Herman Cain has been ahead of Mitt Romney in the most recent GOP presidential candidate polling average at Real Clear Politics by a microscopic margin since late last week.
Readers might be surprised to know that the wordings of the presidential preference questions at the various polling organizations differ significantly. In my view, the same person might given a different answer depending on which organization's polling question was asked. Here are the examples, with the Cain-Romney split identified in each instance (links are to fairly large PDFs in some instances):
Items 1 and 7 from AP-GfK and Gallup are questionable, because there may be a difference between who someone would personally prefer right now and who they would most prefer for the nomination. I would argue that Mitt Romney currently benefits from this question given his alleged perception (not so coincidentally fostered by the AP) as the "inevitable" candidate. Geez guys, why not just ask the "if the election were held today" question?
Items 2, 5, and 7 from CNN and NBC/WSJ are also weak in the sense that the candidates named at the actual questions are actually running; no one is a "may" or a "might" (i.e., Palin, Christie, and others are NOT mentioned). If a respondent isn't sure that a bottom-tier candidate they might otherwise support is really running, that might skew the answers towards the front-runners, again (since his name recognition is currently the highest) benefitting Romney. Perhaps these pollsters just haven't updated the presentations even though they're getting the questions right in actually polling conversations or robocalls. If that's the case, they're just being sloppy in reporting.
Items 3 and 4 are fine, unless you think Rammussen's omission of Gary Johnson is somehow a problem.
The introductory statement at Item 6 from Reuters/Ipsos also seems designed to mislead some voters. Some may conclude that "the field is becoming clear" means that lower-tier candidates are close to being winnowed away, again leading to a bias towards the front-runners, and currently to Romney because he has the highest name recognition. Why do that?
Unfortunately, the wide variance in the presidential polling question means that -- in addition to sampling and other problems often found -- how the question was asked has to be considered before reaching a conclusion as to how particular candidates are actually faring -- and perhaps "unfairly" benefitting.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.