Matt Lewis

Does believing Romney will win make you a ‘poll truther’?

Tuesday’s election has the potential to reinforce the accuracy of the polling profession and the mainstream media — or to seriously undermine their credibility.

Not all polls show Obama winning, of course, but most of them consistently have (albeit narrowly). As such, believing Romney will win almost necessitates one to believe that the mainstream media’s polls are skewed.

The problem is that this argument is typically the last refuge of losing campaigns. As former Bush strategist Matt Dowd said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week”:

“[E]very time you feel a losing campaign, these three things happen. The first thing happens is, don’t believe — the public polls are wrong.  That’s the first sign of a campaign that’s about to lose. The second thing, we’re going to change the nature of the electorate, and you’re not seeing it reflected in the polls. And the third thing is, the only poll that counts is Election Day.  When you hear those things, you know you’re about to lose.”

This is sort of what I meant when I wrote that a belief in Mitt Romney required faith. But since I wrote that, things have changed.

And, at the risk of sounding quixotic, it is worth saying that it is at least plausible the polls are, in fact, wrong.

It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. Remember how Barack Obama was supposed to trounce Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary four years ago?

It’s not absurd to think the polls might, intentionally or not, be skewed this time. And because of our electoral system, getting just one state — say Ohio — wrong might be all it takes.

How could this happen? If pollsters begin with wrong assumptions about turnout, it hardly matters if everything else is done meticulously.

For example, if pollsters assume Obama’s turnout in 2012 will rival his 2008 turnout, they will naturally conclude that he will win. But to many Republicans, that assumption seems highly unlikely. How is it possible voters are as enthusiastic about Obama as they were during his messianic “hope and change” campaign four years ago?

What is more, it appears self-evident that Romney has had more money — and a better ground operation — than John McCain.

Other factors like low response rates, cell phones, and early voting, could potentially complicate things for pollsters — even if you assume they are trying their best.

There’s also conventional wisdom, which has always said an incumbent polling below 50 percent is destined to lose. Obama has rarely polled at or above 50 percent. By this logic — which was widely believed and espoused by professionals prior to this cycle — Romney should win.

Another old saw says that winning independents equals winning an election. According to a new CNN poll, Romney is soundly beating Obama among  independents.

In short, I am not a “poll truther,” but neither am I convinced that the pollsters always get it right and are infallible. I’m pretty modest about my limited ability to predict Tuesday’s election. And I’m a little scared of the guy who has all the answers — regardless of which side of the aisle he’s on.

A healthy skepticism about almost everything is a good thing. And so, with apologies to Mr. Dowd, I would just say that the only poll that counts is Election Day.