The latest CNN national poll of likely voters, which shows a 49%-49% tie between Republican challenger Mitt Romney and incumbent President Barack Obama, is either absurd, or very good news for the GOP--or both.
Romney has gained 3 points since the last time CNN ran its poll, in late September, when Obama led 50%-47%. That is good news for the Republican ticket, especially since the poll was conducted after Hurricane Sandy.
Yet there is something odd--and even ridiculous--in the poll's sample: of the 693 likely voters in the total sample of 1,010 adults polled, "41% described themselves as Democrats, 29% described themselves as Independents, and 30% described themselves as Republicans."
In other words, the poll is a D+11 outlier. It presents a picture of an electorate that is far more pro-Obama than it was in the historic 2008 election. That is extremely unlikely.
Moreover, the polls's crosstabs indicate that Romney is winning self-described independent voters by a giant 59%-37% margin. A 22-point lead among independents virtually guarantees victory for Romney. Yet Democrats are so heavily over-represented in the CNN poll that Romney's 22-point lead becomes a mere 49%-49% tie.
Some Democrats have argued that their party will still show up to the polls in significantly greater strength than Republicans--either because of the increased presence of Latino voters, who currently favor the Democrats; or because, they argue, many of the voters that say they are independent are really disgruntled Republicans.
But none of these explanations points towards a Democrat turnout exceeding that of 2008, which the CNN poll assumes. Republicans are far more motivated, and Democrats are somewhat less motivated, in 2012.
And yet the poll, absurd though it is, shows that Romney will be able to overcome even a staggering partisan disadvantage, and that he will win the independent voters who typically decide elections.
So this poll, like many mainstream media polls, can simply be ignored. Or embraced, if you prefer.
One thing is certain: D+11 or no, conservatives are preparing to show up to the polls--the ones that count--on Tuesday, in droves.