David Frum

11.21.12

Paying People to Lie to You Has Consequences

Dan Senor talks of a "systemic" crisis in right-wing polling that misled the Romney campaign.

"There is some kind of systemic crisis today in the world of polling, I think particularly on the right-of-center polling. The modeling was way off," Senor said during an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe." How pollsters on the Republican side, although not just on the Republican side, you saw Gallup make similar mistakes, you saw Rasmussen make similar mistakes. The understanding, the assumptions made about what the electorate looked like was way off."

With due respect to Dan, a smart & conscientious guy, the crisis is not in the world of right-of-center polling. It's in the world of right-of-center poll consumers. What Gallup and Rasmussen did was assume that minorities must be disenchanted with Obama. That's not polling science, it's punditry -and as we now see, it was bad punditry.

Gallup and Rasmussen built their assumption about minority attitudes into their modeling of the electorate, and thus predicted a better performance for Romney than almost anybody else.

The readiness of conservatives to accept the Gallup and Rasmussen numbers, and to reject pollsters who modeled the electorate on the assumption that the 1980-2008 trends would continue in 2012, was based on emotion, not analysis.

What happened to the pollsters was nothing more complicated than the old programmer rule: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

What happened at Romney HQ was a sadder phenomenon, familiar to every movie star and billionaire: if you pay people to lie to you, you'll hear a lot of lies.