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Gorging on Gallup

There's a lesson here.

Live by the Gallup, die by the Gallup.

I regularly argue that the media place too much faith in polls; just ask Martha Coakley and Lisa Murkowski, both of whom were supposed to win easily.

But the generic polls seem most problematic to me. People may say they want the GOP or the Democrats to control Congress, but when voters go into the booth, they have to decide between the incumbent, Joe Jones, and the challenger, Jane Smith. And incumbents usually win.

But the press went wild over a big swing in Gallup's party-preference survey. The result: a Washington Post story headlined "51% favor Republicans for Congress, poll finds." And lots of other stories and endless cable chatter.
Washington Monthly's Steve Benen blows the whistle on this craziness:

It was billed as the GOP's biggest Gallup lead in the history of humanity, and the results generated massive media attention, including a stand-alone Washington Post piece on page A2. It was iron-clad evidence, we were told, of impending Democratic doom. ...

Wouldn't you know it, a week later, that massive, unprecedented, world-changing lead Republicans enjoyed is gone. The new Gallup numbers show the GOP losing five points and Dems gaining five points, leaving the parties tied at 46%. Is there any coherent rationale to explain a 10-point swing in Dems' favor over the last week? Of course not."

From the right, Hot Air's Ed Morrissey agrees:

If the enthusiasm numbers for voters haven't changed, then how did Democrats erase a six-point deficit in just one week? Something is seriously wrong at Gallup this summer, and I'm not the only one to notice it. NBC's Chuck Todd tweeted yesterday after this release about the lack of reliability in the Gallup figures:

"We specifically advise our colleagues to be leery of Gallup. Most, if not all, NBC news shows avoid."

Chuck was right. Tracking polls are volatile.

Does this amount to a comeback for the Democrats? No way.

It's more of a lesson in the vicissitudes of polling.

By Howard Kurtz  |  September 8, 2010; 11:42 AM ET
Categories:  Top story  
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