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How Fake Partisan Polling Firms Screw Up Elections-- With An Assist From The Media

Fake GOP poll/propaganda

The New York Times assigned a trio of reporters— Jim Rutenberg, Ken Bensinger and Steve Eder— to get to the bottom of the plague of phony partisan polling that has been dominating politics in the last few cycles. I fumed when the Republican-leaning RealClearPolitics and the more non-partisan FiveThirtyEight would include partisan polls in their averages, making them worthless. People many people— and the whole media— took those averages at face value… and as gospel. Finally, this morning, The Times went on record and named the phony partisan polls— or some of them— starting with Trafalgar, which FiveThirtyEight laughably rates a credibility-inspiring A-minus.

They began their explanation in Washington State where Patty Murray was never in the slightest bit of trouble— except among some media drama queens hoping to hype about a predetermined race. Murray was reelected 1,741,827 (57.3%) to 1,299,322 (42.7%). That’s how statewide races in Washington go these days:

2020- Biden beat Trump 58.0% to 39%

2020- Jay Inslee (D) beat Loren Culp 56.6% to 43.1%

2018- Maria Cantwell (D) beat Susan Hutchison 58.3% to 41.5%

2016- Murray beat Chris Vance 58.8% to 40.9%

2016 Inslee beat Bill Bryant 54.25 to 45.5%

2016- Hillary beat Trump 52.5% to 36.8%

2012- Cantwell beat Michale Baumgartner 60.4% to 39.5%

2012- Obama beat Romney 56.1% to 41.3%

2012- Inslee beat Rob McKenna 51.4% to 48.3%

2010- Murray beat Dino Rossi 52.1% to 47.4%

2006- Cantwell beat Mike McGavick- 56.8% to 39,9%

2004- Murray beat George Nethercutt 55.0% to 42.7%

Murray, they noted “had consistently won re-election by healthy margins in her three decades representing Washington State. This year seemed no different: By midsummer, polls showed her cruising to victory over a Republican newcomer, Tiffany Smiley, by as much as 20 percentage points. So when a survey in late September by the Republican-leaning Trafalgar Group showed Murray clinging to a lead of just two points, it seemed like an aberration. But in October, two more Republican-leaning polls put Murray barely ahead, and a third said the race was a dead heat. As the red and blue trend lines of the closely watched RealClearPolitics average for the contest drew closer together, news organizations reported that Murray was suddenly in a fight for her political survival. Warning lights flashed in Democratic war rooms. If Murray was in trouble, no Democrat was safe.”

That was the idea, of course. InsiderAdvantage which claimed a 1.6 point lead for Murray gets a “B” score from FiveThirtyEight, the same score as CNN. And MooreInformation, a pollster Republicans hire to give them the results they want, has a B/C grade, exactly the same as Pew Research.

“Murray’s own polling,” they wrote, “showed her with a comfortable lead, and a nonprofit regional news site, using an established local pollster, had her up by 13. Unwilling to take chances, however, she went on the defensive, scuttling her practice of lavishing some of her war chest— she amassed $20 million— on more vulnerable Democratic candidates elsewhere. Instead, she reaped financial help from the party’s national Senate committee and supportive super PACs— resources that would, as a result, be unavailable to other Democrats.”

In other words, the GOP plan worked— thanks in great part to the media giving these fake pollsters credibility. And it wasn’t just in Washington state, of course. The Times trio wrote that “A similar sequence of events played out in battlegrounds nationwide. Surveys showing strength for Republicans, often from the same partisan pollsters, set Democratic klaxons blaring in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Colorado. Coupled with the political factors already favoring Republicans— including inflation and President Biden’s unpopularity— the skewed polls helped feed what quickly became an inescapable political narrative: A Republican wave election was about to hit the country with hurricane force. Democrats in each of those states went on to win their Senate races.” In Colorado it was by 14.6 points. In New Hampshire by 19 points and in Pennsylvania by 5 points. The DSCC (and DCCC) were too lame and incompetent to see what was happening. They didn’t trust their own gigantically expensive polling operations— nor nonpartisan pollsters— and got swept up in the GOP hype. It’s why a moron like Sean Patrick Maloney should never be allowed anywhere near the DCCC in the future. And why the whole staff should be fired and the building fumigated.

Not for the first time, a warped understanding of the contours of a national election had come to dominate the views of political operatives, donors, journalists and, in some cases, the candidates themselves.
The misleading polls of 2022 did not just needlessly spook some worried candidates into spending more money than they may have needed to on their own races. They also led some candidates— in both parties— who had a fighting chance of winning to lose out on money that could have made it possible for them to do so, as those controlling the purse strings believed polls that inaccurately indicated they had no chance at all.
…Traditional nonpartisan pollsters, after years of trial and error and tweaking of their methodologies, produced polls that largely reflected reality. But they also conducted fewer polls than in the past.
That paucity allowed their accurate findings to be overwhelmed by an onrush of partisan polls in key states that more readily suited the needs of the sprawling and voracious political content machine— one sustained by ratings and clicks, and famished for fresh data and compelling narratives.

That paucity also causes FiveThirtyEight to include them in their polling averages, a huge mistake. Neither the Republican nor the Democratic partisan firms that monkey with the numbers should be included. RealClearPolitics is in on the game and their averages should just be ignored altogether. Their averages are worthless. Rutenberg, Bensinger and Eder noted that “The skewered red-wave surveys polluted polling averages, which are relied upon by campaigns, donors, voters and the news media. It fed the home-team boosterism of an expanding array of right-wing media outlets— from Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast and The Charlie Kirk Show to Fox News and its top-rated prime-time lineup. And it spilled over into coverage by mainstream news organizations, including The Times, that amplified the alarms being sounded about potential Democratic doom. The virtual ‘bazaar of polls,’ as a top Republican strategist called it, was largely kept humming by right-leaning pollsters using opaque methodology, in some cases relying on financial support from hyperpartisan groups and benefiting from vociferous cheerleading by Trump.”

And then there was the once-respected Democratic polling firm, Data For Progress— B rating from FiveThirtyEight— that surreptitiously sold itself to Sam Bankman-Fried. The trio noted that “questionable polls were not only put out by Republicans… and that “Other pollsters lacked experience, like two high-school juniors in Pennsylvania who started Patriot Polling and quickly found their surveys included on the statistical analysis website FiveThirtyEight— as did another high school concern based at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. Shaping perceptions across the ideological spectrum, the steady flow of data predicting a red wave prompted real-world decision-making that members of both parties now say could have tilted the balance of power in Congress. ‘These frothy polls had a substantial, distorting impact on how people spent money— on campaign strategy, and on people’s expectations going into the election,” said Steven J. Law, the chief executive of the Republicans’ Senate Leadership Fund, which poured $280 million into the midterms. Its own private polling showed no red wave at all.”

Corrupt establishment Democrats used the same filthy tactics to wipe out progressive candidates in primaries. The media and prognosticators were complicit, some because they’re idiots, other’s because they were in on the deal. Serif you can catch the little NY Times trick in this paragraph:

Summertime polls indicated surprising Democratic strength. “Red Wave? Hard to see one now,” Simon Rosenberg, a former adviser to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, headlined a June 21 post on the blog of his liberal advocacy group, the New Democrat Network.

Key word: “liberal.” That’s worse than George Santos' "Jew-ish." The New Dems are not “liberal-ish.” They are conservative (and corrupt) and The Times and the rest of the mainstream media will call them “liberal” and progressive until the end of time.

