Tenn. Newspaper Tries New Polling Standard, Residents

File this one under wishful thinking -- or simply just another case of a liberal newspaper trying to help President Barack Obama's floundering re-election effort. The Tennessean, the daily newspaper in Tennessee's capital city Nashville, over the weekend trumpeted this headline: "Vanderbilt Poll: Obama Closes Gap With Romney."

According to the article, Obama is just one point behind Romney in one of the reddest states in the South, a state John McCain won in 2008 by 15.1 percentage points over Obama. It's also a state where the Republican Party captured near two-thirds majorities in both houses of the state legislature in 2010 and where voters chose Republicans in 7 of 9 congressional districts. The state has a popular Republican governor elected in landslide that same year, and both its U.S. Senators are Republicans.

So … how does it appear that Obama has “closed the gap” with Romney?

By some basic polling trickery, judging from this part of the story:

The poll of 1,002 Tennessee residents who are 18 and older found 42 percent would vote for Romney and 41 percent for Obama if the election were held now. The survey, conducted May 2-9 by Princeton Survey Research Associates International for Vanderbilt, had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

They polled residents. Not “likely voters.” Not even “registered voters.”

Good pollsters know that you get the most accurate poll results when you poll likely voters, since elections are won by getting more people to vote for you than vote against you.

Interestingly, as the paper reports, when the pollsters in this case delete the non-registered from the results, Romney leads Obama by 7 among registered voters.

The Vanderbilt Poll didn't try to find out where the race is among “likely voters,” but it's a pretty good guess that Romney is well ahead.  Why is that a good guess? 

The Democratic National Committee isn't sending big checks to Tennessee to help put Obama over the top here. Because they know Tennessee and its electoral votes are out of reach.

It's impossible to know whether the editors at the Nashville newspaper really believe the race is close, or wrote the headline in fervent desire to help make it so.

But whatever the reason for the headline, Adam Nickas, the executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party isn't buying the notion that Obama is virtually tied with Romney in the Volunteeer state

Nickas teased the Tennessee Democratic Party via Twitter shortly after the story was published: "All of @tndp's candidates should attach themselves to Obama this year since he's doing so well in TN."

You can be sure that's not going to happen.

I suppose it's possible that perhaps the Tennesseean's executives didn't realize what was going on when they approved the release of this embarrassing poll but if that's the case, the ownership ought to be really concerned that such uninformed people are spending their money.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013