Thursday, May 12, 2011


    Q. If so…if it made a simple sampling mistake,  how bad is that for the wire service?   
    A. If it’s far off, it can say hello to the Literary Digest of 1936 (of which more later).
         Yes indeed. Its poll yesterday showed Obama’s approval rating hitting 60% with 53% saying he should be reelected…which the formerly objective old-line service attributed to a terrific  bounce from the Osama bin Laden killing—unrecorded let it be said by every other major polling agency. But what AP did was spike sharply upward the sample to favor the Democratsby a whopping 17%, something which doesn’t square with realistic demographic numbers.  It was a hedge based on a hunch that Obama’s strength has zoomed and there has been a thus far unnoticed (but by it) massive dislocation of political allegiance to the Democratic party.   But here the AP stands alone. 
       In almost 40 polls taken since the middle of 2009, Democrats and Republicans are seen to range in the 40s with the split…as in most Gallup samplings… at most 7 percentage points.
         For example, in late April it showed the American public at 31% Republican,36% independent,32% Republican.   The AP is betting somehow the party IDs have changed that drastically since Obama killed Osama.  It alleges the country today isnearly one half Democratic and less than a third Republican.  Wow—if so, the election’s over before it even began…on a par with the FDR halcyon days.  Does it seem like that to you?  As one who lived through FDR, it sure doesn’t to me.
        Gallup has the two parties ID about even. Pew’s latest poll shows Dems ahead by 7.
         Speaking of FDR in 1936 a prominent magazine devoted to public opinion, the Literary Digest foretold a massive Alf Landon victory over Roosevelt based on another hedge—that the election results in Maine, then held in September, would translate across the country due to the fact that the then truism  “as Maine goes, so goes the nation” would be validated. It was true that for years Maine elections were a bellwether for the nation and the magazine just went along. 
It took the Maine numbers…heavily Republican…and spiked them proportionately across the country. Its  conclusion: FDR was a goner for reelection. In reality the November election was the heaviest, one-sided victory in history up to that point…for the Democrats and Landon carried only Maine and Vermont.
        That was the end of the Literary Digest and the upshot for a fledgling polling company, Gallup.  All right—it may be the AP’s hedge is better than anyone else’s…but if it isn’t, the one-time conservatively written and edited service (in contrast to the  early flamboyant UPI) may lose all its credibility. 
What bothers me….as one who in his youth strung for the AP from central Minnesota…was how conservative that organization was not just in fact gathering but in toned-down writing.  The wire service that was always more colorful and made more inaccuracies was UP, United Press, later to amalgamate with Hearst’s International News Service as UPI.   On a string assignment for the AP in 1955,  I interviewed Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt in Minnesota, she being then the permanent representative to the UN….an appointment made by Harry Truman and which continued over in the Eisenhower administration. She was traveling in the state with Ambassador Eugenie Anderson…the first woman ambassador to Denmark.   What I gleaned from Mrs.R  was a blow-by-blow back-and-forth between she and the Russians on drafting the UN’s “Universal Declaration on Human Rights.” . 
       I wrote it up and got a call from AP New York and a guy who questioned me up and down about the authenticity since the wire-service’s old line diplomatic correspondent hadn’t been able to shake loose those facts. After questioning me for a half-hour with lengthy cross-examination, he sighed and said,  “okay kid but if you’re wrong your ass is on the line.” I wasn’t wrong and my ass was promoted at my paper after that…the weekly salary hoisted to a massive $67.50 a week—from $45.00 which meant that I wouldn’t  have to work nights as a barroom pianist at a shot-and-beer farmers’ tavern any more.

         Since Obama’s election I must say I have never seen any news agency take a more dramatic turn to the Left than the AP.   Slanting the news is one thing..making  a goofy hedge as with its poll baseline numbers is another.   Now it’s the AP ass which is on the line.

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