I’ve never been hoist on my own petard, or at least not literally, but I did get stuck on a pole once. (More)

It shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve never literally been hoist on my own petard, as squirrels don’t use gunpowder to open fortress gates. We usually just climb up and over the walls. Still, many people think “hoist on your own petard” means being stuck on your own pole, which I was once, briefly. Okay, it wasn’t really my pole. It was a pole that supported a squirrel feeder, but for some odd reason the person who put it up wanted to feed birds. I jumped onto the poll from a nearby tree and had a snack. I then discovered the surface of the pole was too slippery to climb down. I was stuck, but only for a few moments. Squirrels can jump pretty well, after all….

Humans don’t jump quite that well, but there aren’t many restaurants on the tops of poles so you usually don’t get stuck. Still, you sometimes do get stuck on polls. Even more often, you get stuck on ideas. Take the National Review‘s Peter Kirsanow, for example:

[On Monday] Rasmussen has Obama up 47–46. Gallup has Obama up 48–46.

Yet according to some Sunday talk show pundits, the Romney campaign is in disarray and Obama is almost assured of victory in November. And it seems this assessment is shared even by some “Republican” talking heads, many of whom apparently spent the weekend dousing the flames on their heads. Navy SEALs they are not.
But here’s the thing: The most recent Rasmussen party identification poll has Republicans with a 4.3 percentage point advantage over Democrats nationally. At the same point in the 2008 election cycle Democrats had a 5.7 percent advantage. That’s a 10 point swing, a swing that began to manifest itself in the 2010 midterms, when the Democrats’ advantage fell to just 1.2 points – and they suffered an epic blowout.

The idea that pollsters are oversampling Democrats to skew polls to favor President Obama is the latest right wing how-dare-you-call-it-a-conspiracy theory. Apparently some folks think Mitt Romney would lead by 8 if only the pollsters used the right party affiliation numbers. Okay then.

There are at least two problems with this they-insist-it’s-not-a-conspiracy theory. First, I can’t fathom how it would benefit the Obama campaign for Democrats to believe data showing President Obama a 4:1 favorite if he were actually behind. Quite the contrary. Many Democratic activists are rightfully concerned about complacency; see today’s Midday Matinee, for example. I would rather campaign as a 4:1 favorite than as a 1:4 underdog, but we still have to get out the vote in November.

Second, the entire premise of that theory is flawed. For starters, unlike age, gender, race, region, and other demographics, very few pollsters build party affiliation into their samples. While there are current data for voter registration by party, party affiliation something else altogether. A voter may be registered as a Republican but think of him/herself (and vote) as a Democrat, or vice-versa. So while most pollsters include party data in their crosstabs, but those numbers reflect the self-identity labels given by respondents.

And while Rasmussen Reports finds Republicans leading in party affiliation in their own polls, the Huffington Post tracking of 627 polls paints a very different picture. Even Scott Rasmussen admits that “you cannot compare partisan weighting from one polling firm to another.” Pollsters ask about party with different questions. Some include “leaners” in the party toward which they “lean.” Others classify “leaners” as independent.

But the deeper issue here is not polling methodology. It’s this paragraph from Kirsanow’s column:

To be fair, conservatives exhibiting less hysteria do remain puzzled by the polls. After all, the Obama presidency has been a train wreck of Carter-esque magnitude. Almost every historical predictor shows that Romney should have a sizable lead: Unemployment is high, consumer confidence is low, two-thirds of voters think the country is on the wrong track, more believe we’re worse off now than we were four years ago, household income has plummeted, gas prices are hovering near record highs, and most voters perceive America to be in decline.

Like most conservatives, Kirsanow is stuck on an idea: that “the Obama presidency has been a train wreck of Carter-esque magnitude.” He can’t imagine that most Americans could see it any other way. But a CNN poll this month found most voters blame former President Bush and Republicans for the bad economy, and a New York Times/CBS/Quinnipiac poll today found more voters trust President Obama than Mitt Romney to handle our economic recovery.

For all the claims that “this should have been an easy election” for the GOP, in reality they were always facing an incumbent who had no primary challenger. Since Herbert Hoover in 1933, only three incumbents who sought reelection have lost:

An incumbent with no primary challenger has a big advantage. Voters have elected him once already, and voters in his own party haven’t been asked to reject him. Add in President Obama’s consistently high personal favorability ratings, and this was never going to be “an easy election” for Republicans. Add in Mitt Romney’s consistently low personal favorability ratings, and he was always facing an uphill slog.

Yes, the only poll that really matters is the one on November 6th. But when the National Review‘s Kevin Williamson called the race a “tossup” on MSNBC’s Up With Chris Saturday, I invited him to play in the BPI staff poker game. We grassroots Democratic activists still have to get out the vote. But I’d rather do that as a 4:1 favorite than a 4:1 underdog … and those who claim those odds and the polls are skewed are setting themselves up to explode.

Good day and good nuts.