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Of a certain Mississippi poll on marriage, and of those who make hay of it

Normally when I come across a poll to analyze, I’ll put on my impartial poll analysis hat and run it both at RedState and UnlikelyVoter. However seeing this new push poll by Public Policy Polling and the shamefully credulous response by Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway, I don’t want to hold back. I want to tell it like it is, and why unless some very good answers are given to some very important issues I’m about to raise, public opinion of both Doug Mataconis and of Tom Jensen should be diminished.

Here’s the upshot though: ever since the 2010 election, Tom Jensen has been placing his feelings as a Democrat partisan over his duty as a purported independent pollster, and that bias has now gone too far. Doug Mataconis has long been a bitter, mean-spirited troll of all good and decent reformers within the GOP, and his deranged hatred for conservatives has diminished his mental faculties to the point that he’ll believe any lie that comes down, as long as it’s nasty about conservatives. But, what do we expect from a guy whose personal web page has become an obsessive shrine to Ron Paul?

Now on to the poll, to do the checking up that Doug Mataconis would have done himself, had he any self-respect or, frankly, intelligence when it comes to debating honest Republicans. This poll, purported to be a weighted sampling of “400 usual Mississippi Republican primary voters,” is interesting right from the start. First, the mention of ‘weighting’ is unusual in that back in the runup to the 2010 elections, PPP polls didn’t mention any weighting. Second, the poll completely skips any opportunity to poll Democrats, either for in-state elections or the Presidential primaries. Third, usually when one polls an issue, that issue is one that was already being discussed and debated, possibly even with pending legislation. However the insertion of a question on “interracial marriage” is one that Jensen and PPP themselves introduced, not nationally but just for the Mississippi poll. What is going on?

The mention of weighting, without any description of details or motivation for that weighting, ought to disturb any observer. After all, PPP’s predecessor as Daily Kos house pollster, Research 2000, was admittedly doing arbitrary hand-weighting of results, carrying changes from the crosstabs through to the top line, when Markos Moulitsas and the gang fired and sued R2k. That’s not to say all weighting has been repudiated; demographic weighting based on independent, trusted figures such as those from the US Census Bureau, is pretty commonly done, even if a true statistical sampling method should make it unnecessary.

PPP ought to come out and explain just what is being weighted, why, and how. This is not optional, otherwise I don’t see how anyone takes this, or any future PPP polls, as serious-minded, independent efforts to gauge public opinion. Given the recent history of polling fraud on the left, and the obvious potential for bias when a pollster associated with the far left is polling Republicans, Tom Jensen and company have a duty to justify what they’re doing.

The obvious lack of any polling of Democrats by PPP is another red flag. Why might PPP not be polling Democrats right now? The most obvious answer would be that President Obama’s current leading opponent, Randall Terry, isn’t likely to defeat a sitting President in a pro-abortion party using his outspoken pro-life message. However the lack of credible opposition doesn’t stop PPP from polling unnamed opposition to Senator Roger Wicker in the Mississippi poll. Note this paragraph of PPP’s write up:

Voters are very satisfied with their junior Senator Roger Wicker. 72% see his views as being “about right.” But as is the case in many states, PPP finds that if given a choice between even the most strident right-winger and a generic “more conservative challenger” in the primary, voters would prefer or nearly favor the latter. Here, voters are split, 40-39 in favor of Wicker. His bid for renomination will likely be uncontested, but this is an interesting gauge of voters’ mood.

So where’s the PPP polling pitting Barack Obama against a generic “more progressive challenger,” or a description of any elected Democrat as a “most strident left-winger?” PPP needs to take action quickly to correct this bias of omission if anyone who isn’t a left-wing activist is to take them seriously anymore.

And lastly we move onto the question that brought this poll into prominence in the first place. Why on Earth would any credible pollster ask question 14 at all? “Do you think interracial marriage should be legal or illegal?” is not something that’s really up for debate in America today. I see no movement to reverse the Loving decision, I see no questioning of judges on whether they think it was rightly decided, and I see no attempts to pass laws in defiance of that decision. So-called antimiscegenation laws have no support in America today outside of a radical fringe outside of mainstream politics.

In fact my own research can’t find any marriage debate going on at all in Mississippi. The last major change to marriage law in the state came in 2002, when HB 1934 was passed implementing Covenant Marriage as an option in the state. The state had already defined marriage as between a man and a woman in 1997 when a constitutional amendment doing the same was passed in 2004. In any case, there is no movement to reverse Loving in Mississippi.

The only possible reason I can think of to include this issue in this poll is to further messaging by the Democrats. There’s no reason to single out Mississippi for this issue except that it’s in line with shameful, baseless left-wing attacks on Haley Barbour, the Governor who embarrassed Kathleen Blanco with his competence after Hurricane Katrina, the RNC Chairman who oversaw the end of 40 years of Democrat control of the US House of Representatives, and the RGA Chairman who led a number of Republicans, including union fatcats’ least favorite Governors Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and John Kasich, to win races in their states.

When a pollster uses his good name, and in the past I’ve stuck up for PPP when many Republicans assumed the worst from the firm, to attack an entire state’s Republican party with an out of the blue question with mysteriously weighted results, it’s time we all re-thought whether we’re going to take that pollster seriously going forward. At the very least, if you’re going to question on that obscure issue, ask Democrats and Independents the same thing. After all, it was the Jim Crow-era Democrats who supported the policy that Loving declared unconstitutional, and some of them are still alive and voting.

And when someone who claims to be a Republican (edit: as his personal webpage cites his history of GOP work, with no mention of repudiation) unquestioningly repeats the results of this poll, which has the above obvious problems with it, and starts trying to lecture “these people” without even allowing for the possibility that the poll is biased, that person has to have his intelligence questioned. Only a complete fool believes everything he reads. Doug Mataconis is apparently that fool.

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