Dana Perino: Let me drop a truth bomb on you about these polls

An amazing clip, not because what she’s saying is controversial but because it isn’t remotely controversial and yet there’s an air of tremulous hesitation about it, like a doctor trying to tell her patient he has cancer. So uneasy is she about having to break the news to viewers that dozens of polls pointing one way aren’t wrong that she felt obliged to elaborate in writing, in a piece titled “I Will Never Lie to You.” That’s the eternal conflict within partisan media in six short words. When the truth and the best interests of The Cause conflict, what’s a partisan who works in media to do? Trumpet the hard truth on the theory that reliable information is more useful to one’s party than soothing lies? Or trumpet the lies on the theory that an unhappy truth can be demoralizing and self-defeating? “Wishful thinking is the greatest enemy of the Republican Party,” writes Perino. She’s made her choice.

She beats herself up in the clip for having thought to the bitter end in 2012 that Romney would win. What she doesn’t say is that there was some reason to believe that based on the polling. Check out how close it was in the national polls down the stretch four years ago:


Six separate polls had the race dead even, three had Obama by just a point, and two had Romney by a point. O’s final margin in the RCP average was 0.7 percent, a jump ball. It wasn’t nutty to think that a race that close would tip to the challenger in a sluggish economic climate. The fatal flaw in that analysis, though, which I’m guilty of too, was valuing the national polls more than the state polls, which showed a more comfortable Obama win. RCP’s average in the state polls predicted the outcome correctly in 49 out of 50 cases, missing Florida only because that state was so close. That was a hard lesson learned, but it made sense in hindsight: We don’t have a national election in November, we have 50 state elections, so why would you ever privilege the national polls over the states ones when they conflict?

The point, though, is that there was some evidence to believe Romney would win. Fast-forward to 2016 and here’s what the national polls taken in August look like:


The only poll since August 1st to have Trump even within three points is the good ol’ LA Times. The state polls right now are even worse, with Clinton staring at a blowout in Pennsylvania, a state that’s virtually must-win for Trump. And yet O’Reilly asks Perino, within the context of this discussion about the national numbers, whether her personal views of Trump are colored by the fact that she’s a Bush loyalist. That’s like interrupting the doctor who’s delivering a cancer diagnosis to ask if he has something personal against the patient.

The punchline to all this is that Trump himself seems to understand, per last night’s pivot to “regret,” that he has a problem electorally and needs to do something to right the ship. His new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, is a pollster by trade. She’s under no illusions either. And yet:

“I don’t believe in the polls,” said Phillip Morgon, who attended [Trump’s] rally with two friends from Concord, North Carolina. “They ain’t called us.”

Proof of Trump’s dominance can be demonstrated by the size of his rallies, compared with Clinton’s smaller events, which are held in gymnasiums, he said. Gesturing around the room before the rally began, he added, “I’ll bet most of the people here never got called for a poll.”…

“Nobody has asked me,” said [Douglas] Breeding. “I don’t see people on social media saying that they support Hillary Clinton. I think mainstream media manipulates polls to benefit her so that people think there is no reason to vote. I believe Trump is up, and he will win in November by a big margin.”

The punchline that’s coming is that the poll skeptics within Trump’s base will switch instantly to poll true believers once Trump’s numbers begin to improve and the “comeback” narrative is officially under way. Perino herself allows here that the race will tighten eventually, which is true with little doubt. Hillary Clinton is too weak of a candidate to run away with a national election, even against a weak challenger in Trump. If you’re prepared to believe in a Trump comeback, though, which will be measured by polls, then necessarily you need to believe that he really is trailing right now. Otherwise there’s nothing to come back from. And if/when the numbers do change, you’ll have to explain why the Great Pollster Conspiracy to depress Trump’s numbers artificially and throw the election to Hillary was abandoned before Election Day. (You’ll also have to explain why any pollster would deliberately make his polling less accurate knowing that it’ll shatter confidence in his business if the result in November differs starkly from his prediction. “Anything for the left,” I guess.)

One last point that Perino doesn’t touch on. Part of the reason some Trump voters think the polls are rigged is, of course, because Trump has pushed the idea that the election is rigged (unless he wins). If you think a national election involving 125 million votes can be gamed to produce a Clinton landslide, why wouldn’t you believe that a few dozen pollsters have colluded to tweak their data?


In 2004, with the left in the grip of anti-Bush fever, 48 percent of Democrats nonetheless said they were “very confident” that their votes would be counted accurately. Today, among Republicans, it’s 38 percent. That’s not all Trump’s doing. Some of it is a partisan effect of the out-party’s voters always having less faith that the party in power will play fairly, some of it is Clinton-specific in fearing that Bill and Hillary will find some nefarious way to tilt the board towards them, and part of it is the general decline of public faith in American institutions over the last 10 years. It may be that we’d be seeing unusual high fears of vote-rigging this year regardless of who the GOP nominee is. Even so, though — just 11 percent of Trump supporters are “very confident” in the national vote count and a bare majority of 50 percent are either “not too confident” or “not confident at all.” Some of that is Trump. If you believe that the national books can be cooked on Election Day, you’re probably also a hard sell on the idea that Hillary’s winning right now nationally. Why, if anything, the pollsters are probably coordinating with Hillary to prepare public expectations in anticipation of the Big Rigging in November. Just look at her crowd sizes compared to Trump’s, after all.