by Steve Gill
Vanderbilt University is out with another of their “polls”, conducted by the Center for the Study of Democratic Organizations, that is being greeted with breathless reporting of the results by some media outlets across Tennessee. Keep in mind that this is the same group that conducted a poll of 800 registered Davidson County voters over a twelve day period from February 8-19 (TWELVE DAYS?) that included a question focused on support for the Megan Barry Transit Plan. The “poll” revealed that Davidson County voters supported the plan by a solid 42-28% split, with 34% undecided.
Astute observers may remember that the Tennessean gleefully reported on the “edge” transit referendum supporters enjoyed, based on the poll. However, the referendum was loudly rejected by voters 64-36%–a 28 point margin. So, the Vanderbilt poll only missed the actual results by a whopping 42 points! (The Tennessee Star poll showed a much more accurate 62-28% split in advance of the vote, with ten percent undecided.)
Now, Vanderbilt is out with another poll. This time they polled 1400 registered voters (not likely voters) over a thirteen day period (April 26 – May 8), with a slight skew towards Republican voters intended to reflect the political balance in the state. Tennessee is a state with super majorities of Republicans in the State House and State Senate. Seven of the nine Congressional seats and the Governor’s office are held by Republicans.
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump carried 92 out of 95 counties en route to a 61-35% victory over Hillary Clinton, a 26 point margin. Yet the Vanderbilt Poll released just a few weeks before the 2016 election gave Trump a 44-33% edge over Clinton in the state. Eleven points?
Vanderbilt constructed their most recent poll with a mere 7 point margin for Republicans over Democrats, with 32 percent identifying as Republicans, 31 percent as independents and 25 percent as Democrats. (Vanderbilt doesn’t disclose how many of the “independents” lean towards one party of the other.) Vanderbilt sees a dark red state as having a mere “pink tint”?
So, what kind of results do they generate from their bogus polling process? First, they apparently have no interest in asking who the respondents would vote for if the election were held today, the classic “horserace” question included in most political polls. They limit their interest to approval ratings and name identification, but not voter support for particular candidates.
Approval ratings and name identification are good data points to have, but why not make the key ask: “who are you voting for?” Instead of trackable results that can be compared over time to see if voters are shifting their support based on learning more about the candidates, and what issues produce the biggest gains or losses, we are left to guess who has support and at what level. Guesswork is not the usual end product you seek from polling.
Extrapolating support for Democrat Senate candidate Phil Bredesen (who has spent huge amounts on television ads in the last 60 days) versus Republican Marsha Blackburn (who has NOT been airing television ads) from “approval” numbers alone is essentially political malpractice. Quite simply, the polling process and reporting on the poll results is intended to IMPACT voter opinion rather than MEASURE voter opinion.
There are other red flags within the polling results, such as the supposedly overwhelming support for illegal immigrants and expansion of Medicaid (Obamacare). Other, more precise polling, doesn’t produce results that are even remotely similar to what Vanderbilt SAYS Tennesseans think.
The problems with the Vanderbilt poll have been consistent and well documented, yet they have made no effort to address the obvious biases built into their methodology. What is worse than the bad polling and track record of inaccuracy is the fact that mainstream media outlets across the state report the results as if they have any significant degree of credibility or relevance to the political process.
As long as those same media outlets continue to promote propaganda under the guise of “news” and bogus poll data as “fact” they shouldn’t be surprised to see the continued decline in readership/viewership, influence and credibility.