This Poll We Paid For Must Mean Something

Campaign Desk took a look at this subject — when polls go bad — yesterday, but today’s brazen display by The New York Times compels us to revisit it.

The Times brings us yet another poll measuring public preferences in the campaign for the presidency (following four other wildly-varying polls this week), and decides that this one deserves play as its lead story on page one.


As nearly as we can tell, the only “why” is this: The Times itself (along with CBS) commissioned this particular poll.

A little history: Earlier this week, a Pew Research Center poll taken between September 8 and September 10 gave President Bush a whopping 15-point lead among likely voters. Then on Thursday, Pew reversed itself by announcing that a poll taken from September 11 to September 14 found Bush leading among likely voters by all of one point. And a Harris Interactive poll released the same day found the presidential race essentially tied. Further compounding matters, a Gallup poll released the same day gave Bush an eight-point lead among registered voters and a 13-point lead among likely voters.

Finally comes the new Times-CBS poll, indicating Bush has a nine-point lead among likely voters.

Got it? It’s Bush by 15 points; no, make that one point; oops, call it a dead heat; no, it’s actually a 13-point lead; or is it nine points?

To its credit, The Times does run a sidebar by Carl Hulse inside the paper, offering up pollsters’ explanations as to why nothing they say makes any sense. Nonetheless, there The Times is, offering up column one of page one to tout its own poll.

Running a sidebar on page A10 that says that all of these contradictory polls should be taken with a grain of salt the size of a bowling ball, but still using your lead story to shill for the particular poll that you happened to pay for, just doesn’t cut it.

This is not journalism; it’s self-promotion, and we say to hell with it.

Steve Lovelady

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.