Does the “skewed polls” crowd have a point? Not really.

September 29, 2012

Of late, the political world has been dominated by allegations -- almost all of which have come from the conservative end of the spectrum -- that the media (and its pollsters) are part of a grand conspiracy designed to re-elect President Obama.

To that end, a senior Republican strategist passed this chart -- constructed from a single question in a recent national Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll -- that details how people perceive the way the news media covers President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

What that chart doesn't get at is how much of those sorts of perceived media bias questions are, at least at the moment, being driven heavily by partisanship.

Take a recent Pew poll that asked whether the media was "too easy" or "too tough" on Obama and Romney. In the full sample, 20 percent said the press was too easy on Romney while 28 percent said the same of its treatment of Obama.  But, fully six in ten self-identified Republicans in the same poll said the media had been too easy on Obama while just 29 percent of Democrats said the fourth estate had taken it too easy on Romney.

So, there's little question that unhappy Republicans are currently driving the "media bias" storyline. But do they have a point?

We dealt with the fallacy of attacking the party identification of polls here. And, when it comes to the overall tenor of the coverage of the two presidential candidates it's uniformly negative for both men, according to a late August Pew study.

Here's the topline numbers:

The numbers suggest that neither Obama nor Romney have enjoyed terribly favorable coverage but that it has been equally bad.  That's a big difference as compared to 2008 when 57 percent of the John McCain coverage was negative as compared to just 31 percent negative coverage for Obama.

The simplest conclusion to draw from the data above is that while majorities of Republicans seem to believe the coverage is tilted toward President Obama, there's little actual evidence that pollsters and the media are "rooting" for anyone or anything in the race.

Instead, complaints about polling methodology and coverage are almost certainly the result of a party who sees itself behind and is looking for a reason why. Our guess is that if Mitt Romney experiences a bit of a comeback in these next two weeks or so, the same polls that Republicans are decrying as skewed today will become useful data points in their argument for a GOP resurgence.

 

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan | September 28, 2012