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Confessions of a Pollster

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

I didn't set out in life to be the CEO of a company that conducts public opinion polls. Heck, I stunk at math back in school. And polls are all about numbers.

I was trained to be a lawyer. Then I practiced law and spent years as a political strategist. I ran campaigns, served as an elected legislator and then ended this particular career as the head of a political organization that belonged to the speaker of the U.S. House.

Next -- and the story is too long to tell -- I found myself in the world of polling. It turns out that many who gain a name in polling start out the same way, almost by chance.

I've always prided myself on conducting polls fairly and squarely. Oddly, this exaggerated sense of objectivity caused me to fail to see how earth-moving the about-to-be Republican electoral avalanche across the nation was going to be.

While speaking in forums and on talk shows during the winter and even spring, I listened to other proclaimed Washington experts say the GOP might take majority control of the House. I'll freely admit I was more reserved in my own judgment. Once I even publicly predicted it would be "close but no cigar" for the Republicans. Now it looks like the cigar may be the exploding kind before it's over, lighting up the American political landscape.

Many pollsters will have it that polling is solely a science. Not so. It's just as much an art. The best of these "artists" know that most important of all in polling may be trying to figure out how many people at a given time and in a given place identify with which political party.

Some polling operations try to pull the wool over our eyes by over-representing -- or "over-weighting" -- those polling respondents in a given survey who share the pollster's partisan affiliation. (Some pollsters do this purposely. Others probably do it unconsciously.)

With this in mind, I've been quite cautious this election season not to overestimate the intensity of Republican voter turnout, or underestimate that of Democrats.

But survey after survey in 2010 has shown that GOP voters are far more enthused about going to the polls than are Democrats. That's a big reason why it's expected that the Republicans on Nov. 2 will likely win back control of the House, and possibly even the Senate.

In 2008, it was the reverse. The Democrats benefited by a rush to the polls especially by African Americans and Latinos, but also by independent voters who were persuaded that the Democrats were offering "change we can believe in."

But in the two years since then, America has seen the national debt soar past our ability even to conceive of such astronomical numbers. Unemployment has grown worse, not better.

Most Americans oppose President Obama's one major initiative, health care reform. Moreover, one recent poll showed that over 50 percent of the youngest -- and often the most liberal -- voting demographic, 18- to 29-year-olds, don't think "Obamacare" even meets constitutional muster.

There will be races in given states that will be close. Individual candidates here and there will be strong enough to rise above partisan affiliation or weak enough to sink below it. Different voters in different places will sometimes have reasons unique to their region for voting a given way.

But my guess is that when the current house of cards starts to fall around the majority Democrats in Congress, we may discover that many pollsters have under-weighted Republican voter intensity. That assessment is based on my experience in 1980, when the GOP made unexpected gains in the Senate, and in 1994, when the "Republican Revolution" happened in the House with the suddenness of an earthquake.

Face it: If we were all referencing the old "misery index" from the political discourse of the previous generation, many if not most of us today would have to confess to being pretty darn miserable when it comes to our billfolds. Rich and poor alike are sailing beneath a dark economic thunderhead. And when that cloud is pitch black with just a week or two to go before Election Day, it usually means the party in power is about to get swamped.

What the Republicans do with what is likely to be a significant new role in government during at least the next years will determine whether they will be viewed as pragmatists or obstructionists. Will they go along to get along in Washington? Or will their legislative actions reflect the wants of the voters who sent them there -- the desire for government to get out of their lives, let them earn a living in peace and keep the kindling aglow in the hearth we still call the American Dream?

Matt Towery is author of the new book, "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage. To find out more about Matthew Towery and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at


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