Matt Towery

After the 2000 presidential race, an odd thing happened in Florida. A little-known Northeastern university decided to try its hand at polling political races. Its first big national target was an unlikely one -- Florida. Once, when publicly asked about a Quinnipiac poll of Florida, then-Gov. Jeb Bush asked, "What's a Quinnipiac?"

The two latest surveys in Florida, conducted at virtually the same time for the Southern Political Report -- one by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research and the other by InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion -- differ sharply from the picture that was painted by Quinnipiac's latest Florida survey. Conducted last week, the Quinnipiac poll showed Rudy Giuliani leading Fred Thompson by 28 percent to 17 percent in Florida's critical GOP presidential primary.

Also last week, a previous InsiderAdvantage poll showed Thompson having surged past Giuliani, if only by a modest margin just outside the poll's margin of error. That survey was taken right after Thompson announced he was officially joining the presidential race.

Here are the two polls this week by Mason-Dixon and InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion.

Mason-Dixon:
Rudy Giuliani (24 percent)
Fred Thompson (23 percent)
Mitt Romney (13 percent)
John McCain (9 percent)
Mike Huckabee (6 percent)
Ron Paul (1 percent)
Duncan Hunter (1 percent)
Tom Tancredo (1 percent)
Sam Brownback (0 percent)
Undecided (22 percent)


The survey of likely Florida Republican primary voters was conducted September 17-18. It sampled 400 respondents and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

InsiderAdvantage:
Rudy Giuliani (24 percent)
Fred Thompson (23 percent)
Mitt Romney (12 percent)
John McCain (11 percent)
Mike Huckabee (5 percent)
Ron Paul (3 percent)
Sam Brownback (2 percent)
Duncan Hunter (1 percent)
Undecided (19 percent)

The survey of likely Florida Republican primary voters was conducted September 17-18 among 637 respondents. The poll has a margin of error of about plus or minus 4 percent.

These results come from two independent polling firms whose overall records both in the South and nationally have usually been reliable. Both show Thompson and Giuliani statistically tied in Florida. So why would Quinnipiac have shown Giuliani with an 11 point lead over Thompson -- especially a week ago, when Thompson arguably was at his apex in the Sunshine State?

Maybe we need to try to answer Jeb Bush's question: What's a Quinnipiac?

For example, while other pollsters showed then-Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist ready to blow his Democratic opponent Jim Davis out of the water in the 2006 governor's race, Quinnipiac reported the race to be very tight and suggested that independent voters were "dramatically" moving away from Crist and toward Davis as the race concluded. The opposite happened, and Crist won comfortably.

That's just one example of why many who really know the political landscape question why a Connecticut university would migrate its work to Florida, where journalists and pundits have accepted it as an expert on the political polling process in what is arguably the nation's most important political playground.

As Brad Coker, head of Mason-Dixon, joked, "I figured [Quinnipiac] wanted more name identification in Florida so they could build recruiting for a Division 1-A football team!"

Maybe Coker is right. But this raises a much bigger issue. Are universities that publish polls presumed by the media to somehow be more reliable because there are professors and students involved?

Why all this fuss about polling? Well, like it or not, pollsters are here to stay, and the political and news worlds live and breathe by them.

In the instance of the Quinnipiac poll showing Giuliani with a monster lead over Thompson, it became all too obvious that it's time to call out this polling organization.

Maybe they're right and everybody else is wrong. But it's unlikely. At the very least, Quinnipiac numbers should stop being taken at face value as the paragon of accuracy in Florida. Somewhere in their methodology they continue to misread the state they claim to know so intimately.

With Fred Thompson making comically misguided statements, like the one this week that he might be open to the possibility of drilling for oil in the Everglades, the man may yet self-destruct. Then the Quinnipiac poll becomes self-fulfilling. (This has happened before in the polling business.)

Maybe we should get ready for Quinnipiac to cart off all those quality Florida football players and look forward to them winning the national championship one day.


Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a former National Republican legislator of the year and author of Powerchicks: How Women Will Dominate America.
 
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Matt Towery's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.
 
©Creators Syndicate