Spin, Spin, Spin: Pollsters Twist Numbers to Promote Hillary Clinton

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

A poll released this week by Quinnipiac University purports to show that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has “an early lock” on the Democratic nomination, “apparently undamaged by a nationwide flood of negative publicity.”

However, a closer look reveals that the pollsters have omitted a potential serious challenger to Clinton, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), raising doubts about not just this most recent poll, but also rendering any comparisons to a previous poll that did include Warren virtually meaningless.

The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted from April 25 to May 4 of 692 likely Iowa Democratic Caucus participants, using live interviewers that called land lines and cell phones. The margin of error was +/- 3 percent.

Sixty percent of respondents to this poll picked Clinton as their choice for president. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who recently threw his hat in the presidential ring, got 15 percent; Vice President Joe Biden (D) received 11 percent; and former Virginia Senator James Webb (D) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) both received 3 percent. Seven percent were undecided.

“The former secretary of state has taken a major pounding in the news media and from her political opponents over her email and family foundation,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “So far these criticisms have had absolutely no effect on her standing among Iowa Democrats.”

The criticisms of Clinton have had “no effect?” That statement does not hold up even just looking at Quinnipiac’s own data.

The press release announcing the results of this most recent poll notes that the 60 percent Clinton received “compares to a 61 percent Clinton showing in Iowa in a February 26 survey” also conducted by Quinnipiac. Looking up the details of that February 26 poll on Quinnipiac’s website, Clinton received 61 percent, Warren received 19 percent, Biden received 7 percent, and 6 percent were undecided. No other candidate received 5 percent in the February poll.

In other words, after the pollsters removed Warren and the 19 percent support she earned in the February poll, Clinton went down a point.

These are the numbers Quinnipiac is saying prove that Clinton is “apparently undamaged” by the ongoing flood of negative news stories about her email server and the Clinton Foundation. Keep in mind what else these polls show: Iowa Democrats who picked Warren as their first choice were unwilling to throw their support to the only other female Democrat in the poll.

To be fair, Warren has not taken some of the steps expected of presidential candidates, such as forming PACs or attending voter forums in early primary states. However, considering how early it still is in the 2016 election cycle and the popularity that Warren has with key segments of the Democratic base, ruling her out as a candidate at this point seems premature—especially considering that she received nearly 20 percent support just over two months ago.

Predictably, a number of media outlets reported on the May Quinnipiac poll with the same positive spin for Clinton. The New York Times‘s headline was “Iowans Unfazed by Criticism of Hillary Clinton.” The article called the results “heartening” for Clinton, saying that she “has faced a flurry of bad publicity since announcing her presidential bid last month, but Democrats in Iowa do not appear to be bothered by any of the criticism.”

As Breitbart News reported, the Times previously engaged in spinning poll numbers earlier this month with a poll they conducted with CBS News that used a sample slanted in favor of Democrats.

USA Today wrote, “Hillary Clinton maintains a major lead among candidates and potential candidates in Iowa for the Democratic presidential nomination,” noting that her 60 percent support was “down only 1 percentage point from the university’s Feb. 26 poll.” And Bloomberg’s take was that Clinton “has nothing to worry about as she prepares for the Iowa caucuses. Despite a wave of influence-peddling allegations involving her family’s foundation, her prospects for winning the first-in-the-nation presidential contest remain undamaged.”

Likewise, a Politico article said that “Hillary Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite among likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers… despite ongoing scrutiny of foreign donations to her family’s foundation and lingering criticism over the former secretary of state’s use of a personal cellphone and email server for official business.” Politico at least acknowledged that Warren was not included in this poll, but did not mention how much of the vote she had won in the February poll.

It bears mentioning that polls this early in an election cycle are far from set in stone and are mostly useful for monitoring trends and surges in public opinion rather than predicting final results at the ballot box. Warren was the only other candidate besides Clinton to receive double digit support from Iowans in February, and she has solid name recognition and favorability among the Democratic base. Accordingly, to remove Warren from the poll and then declare that media coverage of the scandals has had “absolutely no effect” on Clinton’s support in Iowa, strains credibility.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.