Nationally, there was an uptick in support for Republicans in early autumn. It surfaced in surveys by firms across the industry, according to an analysis by Charles Franklin, the director of the Marquette Law School Poll— a fact he said had been overlooked in post-election criticism of red-wave polling. A New York Times/Siena College poll in mid-October showed Republicans with a three-point lead nationwide, up from a one-point Democratic advantage a month earlier.
Indeed, Republicans won the national popular vote by three points, measured by the postelection tally of votes in House races. And they made gains in unlikely states like New York, even as Democrats prevailed in many of the races that counted most.
But statewide polling in individual contests that would determine control of Congress had magnified effects, seeming to reinforce the idea of a red wave sweeping the country— which in turn reduced what proved to be a very complicated election to an oversimplified idea.
Rosenberg, for one, noticed that some of the pollsters who were identifying unanticipated GOP strength in Washington State— Republican-aligned firms like Trafalgar and InsiderAdvantage— were more consistently showing bigger Republican gains than the traditional pollsters were in other states.
…Worried that the GOP-infected polls were wrong and were liable to persuade Democratic grass-roots activists to give up rather than go out and knock on doors, Rosenberg used his podcast and his Twitter account to tell Democrats that their chances were better than they realized.
His bullishness earned him ribbing and ridicule. In an August article calling him “the most optimistic Dem online,” Politico noted that at times it seemed Rosenberg was pushing his relentlessly rosy view at “profound reputational risk.” [No mention by The Times of Politico’s own repetitional risk.]
By the fall, perceptions of a red wave were starting to affect strategies, pushing money toward mistakenly perceived trouble spots. Insiders in both parties, mindful of past errors, began to doubt their own internal polls.
“We were limited in how aggressive we could get, because there was a feeling we were about to get absolutely smoked,” said Tim Persico, the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which oversees House races. “It comes down to what level of risk you are willing to take if your data is standing alone in a world where everyone else is telling you the opposite.”

Maloney hired the least competent person he could find to be DCCC Executive Director. Had Maloney and Persico not been running the DCCC, the Democrats would now still have the House majority. Don’t expect the NY Times to ever broach that subject. They talked about Wisconsin’s Senate catastrophe instead. “The [competent] state Democratic chairman, Ben Wikler, was seeing private internal polling that showed his party’s Senate candidate, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, within a point or two of Senator Ron Johnson, a right-wing Republican and purveyor of misinformation. But red-hued polling began to show Johnson pulling away. Data for Progress [by this time controlled by Bankman-Fried] put the incumbent up by five; Patriot Polling, run by the Pennsylvania high school students, had his lead at eight. By early October, RealClearPolitics was projecting that Johnson could win by as much as seven points. Some major Democratic donors concluded that Barnes’s race was a lost cause, Wikler said, and that they should redirect their money where it could still help. ‘I had donors calling me to say they weren’t giving to the Senate race,’ he said. Barnes lost by only one point… Wikler pointed to the walloping Barnes took from outside groups supporting Johnson, which outspent those supporting Barnes by $26.4 million. ‘If you were going to allocate resources for maximum impact,’ Wikler said ruefully, ‘you wouldn’t let Mandela Barnes be outspent by $26 million on independent expenditures and lose by 26,000 votes.’”

It’s worth noting that Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers garnered more votes not just than his GOP opponent— who he beat 51.2% to 47.8%— but more than Johnson.

