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Suspicion of poll, jobs numbers takes hold on right


As the presidential election reaches its apex in intensity, so have arguments from the right that polls and economic statistics -- the numbers used to explain the 2012 campaign -- are not to be trusted.

The theory that many polls are under-sampling Republicans (and thus overstating the support for Obama) has become widespread on the right, as many supporters of Mitt Romney asserted this week during rallies before the first presidential debate.

A recent suggestion by Jack Welch that the most-recent U.S. jobs report is a bit suspicious has ignited a media firestorm. NBC's Mike Viqueira reports.

“I’d prefer him to be higher in the polls, but I think a lot of conservatives just aren’t being polled,” said Cathy Barnes, a Romney voter from southeast Denver who attended the Republican nominee’s rally last Monday near Aurora.

“I don’t believe what they polls are saying, they’ve clearly been Democratic-skewed,” said Daniel Zustek, a health care worker from Denver, at the same rally. “If you look at the numbers – such as Ohio -- they’ve lost a lot of Democratic voter registration in the city of Cleveland, which isn’t stuff that’s really examined when they’re running these polls.”

“Push comes to shove, I think he’s ahead. I don’t think the Democratic turnout will be as high as it was four years ago,” Zustek added of Romney’s chances.

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“I think the media likes to slant what the Romneys do. Just because the media says something doesn’t make it fact,” said Rosabel Herrington of Romney’s disadvantage among women voters in most polls before a “Women for Mitt” event Tuesday in Littleton.

The argument is based largely on the notion that pollsters are using a turnout model that most closely resembles the 2008 election, when turnout was inordinately high and Democrats outpaced Republicans. Conservatives argue that these samples should more closely match the 2004 election (when Republican turnout was inordinately high), or, if nothing else, include more Republicans.

Bolstering that argument have been surveys issued by pollster Scott Rasmussen, which have typically shown a tighter matchup between Romney and Obama both nationally and in many swing states. (One reason for this is because the automated polls used by Rasmussen and other outfits -- which NBC News don't report on --  are barred by law from contacting voters whose sole phone line is cellular. These voters are typically understood to skew younger and toward minorities, and thus, more Democratic.)

Former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (R) echoed this sentiment when firing up a crowd at a Romney rally Monday in Denver.

"As you know, this race is close, and it's going to get closer. Sunday's Rasmussen poll showed that 43 percent of voters say they are certain to vote for Mitt Romney, and 42 percent are certain to vote for President Obama," he said. "But as you know, the undecideds typically swing towards the challenger. And in Colorado, poll after poll has showed that our state is virtually tied."

Obama led Romney, 50 to 45 percent, in the most recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Marist poll of Colorado’s likely voters. And in the running tally of polls conducted by the website Real Clear Politics, which includes automated polls with varying party affiliations, Romney leads only in one: Rasmussen’s.

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And the Republican presidential nominee himself has invoked Rasmussen's polls to argue the race is much tighter than other polls had suggested.

"Actually the national polls, Rasmussen and Gallup have it a tied race," Romney told NBC's Ron Allen in an interview two weeks ago.

Since then, public opinion polls have shown the national tightening to a degree, and the impact of Romney's strong debate performance last Wednesday isn't fully reflected yet in polls.

The mounting criticism of polls mirrors what some Sen. John Kerry's supporters said about the Democrats' polling performance versus George W. Bush in 2004. But it also serves an unintended benefit for Romney in that Republicans might feel more engaged and active in backing the Republican ticket if they don't perceive it to be trailing Obama so badly.

A similar phenomenon emerged on Friday when conservatives expressed open skepticism of new monthly employment figures issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which showed that the economy added 114,000 new jobs in September, and that the unemployment rate had dropped from 8.1 percent in August to 7.8 percent last month.

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric (the former parent company of NBC News), set off a firestorm by insinuating that the administration manipulated the jobs numbers because they were so incredible.

“I have no evidence to prove that. I just raised the question,” Welch explained later in the day on MSNBC.

Welch also declined to retract his assertion: “I don’t want to take back one word in that tweet. … It just defies the imagination to have a surge larger than any other surge since 1983 a month before the election.”

Other political figures weighed in to support Welch’s assertion. Rush Limbaugh expressed skepticism toward the numbers on his show, and one member of Congress encouraged doubt of the official job statistics, too.

"I agree with former GE CEO Jack Welch, Chicago style politics is at work here. Somehow by manipulation of data we are all of a sudden below 8 percent unemployment, a month from the Presidential election," Florida Rep. Allen West (R) wrote on his Facebook page. "Trust the Obama administration? Sure, and the spontaneous reaction to a video caused the death of our Ambassador ... and pigs fly."

But that notion was startling to several other conservatives. Tony Fratto, a former spokesman in President George W. Bush's White House, called the allegation of labor data manipulation "dumb conspiracy theories" on his Twitter page.

And Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a Republican economist who formerly served as director of the Congressional Budget Office, strongly disputed the idea that Obama would manipulate September's report.

"These numbers put together by the BLS or BEA, they're all done by career civil servants who are experts in the area with complete integrity," he said. "If someone tried to do that -- if I, during my time in the Bush administration, had gone to the BLS and said, 'Juice these numbers,' they would have called the Washington Post so fast. That's just not acceptable; it's not how the process works."

Besides, Holtz-Eakin argued, Republicans have plenty to criticize in this jobs report. He argued that the drop in the jobless rate could be an aberration based on an unusually high number of households to report employment in this month's survey.

"We still have a labor force participation rate that's down at 1981 levels, and we still have an unemployment rate that's not a cause for celebration either," he said.