FLORIDA — Supporters of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney woke up to some grim news Wednesday. According to a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University for CBS News and The New York Times, their candidate is slipping badly among Florida voters. And the situation is even worse for Congressman Connie Mack, the GOP nominee for U.S Senate.
But while several recent polls do show a favorable trend here for Democrats, there are important questions about the value of the latest numbers—questions that the coverage here tended to raise either after the fact, toward the end of stories, or not at all.
The lede of this Wednesday morning blog entry from the Orlando Sentinel relayed the topline numbers and captured the general tone:
Following disappointing polling numbers for Republicans on Tuesday, today’s Quinnipiac University poll confirms a trend of slipping support for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and U.S. Senate nominee Connie Mack IV.
The Q poll released this morning, in conjunction with CBS News and The New York Times, shows Romney trailing President Barack Obama by 9 points in Florida, 10 points in Ohio and 12 points in Pennsylvania, meaning he now is playing fourth-quarter come-from-behind ball in the swing states he desperately needs to win the general election’s electoral count.
The Quinnipiac poll also tracks other recent polls in Florida’s U.S. Senate race, showing Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson pulling away from U.S. Rep. Mack. Quinnipiac has Nelson ahead with 53 percent, to 39 percent for Mack.
The Sentinel’s opening was typical of Florida reporting about the poll. The lede from the News Service of Florida, in an article picked up by papers like Gannett’s News-Press, was:
President Obama has opened up a wider lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney among Florida voters, a new poll released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University found.
And “The Buzz,” the politics blog of the Tampa Bay Times, had grabbed the CBS story and posted portions of it by 6 a.m. Wednesday. An excerpt:
In Florida, Mr. Obama’s edge over Romney has risen from three points before the political conventions to nine points today. His gains are due to improved performance among women, white voters and seniors. Nearly half of Florida Democrats now say they are more enthusiastic about voting than in the past—up from 24 percent at the start of August, and only slightly less than the percentage of Florida Republicans who are more enthusiastic. Two in three Florida likely voters support the DREAM Act policies put in place by the president to allow young illegal immigrants who came to the country as children to obtain work permits and not face deportation.
But as Wednesday morning passed into afternoon, doubts about the poll began to surface—egged along by an aggressive counterpunch from the state’s Republican Party that was bolstered by national GOP commentators.
The GOP’s basic argument is that the Quinnipiac poll, along with some other recent polls, includes too many Democrats in its sample and gives an unrealistic picture of what the actual electorate will look like. One of the better summaries of the debate was offered Wednesday morning by The Week.
Twelve hours after the Tampa Bay Times posted the results of the Quinnipiac poll, political writer Adam Smith wrote that he has grave doubts about the results:
…But is there a single objective political professional in Florida who actually believes Obama is leading by 9 points? In Florida?!
Maybe I’ll eat my words on Nov. 6, but I loudly echo Florida GOP Chairman Lenny Curry’s sentiments on Twitter earlier today: “If you believe this mornings Fl Q poll I have swamp land to sell you. Come on man! This is Florida.”
So this brings us back to a complaint we’ve heard constantly from Florida political consultants on both sides of the aisle: Too many polls are based on an assumed electorate that has zero chance of occurring and therefore give a flawed view of the political landscape. (Quinnipiac has addressed this concern)