Democrats who are tired of flogging Fox News are ripping Rasmussen Reports, the polling agency which produces survey results which tend to favor Republicans. Viewed in conjunction with the fervor with which those on the left attack Fox News, it echoes the shrill media conspiracy theory accustations espoused by the most ardent conservatives of the 1970s and 1980s. It also reflects a lack of understanding of some facets of public opinion.
For instance, Eric Boehlert of Media Matters accuses Rasmussen of “under-polling” President Obama because the Rasmussen presidential approval ratings tend to be lower than in other polls. Leaving aside that other polls have largely caught up to that trend, Boehlert ignores the fact that Rasmussen polls samples of likely voters – rather than all adults. This makes Rasmussen a less reliable source for taking the temperature of the general public but makes for a much more accurate forecast of the only poll that matters – the one held on election day.
Some Democrat operatives have problems that go deeper – citing the wording of questions:
In August, for example, Rasmussen asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “It’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers, not bureaucrats, are the best judges of how to spend their money.”
“Why stop there, Rasmussen? Why not add a parenthetical phrase about how tax cuts regrow hair, whiten teeth, and ensure that your favorite team will win the Super Bowl this year?” responded Daily Kos blogger Steve Singiser, who frequently writes about polls.
Questions like the ones above are fairly common in polling and – with a more sophisticated reading – provide valuable insight for partisans of either stripe. The question doesn’t measure opinions on tax breaks, it measures the reasons for people’s opinions on tax breaks. If 80% of the likely voters polled say “yes” to that question, then a Democratic communications operative might recognize his candidate’s need to correlate tax hikes to public, versus personal, benefits. A Republican operative might try to do the opposite.
A Rasmussen poll which might be even more interesting, though, is whether Democratic “inside baseball” complaints about news organizations and pollsters they perceive to be against them will help win them any support – especially among likely voters.