If a left-wing president were to lose the New York Times, there would be good reason for him and his operatives to flip out. President Obama hasn’t lost the New York Times; he has merely “lost” a new poll by CBS/New York Times taken five months before the election. It shows him trailing Mitt Romney 46-43, and trailing among women by 46-44. And he hasn’t “lost” that poll in any strong sense; Romney’s lead is within the margin of error
Apparently, though, this “setback” was enough to cause the hyper-sensitive Obama operation to lash out at the Times. According to a campaign spokesperson, the poll used a “biased sample.” The sample was biased, according to Team Obama, because the Times had used the same sample in April. That, of course, wouldn’t make the sample biased. Politico reports, however, that according to the Obama camp, the group surveyed in April had produced an “outlier” result in which Romney led its man.
Team Obama’s complaints are without merit and border on the ridiculous. First, the April CBS/New York Times poll showed Romney and Obama in a dead-heat; Romney was not ahead. And this finding was not out of line with other polls. Fox also showed a dead-heat. Quinnipiac had Obama up by 4 points, NBC/Wall Street Journal by 6, and CNN by 9. But Gallup had Romney ahead by 5 points and Rasmussen had him up by 3. Thus, nothing in the April results suggested that CBS/New York Times should not re-poll the group that showed the candidates tied.
Second, there is nothing wrong with re-polling the same people. In fact, doing so can be useful in seeing how a major event (here Obama’s flip-flop in gay marriage) has affected the race. As a Times spokesperson patiently explained:
While The Times and CBS regularly conduct fresh random sample surveys on a variety of issues, we occasionally employ a short-term callback method of previous respondents when we are interested in analyzing changes in public opinion on timely subjects, as we did, for example, upon the death of Osama bin Laden. As we pointed out when we published the article, results on subgroups from call back surveys have a larger sampling error.
By the way, in the same new Times/CBS poll, two-thirds of those surveyed said that Obama’s switch on the gay marriage issue was politically motivated. No “sampling error” could explain that finding away.
This election season figures to be a bumpy ride, with polling ups and polling downs for both sides. It’s not a good sign for the Obama campaign that it has overreacted shrilly and publicly to one marginally adverse poll. But maybe the problem was simply that Team Obama expects the New York Times to run better interference for it.