In the age of Obama, we’re used to those on the conservative side not trusting the mainstream media. We’re used to the nuttier precincts refusing to believe that the President is really an American, that he’s the religion he says he is and, more recently, that his father is really his father.Now that the polls, with just over a month to go, nearly unanimously have Mitt Romney trailing President Obama both overall and in key swing states, add polling to the list of institutions that many conservatives just don’t trust.
Take UnskewedPolls. A Virginia-based blogger for Examiner.com named Dean Chambers saw the polls favoring Obama, didn’t believe them, and came up with new ones of his own. He weighed all of the national polls according to the Rasmussen poll’s turnout model—a tactic, for what it’s worth, rejected by Scott Rasmussen himself—and presto: Romney was leading, sometimes comfortably, in every poll.
Aside from blatant factual inaccuracy, UnskewedPolls represents several especially destructive trends on the right: the tendency to propagate outlandish conspiracy theories; the way pundits can build entire business models on misleading their own audience; and the problem that people who practice such dishonesty are rewarded rather than punished.
The mathematics of Chambers’s system has been pretty widely debunked. And on top of that, the methodology implies a massive conspiracy on behalf of the entire polling community—one that includes the likes of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and Rasmussen Reports—and takes as a given that every one of these pollsters is more concerned with helping Obama than they are with accuracy, or for that matter their professional reputations.
UnskewedPolls is a lot like arguing that the Phillies were in first place in the NL East all year, if you only count the first inning of each game. And then blaming the maliciously biased ESPN and Comcast Sports Net for conspiring to screw the Phils, on behalf of the Washington Nationals, by counting all nine innings instead.
I’m not saying it’s an absolute lock that Obama is going to win the election. He may very well not. But to argue that the entire polling apparatus—which has been around for decades, has gotten more scientific with time and technology, and isn’t usually all that far off—is at best completely wrong and at worst corrupt is a whole other leap altogether.
Chambers told Buzzfeed in an interview that he plans to expand the idea to unskewedpolitics.com and unskewedmedia.com, indicating that he has ambitions of becoming the next big conservative media entrepreneur, in the tradition of Andrew Breitbart. Give the guy credit; he knows his audience. I wouldn’t bet against him. Because when the election comes, and if Obama wins by the margin projected in the polls, will Chambers find his reputation in tatters? Of course not. Because in right-wing media, there’s no punishment for being horribly wrong.
Dick Morris, author of the 2005 book Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race is still brought on Fox News as a polling expert, despite getting just about every major prediction incorrect in his entire career. Even more morbidly, just about everyone who was a cheerleader for the Iraq war is still welcomed in conservative media with open arms, often to urge a similar war against Iran. I even saw Donald Rumsfeld on some cable show the other week opining about Libya, as if, post-Iraq, he has any standing to criticize foreign military adventures.
I know not everyone who’s a conservative believes in this stuff. Some are skeptical of the polls while not buying into the Unskewed delusion wholeheartedly. And yes, when you’re behind in an election it’s necessary to keep up a positive and optimistic attitude.
Overall, I still see a lot more conservative commentary of the “Romney is losing, and I’m worried” variety than the “Romney is secretly winning and why won’t the lying media admit it” position. But it’s very clear that the latter sells more books, gets more TV and radio ratings and draws more web clicks than the former. And that’s why, even in the event of an Obama win, we’re not likely to stop hearing this stuff anytime soon.