Back in September, Harry Enten wrote a piece on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog taking GOP pollster Steve Mitchell to the woodshed for adjusting his polling when he didn’t get the answer he wanted. Mitchell had polled several races in Michigan and, when the numbers didn’t agree with what he thought they should be, he went back to the phones to poll some more until he got an answer he liked.
Here’s what Enten said in his post titled “Pollsters Shouldn’t Take Mulligans”:
I was troubled by a survey released Monday by Mitchell Research in Michigan. It wasn’t that the results — which showed Democratic Rep. Gary Peters leading Republican Terri Lynn Land by 2 percentage points in the U.S. Senate race and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder leading Democrat Mark Schauer by 5 points in the governor’s race — were necessarily wrong. It was how Mitchell said it arrived at them that bothered me.
From the Mitchell release:
Mitchell Research had intended to release a survey today that we conducted on Wednesday, Sept. 10th, prior to President Obama’s speech to the nation regarding the conflict in the Mid-East. That poll showed Snyder leading by only 1 point, and Peters up by 8 points. However, because of changing poll data nationally, we decided to conduct a survey last night (September 14) to see if those events coupled with the increased television advertising by Snyder and Land might have changed the races in Michigan.
Here’s one way to read this: Mitchell Research conducted a poll, thought the results looked wrong and decided to conduct another survey to get results it thought made more sense.
That would be fine if Mitchell released the full data from the first poll. But it didn’t.
That’s the sort of thing, especially coming from FiveThirtyEight, that could make a pollster rapidly become irrelevant. You know what else could do that? If the pollster did it again.
Well, folks, Mitchell has indeed done it again.
Here’s an email he sent out to “insiders” yesterday:
So, what we’re seeing here, despite all of the !distracting exclamation points!, is that a pollster who works predominantly for Republican candidates decided to keep polling when the results he got didn’t make him “comfortable”. What’s “comfortable” for a GOP pollster? We can only guess but, putting on my pundit’s hat, I’m going to say that a Republican pollster is most comfortable when he or she can present data to their client that shows they are killing it, that they are going to win and win big. I’ll go further and say that a GOP pollster is probably “uncomfortable” when their polling gives results that will give their client a sad.
So, in Steve Mitchell’s world, there’s only one thing to do: keep polling until you get the answer you want.
What will that mean? We’ll find out tomorrow. But know this: whatever that poll says, it should be ignored, no matter who the results favor. Because Steve Mitchell has proven, without a shadow of a doubt, that he has no credibility as a pollster.
By the way, it’s not like we didn’t already know that. In 2012, Mitchell Research whiffed on the Obama/Romney race in Michigan by a full 4.5 points in their last poll before the election.
I guess telling Republicans what they want to hear is very profitable. The rest of us, however, should feel free to ignore the results and point with ridicule at a pollster who keeps polling until he gets the answer
he his clients want.