I love the Washington Post/ABC poll.  It’s a great object lesson in how to manufacture news.  Need a story that the incumbent President’s fortunes are looking up?  Well, just adjust the sample a bit and voila, he takes a seven point lead over his presumed rival in the fall election!  Besides, it gives me fodder for snarky material every few weeks.

Let’s get down to cases, shall we?

With the general-election campaign beginning to take shape, President Obama holds clear advantages over Mitt Romney on personal attributes and a number of key issues, but remains vulnerable to discontent with the pace of the economic recovery, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Obama has double-digit leads over the likely Republican presidential nominee on who would do a better job of protecting the middle class, addressing women’s issues, handling international affairs and dealing with health care.

You know where else Obama got a double-digit lead?  In the polling sample.  In 2008, when Democrats surged to the polls after eight years of George W. Bush, CNN’s exit polls showed a seven-point advantage for Democrats, 39/32, which mirrored Obama’s seven-point victory in the popular vote.  In 2010′s midterms, CNN exit polls showed a 35/35/30 split.  By contrast, the previous WaPo/ABC poll in March had a D/R/I of 31/27/36, which undersampled both parties relative to independents but left Democrats with a 4-point advantage — perhaps an arguable model for 2012 turnout.  Today’s has a D/R/I of 34/23/34, adding seven points to that Democratic advantage and presenting a completely unrepresentative, absurd model for the 2012 turnout.

What happens when you switch from a D+4 to a D+11 in measuring Obama’s standing?  Suddenly, his job approval goes from 46% to 50% — actually, a rather weak gain given the sampling distortion in the poll.  Not coincidentally, the last time Obama hit 50% in this poll was in February, which also had a D+11 sample, after January’s D+7.  Adding seven points to the Democratic advantage impacted Obama’s performance in all areas, although perhaps not as much as the editors had hoped:

  • Economy — Up six points from 38% to 44%
  • International affairs — Down two points from January’s poll, 47% from 49%
  • Right/wrong direction – Up three points from January

Now, with a D+11 and Republicans only comprising 23% of the respondents in this poll, one should be seeing huge leads for Obama in the head-to-head matchups.  Instead, Obama lead Romney by only eight among general-population adults, 51/43, barely getting into majority territory, and Santorum by ten, 51/41.  Among registered voters, Obama leads Romney by seven, 51/44 — in both cases, smaller than the artificial sample advantage of the poll.  In fact, adding seven more points to the Democratic advantage only resulted in Obama’s support growing by five points since March, and Romney’s dropped only four in that period.  Once again, the numbers are almost exactly like February’s poll, with its matching D+11 sample.

But hey — the Post got to write its headline, right?

Update: Twitchy captures a bizarre exchange between Stephen “VodkaPundit” Green, me, and a staffer at Think Progress, who jumped to the conclusion that we were raaaaaaaaaaaacists for joking about the WaPo/ABC poll.  You really have to read it for yourself, although Twitchy misses my tweet in reaction to Annie-Rose Strasser’s complaint about my “mean” response: “@ARStrasser @VodkaPundit I’m sorry for not being more gracious when you accused me of being a racist.”

Tags: media polls