NYT's Harwood Leans on Discredited Exit Poll to Paint Brighter Picture for Obama in Wisconsin

In the aftermath of Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker defeating a union-backed recall election, New York Times reporter John Harwood still sees bright hopes for Obama both in Wisconsin and nationwide, basing his Saturday "political memo" on a study from a liberal group, in "Demographic Shifts in Key States Could Aid Obama in Fall." That's slanted enough. But why is Harwood also relying on the worthless exit poll from the Walker-Barrett vote last Tuesday to argue that Obama is ahead in Wisconsin?

In this traditionally Democratic state, where Republicans triumphed in Tuesday’s failed recall of Gov. Scott Walker, President Obama holds a thin cushion against economic and political woes: the shape-shifting November electorate.


That’s no guarantee the Democratic incumbent can survive the effects of tough economic times with the coalition that gave him a double-digit victory four years ago. But in Wisconsin and other competitive states, demographic changes add another variable to a campaign conversation that has largely revolved around high unemployment and slow growth.

“A number of states are urbanizing and losing their historically large rural conservative vote,” said Jan van Lohuizen, a Republican pollster who advised President George W. Bush.

The result, added Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic political demographer, is “a little bit of a tail wind” to offset stiff economic headwinds.

Indeed, Mr. Teixeira frames the battle between Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, as a contest pitting “demographics versus economics.” In an analysis for the liberal Center for American Progress, he and his co-author, John Halpin, calculated that in 12 battleground states, the proportion of votes cast by working-class whites, a group Mr. Obama lost lopsidedly in 2008, will drop by three percentage points this fall.


Another shift resulted not from demographics but from a surge in labor turnout in response to Mr. Walker’s battle against public employee unions; even as public employee unions have hemorrhaged members, one-third of the vote was cast by residents of union households, up from 26 percent in 2010.

Those shifts were not enough to lift Tom Barrett, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee, to victory in the recall election. But among those voting, exit polls showed, Mr. Obama was favored by 51 percent to 44 percent over Mr. Romney.

Never mind that those very same exit polls also suggested a very close result between Walker and Democrat Tom Barrett, when in fact Walker won by seven points.

UPDATE: NewsBusters's Matthew Sheffield made the point in a comprehensive dissection June 7 on the uselessness of exit polls.

The continued faith in the flawed Wisconsin survey is even more amazing when you consider the dreadful record exit polls have of matching up with the actual vote totals. In nearly every case of error, exit polls have oversampled Democrats, a fact almost never pointed out by the nation's news organizations.


If the exit polls were off by 7 points in the Walker-Barrett race, it seems reasonable that they were off by about 7 points in the Obama-Romney race, too.

So, why did the media not acknowledge that the recall election results had shown their exit polls to be worthless, rather than forge ahead with stories about the exit polls showing Obama leading Romney?