Media Hype AZ Poll Oversampling Hispanics

In the wake of Barack Obama's disastrous debate performance, and clear signs that Mitt Romney is gaining momentum in the final weeks of the campaign, the media this morning are seizing on a new poll showing Obama up 2 percent in generally safe Republican Arizona, 44-42, among likely voters. 

For weeks, we've seen deep blue states becoming more competitive. This is the first red state showing any kind of sign of being competitive. The media obviously love this story, but that doesn't make it true. 

The media believe this poll because it confirms their belief that Hispanics will turn out this fall again in record numbers and vote overwhelmingly against the Republicans. 

The GOP does have a problem appealing to Hispanics in many parts of the country, due to its often over-heated rhetoric on immigration, an issue important to many in the Hispanic community. 

It may be cynical to say this, but Hispanics don't vote proportionate to their numbers. 

Hispanics make up about 30% of the population in Arizona. Bu only 20% of registered voters in the state are Hispanic. In 2008, a record year for Hispanic turnout, they made up just 16% of the overall electorate. The poll being hyped by the media, from Behavior Research Center, does a shifty thing: it weights its sample of interviews based on each demographic's share of the population

Where necessary, figures for age, sex, race and political party were weighted to bring them into line with their actual proportion in the population.

In doing so, the poll aggressively oversamples the Hispanic population. In the polling memo, they even admit this may alter the actual results:

If Latinos turn out in numbers proportionate to their population, which has never been the case in the past, they could help send a Democrat to the U.S. Senate and revitalize the once long tradition of Arizona having one Democrat and one Republican in the Senate. But if the Latino vote is disproportionately low, the Arizona Senate delegation will almost certainly stay in the GOP column.

So, yes, if the Hispanic community does something it has never done in the past, then, yes, Arizona might be competitive this year. But this poll also invites a big question: if it is weighting Hispanics proportionate to their share of the population, then why is Obama only in the low 40s?

There obviously hasn't been a lot of polling in Arizona this year. The last poll, conducted by Democrat-leaning PPP, found Romney with a 9-point lead. That poll was conducted before the first presidential debate. It's hard to believe that, in the weeks since, Arizona has lurched so dramatically towards the Democrats. 

That is especially true when you look at this poll's findings on the question of whom is certain not to vote this year. 

Percent of registered voters who frankly admit they will probably not vote in the 2012 election.

  • Republicans 4%
  • Conservatives 10%
  • Caucasians 10%
  • Liberals 11%
  • Democrats 15%
  • Independents 22%
  • Latino 24%

This is not the profile of a state moving towards the Democrats. The least likely demographic to vote are Hispanics and yet it appears this poll as weighted them proportionate to the population. The polling firm didn't release any internals, so it's hard to analyze how itmight have arrived at these numbers. One can't even tell the partisan breakdown of the poll. The numbers don't have any kind of logic to them. For example, if the groups supporting Obama are the least likely to vote, why does he have the same 2-point margin among likely voters as he does among registered voters? That doesn't make any sense. 

I hadn't heard of the Behavior Research Center before, so I looked them up. They've done a lot of work for advocacy organizations over the years--a couple business trade associations, but mostly a smorgasbord of lefty interest groups. Also, interestingly, a few Hispanic advocacy groups: Chicanos Por La Causa, National Hispanic Environment Council and the AZ Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Unless you see either Romney or Obama traveling to Arizona or spending time in the state, I would advise ignoring this poll. It isn't meant to reflect what's actually happening in Arizona, but to push a narrative that Obama is gaining ground somewhere. 

This poll may be a fantasy, but that's all Obama has left.

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