National Journal

National Journal: Why Bad Polls Are Good for Business

So it came as no surprise last week when Sen. Kay Hagan began poor-mouthing the state of play to her Democratic base in North Carolina. A solicitation from her camp declared her race with Republican Thom Tillis to be a “toss up.” Her source for that assertion? A month-old analysis of polling trends from a newbie North Carolina pollster, American Insights. But it conveniently ignored a more recent actual field poll by the same pollster that showed Hagan with a commanding 9-point lead over Tillis.

“There’s been an unmistakable shift in the race in her direction,” says Pearce Godwin, polling director at American Insights.

To be fair to Hagan, some recent polls have shown the race narrowing within the margin of error—but even conservative-leaning Fox News and Rasmussen Reports have had her at 5 and 6 points up, respectively. And Tillis hasn’t led in any poll this month.

It’s not that Republicans don’t do this. Tillis, for one, regularly complains about being outspent by the likes of “George Soros and Michael Bloomberg.” But within the dynamic of this election, with a probable GOP edge in enthusiasm and turnout, it’s in the better interests of incumbent Democrats to try to stir up its more somnambulant midterm voting base. It helps, Walsh says, that there are more polls than ever, even if, as in New Hampshire, their various methodologies can produce wildly conflicting results. That allows campaigns to cherry-pick ones for their own purposes. “It probably gives them more ammunition to rally their base,” he says.

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