It’s always wise to look inside the paper for the real news when The Washington Post reports on improving polls for Republicans. The headline in Monday’s paper is “GOP’s zeal for Romney grows,” but adds underneath “Race is still close after 1st debate; Poll shows little change among likely voters.” On the front page, reporter Dan Balz and pollster Jon Cohen urged on readers that “Even as voters overwhelmingly perceive that Romney won the first debate, the vast majority say their opinion of the president did not shift as a result.”
Only inside do you learn about how enthusiasm now for Mitt Romney doubles John McCain’s at this point in 2008, and that the “virtual dead heat” touted in the first paragraph is matched in paragraph 17 with a 9-point Democrat sampling push:
The improvement in views of Romney carries directly into the underpinnings of his support: Fewer of his supporters now express anxiety about a Romney administration, and the number of his backers saying they support him “very enthusiastically” jumped by double digits. Among the likely voters supporting Romney, 62 percent now do so intensely, exactly double the number who were eagerly lined up behind Republican nominee John McCain at this stage in the campaign four years ago.
...Obama lags behind 2008 in assembling a winning coalition because groups of voters highly likely to back his candidacy — including Democrats, non-whites and younger voters — are far less interested in the campaign this time around.
The headline inside the paper stressed “Optimism up about direction of US.” The Post insisted the poll would be tight no matter how they sampled partisans: "In the current poll, Democrats outnumber Republicans by nine percentage points among likely voters; the previous three Post-ABC polls had three-, six- and five-percentage-point edges for Democrats. The presidential contest would now be neck and neck nationally with any of these margins."
All of this reminds Post readers that Jon Cohen should be a little embarrassed to close out his Sunday commentary on "Five myths about poltiical polls" with a media-bias denial:
5. News outlets are biased in presenting polls favorable toward President Obama.
Media-bashing is at a peak among conservatives, and some on the right routinely dismiss any poll showing Obama ahead of Romney. (And some on the left reflexively scorn polls in which Romney leads.) Before recent surveys turned in Romney’s direction, one conservative blogger went so far as to set up UnskewedPolls.com, a site offering “adjusted” public polls, tilted to favor Romney by manipulating the samples to be more Republican.
In truth, news organizations have only one bias — toward news.