Polls of political races weren’t just being used in 2022 to determine the state of play in those campaigns. Other agendas were also at work.
Surveys creating the misimpression of a red wave proved particularly useful to right-wing media outlets. Among their audience, evidence pointing to Republican victories and Democratic defeats was in high demand— particularly on Fox News.
The network’s own polling unit, respected throughout the news industry for its nonpartisanship and transparency, was not detecting a Republican wave. But in September, Sean Hannity’s prime-time show began showcasing the pollsters Robert Cahaly of Trafalgar and Matt Towery of InsiderAdvantage, who predicted that Republicans would take the contests in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia, among other places.
Unmentioned was that the Fox News Poll, amply covered in the network’s straight-news programming, showed all those races leaning Democratic.
Trafalgar and InsiderAdvantage had long been viewed with suspicion in the polling industry for their opaque surveying methods. [Albeit not by FiveThirtyEight, which includes them in their averages, as does, of course, the blatantly Republican operatives at RealClearPolitics., which ranks the ridiculous InsiderAdvantage as the second most accurate pollster in the biz and Trafalgar as the 5th best.]
…[H]istory points to a likely explanation: ratings, which determine advertising revenue and have tended to rise and fall with Republicans’ prospects.
“The culture of programming does not take kindly to narratives of ‘we’re behind’ or ‘we’re losing,’” said Jason Damata, the founder and chief executive of Fabric Media, a media and advertising consultancy. “Fox has a profound understanding of what’s going to keep audiences coming back and being engaged.”
In 2012, Fox News ratings soared as its hosts predicted Mitt Romney would defeat President Barack Obama, then plummeted when he did not. In 2020, its ratings suffered briefly after it was the first news organization to declare Biden the winner in Arizona.
By then, the Fox News audience could go elsewhere, and some did, buoying much smaller rivals at Newsmax, OAN and an expanding array of right-wing websites, online shows and podcasts.
Like Fox, those internet-based outlets relied on pro-Republican content to build their audiences. Unlike Fox, they were not tethered to news operations that subscribe to traditional journalistic standards.
This year, many presented the “red wave” as an absolute certainty.
In fact, while Towery was making guest appearances on Fox News, many of his polls were sponsored by a conservative group called the Center for American Greatness— whose founder, Chris Buskirk, had also advised a super PAC supporting Masters in Arizona.
Perhaps no platform gave more oxygen to the notion of a once-in-a-generation red wave than Bannon’s show War Room, a six-day-a-week podcast and streaming web show popular on the right.
Often citing polling from Trafalgar and aggregations by RealClearPolitics, Bannon repeatedly predicted a pickup of between 50 and 100 House seats for Republicans in the midterms.
…It is unclear whether such optimism is useful in motivating audiences to vote. Operatives in both parties have long debated whether confident predictions of victory inspire people to want to join the winning bandwagon, or breed complacency under the assumption that victory is already in hand.
But Bannon applied that bullishness to another purpose: In the final two weeks of the campaign, he had more than two dozen candidates for office on War Room and urged his listeners to donate to them.
Also exploiting red-wave polling to raise money was Mr. Trump, who cited it in dozens of appeals for his Save America PAC.
“The latest 2022 polls show that we are in a very good position to win big,” read one email, citing FiveThirtyEight and pointing to Senate races in five states— four of which Republicans ultimately lost.
…By late October, the Republican wave had surged into a “red tsunami,” a phrase uttered nearly 4,000 times that month on radio, television, and podcasts, according to the media tracking firm Critical Mention— a more than tenfold increase from September. References to a red tsunami nearly doubled again in the first eight days of November.
The notion of a Republican rout fed a sense of Democratic bearishness that seeped into campaign war rooms, and even the offices of Biden’s lead 2020 pollster, John Anzalone.
In an interview, Anazalone attributed his concerns to the tight margins many Democrats faced. “Were we all a little pessimistic about how the undecided vote was going to break? Yeah,” he said, noting how undecided voters have historically broken against the president’s party during midterms. “That didn’t happen this time. Does that make us wrong? Not if we showed it was a tossup to begin with.”
An idea that had begun on the fringes of the right— and been given credence by some nonpartisan national polls— had now taken hold among Democrats, whose fears were amplified by mainstream news organizations. By mid-October, headlines blared a series of dire warnings about a “red tsunami” and how the “Democrats’ feared red October has arrived.”
… The gloomy polling averages and red-wave headlines drove many Democratic officials into a defensive crouch.
“Our internal were actually really accurate,” said Ali Lapp, the executive director of the House Majority PAC, which spent more than $180 million to help Democratic congressional candidates in 2022. “The problem was that nobody dared to believe them.”
She added, “Our insistence that we had a 50-50 shot of holding the majority wasn’t backed up by the media, and so many donors decided that they would put their late money toward Senate races instead.”
… “We can’t trust the data on RealClearPolitics or FiveThirtyEight any longer,” Rosenberg complained on MSNBC in late October, “because it’s essentially Republican propaganda.”
Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight’s founder, dismissed Rosenberg’s criticism by suggesting he was smoking Democratic “hopium,” saying on the site’s politics podcast that FiveThirtyEight’s model was devised to account for pollsters’ partisanship.
Besides, he suggested, Democrats could always put their own credibility on the line by publishing their own equally partisan polls. Silver did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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