In her role as Hennepin County attorney, Amy Klobuchar has probably alienated a good number of youthful offenders. That's the fate of any prosecutor. But if you believe the results of the Star Tribune's latest Minnesota Poll, Klobuchar's problems with the younger demographic run much deeper than that. According to the survey, the DFL-endorsed candidate to replace retiring U.S. Senator Mark Dayton currently enjoys an overall 19-point lead over Republican Congressman Mark Kennedy and is cleaning his clock in virtually every demo--with one strange exception: likely voters between the ages of 18 and 24. In this cohort, the Strib found Kennedy leads Klobuchar by a whopping 47 percentage points.
Can it be so? Not likely, says Lawrence Jacobs, a pollster and professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. As Jacobs sees it, those kids-love-Kennedy-and-hate-Klobuchar numbers are probably an anomaly. "When you look at a model that tries to screen out folks who are not going to be voting, you can end up with pretty small groups in different age groups," Jacobs explains. "They [the pollsters] were probably talking to 20 to 30 people and sometimes with such small groups you get really weird results. I wouldn't read anything into it."
This being the political season, of course, a lot of people read a lot into all the polls. In the conservatives blogosphere, the pundits didn't bother musing on Kennedy's supposed popularity with the the kids. But they were quick to pronounce the finding of a 19-point gap as further evidence of the "Red Star's" liberal bias and general incompetence. At Powerline, the always excitable John Hinderaker fumed that the Minnesota Poll was like a golfer with a bad slice, "consistently wrong in the same direction--it favors Democrats." Over at Captains Quarters, the shouting was considerably more vehement: "The Star Tribune showcases its usual hackery in these results. No one who lives here is fooled by the MinnPoll any longer." Even syndicated columnist and die-hard Republican Robert Novak got into the act, declaring that the results were "not credible."
In Jacobs' view, debate about polls is healthy but the unrelenting bashing of the Minnesota Poll is more than a little unfair. He notes that Robert Daves, who runs the poll, is well regarded by his colleagues (in fact, he is the president of the American Association of Public Opinion Research) and is known for using well tested and fairly sophisticated techniques. Bottom line: "Klobuchar is clearly ahead and she's ahead by double digits. Is she ahead by 19 points? I don't know. But Kennedy is definitely behind."
That said, Jacobs isn't surprised by the chorus of complaints that followed the release of the poll. "Partisans on the left and the right are now going after pollsters whenever their candidates are behind. It's a standard part of the consultants handbook to neutralize the impact of a harmful poll."
That strategy is increasingly drawing the attentions of pollsters like Daves, who, it so happens, recently co-authored an article on the subject for the Public Opinion Quarterly. Its title? Pollsters Under Attack: 2004 Election Incivility and Its Consequences.