A Tale of Two Internal Polls In Maine Politics
Independent gubernatorial candidate Kevin Scott more than octupled his support in just a few days, if you believe his internal poll.
His campaign paid for a robopoll survey through Rasmussen's do-it-yourself polling service, asked a queston that left the other independent candidates off the ballot, and found his support level at eight percent. The most recent Critical Insights poll before his found him at 0 percent.
No one could possibly take that seriously, yet an internal poll released by the Cutler campaign showing their candidate gaining received much more and much more serious coverage in some Maine newspapers today than did Scott's, despite the Cutler campaign releasing much less of their methodology, question-wording, and internals than their fellow independent.
Nate Silver, the polling expert behind fivethirtyeight.com at the New York Times recently had this to say about internal polls:
"I’m not sure why people take polls released by campaigns at face value. This does not mean that campaigns don’t have very good pollsters working for them. But the subset of polls which they release to the general public is another matter, and are almost always designed to drive media narrative. [...]
One circumstance where I tend to be particularly suspicious of internal polls is when a candidate is on what I’d call the “threshold of viability.” That is, a poll could conceivably change the perception of whether he has a realistic chance to win his race or not — and therefore, could impact the allocation of scarce resources like activist energy and national party funds."
Libby Mitchell campaign manager Jesse Connolly took a similar tack in responding to the numbers from Cutler, and went a step further. In the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel stories on the poll (the quote is missing from the version in the Press Herald), he attacks the papers' credibility:
"The fact that MaineToday Media is writing about Cutler's internal polling when they have relegated the internal polls of other campaign to the weekly column calls into question the impartiality of the paper," said Connolly.
In case you're interested, here are the results from Scott's poll: