On Friday, Indiana Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock opened up a second front in his battle for the Senate: against a poll that showed him struggling in the final days before the election.
The Mourdock campaign attacked a Howey/DePauw poll released Friday morning that showed him trailing his Democratic opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly by a 11 points, 47 percent to 36 percent. Previously polls had shown a much tighter race. (RELATED: Poll shows Mourdock trailing substantially)
As a result of the poll, The Washington Post moved the race from “toss up” to “lean Democratic.”
The Mourdock campaign dismissed the poll as fiction.
On a conference call, Mourdock pollster John McLaughlin bashed the Howey/DePauw as unreliable, saying that Democratic pollster Fred Yang, who conducted the poll with Republican pollster Christine Matthews, polled for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, one of Mourdock’s biggest attackers, and was therefore unreliable.
The Mourdock campaign released an internal poll conducted by McLaughlin showing him two points ahead – 46 percent to 44 percent.
Later, they put out a statement accusing the pollsters of misrepresenting the numbers.
“Fred Yang is a well-known Democrat who works for the DSCC and has a clear conflict of interest in this race. Christine Matthews is backpedaling on this poll,” said Deputy Campaign Manager Brose McVey. “Brian Howey scrambled together a conference call this morning to defend his weighted poll data, but said he won’t release the original, unweighted data and cross tabs. Given these facts, Hoosiers have every right to be skeptical of this survey and we call on Brian Howey to change his position and release the unweighted data and cross tabs of this alleged poll.”
Matthews, the Republican pollster who worked with Democratic pollster Yang to put out the poll, pushed back on that statement, by retweeting Eric Bradner, Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for the Evansville Courier and Press, who said: “For the record: @hwypol has given me any cross-tabs I’ve asked for, and @cmatthewspolls has not back-pedaled. #INSen.”
Both Howey and Matthews tweeted out that a poll was meant to be a picture of the electorate at a specific period of time – not a prediction of election day results.
“One thing I would say is #insen poll shows a likely Donnelly win but not by 11 points on Election Day. Captured the moment 1 week out,” tweeted Matthews.
“Do I need to give lesson in basic polling concepts? Like ‘snapshot in time’? That final result will differ due to 11% undecided?” tweeted Howey.
“Do I need to explain to RMourdock that in final 72 hrs, numbers move?” tweeted Howey later, pointing to Mourdock’s primary win over Lugar by a far larger margin than pollsters had predicted.
Pollster McLaughlin and Rob Schmidt pointed to other numbers in Howey poll that they said were completely unfeasible in a state as red as Indiana, where Romney is expected to win easily in a memo released Friday.
“While the overall party differential in the latest Howey DePauw is consistent with our findings, there are significant behavioral differences among the Independent voters,” wrote McLaughlin and Schmidt.
“Independents in the Howey DePauw survey are looking more Democratic, which is contrary to our survey findings,” the two wrote. “In a state where Mitt Romney is poised to win by double digits, Howey DePauw has him trailing President Obama among Independents.”
The campaign later blasted out an article from The Fix blog at the Washington Post, which said “polling” had the worst week in Washington. The blog post also discussed some of the partisan aspects of polling data, which is often presented as unbiased science.
“What all of that polling means is that partisans, who already live in a choose-your-own-political-reality world, can select the numbers that comply with their view of the race and pooh-pooh the data that suggest anything different,” wrote Chris Cillizza, in a part of the article emphasized in the Mourdock release.
“Here’s the truth: Polling is, and always has been, equal parts art and science. Deciding what questions to ask, in what order to ask them and whether to weight the results to a preconceived idea of the poll sample’s partisan makeup are all judgment calls,” runs another sentence bolded in the Mourdock release.
A source close to the campaign alleged that the results were a reflection of Howey’s personal feelings toward Mourdock.
“Brian Howey has consistently had a grudge against Richard Mourdock. He has written column after column attacking Richard’s record as a state treasurer and as a person,” said the source. “Now he’s suggesting Obama is winning independents in Indiana. This close to election day, it’s fair to say Brian Howey has become unhinged.”
Those on Murdock’s campaign are not the only people questioning the polls.
“I don’t think that Donnelly is ahead by 11 points,” said Jennifer Duffy, Senior Editor for the Cook Political Report. “That isn’t to say that he isn’t ahead, perhaps by 3-5 points, but there are some things in that poll that just don’t make sense. If I was Mourdock, I might have spent the day attacking the poll too. He needs the base motivated, not discouraged.”
A Rasmussen poll released later in the day found Donnelly ahead by three points, showing a distinct shift in Donnelly’s favor since Rasmussen’s polling at the beginning of October, when Mourdock led by five points.