How much faith do you put in polls?
May 24th, 2012
04:36 PM ET

How much faith do you put in polls?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

With more than five months to go before election day, there's one thing you can count on: the polls.

There will be polls. Lots and lots of polls.

Some of us in the media tend to hyperventilate about the latest polls, their significance, and what we can read into them. but it's worth remembering that sometimes, they're just numbers.

The Los Angeles Times has a smart piece that lays out some rules on how to be smart about the polls.

For starters, don't forget the limits of national polls.

While presidential elections are fought out state-by-state in the electoral college, most polls are nationwide. It's too expensive to keep polling all the battleground states individually.

So while national polls can be helpful, they may hide important changes at the state level.

Next up: don't obsess about small shifts in the horse-race numbers.

Small bounces in the polls for Pres. obama or Mitt Romney from week-to-week are likely a result of natural changes in the statistical sample. Instead - pay attention to what issues are moving voters.

Another hint: be skeptical of apparent big swings. They usually don't happen in the general election.

Also: don't mix apples and oranges.

Every polling organization does things a little bit differently, which could explain significant "shifts" in surveys done by different pollsters in the same state.

Lastly, this Los Angeles piece suggests it's wise not to set out looking for a poll that supports what you already think, "as the saying goes, some people use data the way a drunk uses a lamppost - for support rather than illumination."

Here’s my question to you: How much faith do you put in polls?

Tune in to the Situation Room at 5pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.

And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.

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Filed under: 2012 Election • Polls
October 18th, 2010
06:00 PM ET

How much do attack ads damage our faith in our leaders?


People cast their votes at a polling station set up at the Miami-Dade Government Center. Florida residents headed to the polls to cast votes on the first day of early voting in the midterm elections. (PHOTO CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES)

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

Political campaigns are a brutal sport - but this season's attack ads seem to be nastier than ever.

Politico reports that while candidates have always attacked each other, distorted their opponents' records and taken their statements out of context... this year's "napalm-flavored" attack ads take it to a whole new level.

Some of this year's ads suggest that the politicians running for office aren't just untrustworthy or inexperienced, they are cruel and sick individuals.

For example: Campaign ads accuse candidates of wanting to gas shelter animals, of wanting to inject young girls with dangerous drugs, of letting men beat their wives... and of helping child molesters - either by buying them Viagra or protecting their privacy.

A lot of these ads are coming from incumbents who are worried that they're on their way out in November. They seem to think that by turning their challengers into monsters, they have a chance of winning.

One of the most notorious ads of the campaign season is by a Florida Democrat who calls his challenger "Taliban Dan."

While some of these over-the-top attack ads contain some level of truth, experts suggest that at a certain point they become counterproductive. They say voters tend to believe the worst about politicians, but when attacks become too outrageous, they stop buying it.

Meanwhile, the people running these ads want to be - or already are - our leaders in Washington. And it says a lot about the kind of people representing us that they're willing to resort to such a low level of rhetoric in order to win.

Here’s my question to you: How much do attack ads damage our faith in our leaders?

Interested to know which ones made it on air?


Filed under: Election Process • Elections • Polls
October 5th, 2010
05:00 PM ET

Better for candidate to stay off campaign trail or risk a mistake?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

It's being called the "year of the missing candidate."

Politico reports how with only a month to go before the midterms, candidates in some key statewide races are missing in action on the campaign trail.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/10/05/art.odonnell.jpg caption="Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell at the Values Voter Summit on September 17."]
They're skipping debates, ducking out on public events, refusing to publicize the ones they hold and opting out of national television interviews all together.

This includes everyone from newcomers like Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Rand Paul in Kentucky to incumbents like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or Texas Governor Rick Perry.

The reason why: these candidates are worried that if they do step out in public, they'll do or say something stupid that will come back to haunt them.

They're gambling that in the long run it's better to get some bad press for staying away from the campaign trail than to be caught on tape in some "gotcha" moment.

Political observers are stunned at the lengths to which some candidates are going, like refusing to release public schedules to local reporters or running away from cameras and shouted questions. Some wonder if going forward, candidates in state races will be as tightly guarded as presidential candidates.

Then again - you can't totally blame these politicians when you take into account the rise of what's called the "tracker culture." Opponents send staffers with camcorders to their events to record every single word a candidate utters. Make a mistake and you turn up in your opponent's campaign ad to be seen over and over again.

Here’s my question to you: Is it better for a candidate to stay off the campaign trail or risk making a mistake?

Interested to know which ones made it on air?


Filed under: Election Process • Elections • Polls
August 20th, 2009
05:00 PM ET

Why are Democrats' and Obama's approval ratings falling?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

As the debate over health care rages on... the American people are increasingly souring on President Obama and the Democrats. A new poll shows the president's approval rating at 51-percent - the lowest of his presidency and down from 61-percent two-months ago.

The Pew poll shows the Democratic Party now has a favorable rating of 49-percent... also down from 59-percent in April and 62-percent in January.

When it comes to the Republican Party - public opinion has remained steady all year at about 40-percent.

Meanwhile it looks like the American people aren't buying into calls for bipartisanship. The poll shows 63-percent of those surveyed say the president and Republicans are not working together on important issues... that's up from 50-percent who felt that way in June.

Although more people blame the Republicans than President Obama for this lack of co-operation, the poll shows a growing number are now faulting the president. 17-percent of Americans say Mr. Obama is to blame... that's up from seven-percent who felt that way in February.

Meanwhile a separate Gallup poll shows the Democratic-led Congress' approval at 31-percent... the lowest reading since February.

With health care eclipsing all else in Washington this summer - it seems as though the president and the Democrats are losing favor with the American people. It will be interesting to see what happens to these numbers if the Democrats decide to "go it alone" like we've been hearing.

Here’s my question to you: Why are the Democrats' and President Obama's approval ratings falling?

Interested to know which ones made it on air?


January 10th, 2008
07:25 PM ET

After New Hampshire, will you trust the polls again?


FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

It was one of the biggest misses by the polls ever. They all saw Hillary Clinton losing to Barack Obama, and they were all wrong. As late as nine o'clock the night of the New Hampshire Primary, people inside the Clinton campaign were still saying they expected Hillary to lose.

So what happened? Some possible explanations from the pollsters suggest record turnouts produced a different electorate than expected. There's the idea that while the polls accurately showed Obama's support among independents, they didn't reflect the large Democratic turnout helping Clinton.

Others point to the fact that almost 20% of voters made up their minds on primary day and most of the polling had stopped before then.

There are those who suggest race may have played a role. The head of the Pew Research Center says poorer, less-educated New Hampshire voters may not have wanted to admit to pollsters that they wouldn't vote for Obama, a black candidate.

And, of course, there were the last-minute events on the campaign trail itself, including Clinton's emotional moment in that diner on Monday.

Regardless of why it happened, the polling industry – as well as the news media which rely heavily on polls – were all left looking pretty stupid. And it raises the issue of how heavily anyone should rely on them to begin with.

Interested to know which ones made it on air?


Filed under: New Hampshire • Polls • Primaries