoffman is taking votes from Scozzafava, but the poll also shows the Democrat Owens polling quite a bit lower than he does in the public polls. It seems unlikely that Owens voters are defecting to Hoffman. Rather, if Scozzafava’s support is indeed collapsing, I’d expect Owens to be picking up some of that support in addition to Hoffman.
— The poll was released at a time when the NRCC, which has endorsed Scozzafava, is defending its position by citing the polling evidence, and so the incentive to put out some contrary evidence to alter the inflection of the media narrative is quite high.
— The poll shows that 59 percent of so-called likely voters have no opinion (or haven’t heard of) Owens, 48 percent have no opinion of Scozzafava, and 56 percent have no opinion of Hoffman.
— Only 14 percent of the likely voters in this poll are age 40 or under, as compared with about 40 percent in the Research 2000 poll.
— Previous polls put out by Basswood Research and the Club for Growth in this race featured highly leading question wording, although that does not appear to be the case here.
First, the sample size is remarkably small. I am not a methodologist or a pollster, but the standard minimum number for basic public opinion polling is usually thought to be 400 (and even that has limited usefulness).
Second, with an MOE of 5.66%, it is a bit misleading to declare Hoffman in the lead.
Third, with 22% undecideds, it makes it rather difficult to interpret much of anything.
Fourth, the Club for Growth is actively supporting Hoffman, making them a less than reliable source for unbiased news on the election.
So are these polls legit? Maybe. But the fact that two groups that have endorsed Hoffman are putting out polls showing their candidate in a very favorable light makes me wonder.
There is a scene in the movie Sneakers where the villan played by Ben Kingsley says that perception is reality. If you perceive that something is one way, you will start to believe that it truly is what it is.
The point here is that if you release polls showing Hoffman doing so well and Scozzafava doing poorly, you create the aura of inevitability that Hoffman is the true champ and will win. Conversely you present Scozzafava as a complete loser that should withdraw from the race.
Maybe these are just the rants of a parnoid person. But as the saying goes, just because your paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.