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Internal Polls Diverge Heavily From Independent Polls

Campaigns say they conduct internal polling for more reliable information, but pollsters say they are more about encouraging the base.

Democratic Convention

Photo: Gretchen Frazee/WFIU-WTIU News

John Gregg and Vi Simpson join Democratic colleagues in Fort Wayne at the state party convention.

A number of so-called “internal” polls tracking political races in the state have been released to the media in the days leading up to Tuesday’s election. Pollsters say the numbers can be unreliable.

An outside Howey/DePauw poll released Friday shows Gregg seven points behind Pence. Just two days before, John Gregg’s campaign sent a press release declaring Gregg’s race for governor tied with GOP hopeful Mike Pence. But the second paragraph points out Gregg is still three points behind in the survey, which the campaign itself commissioned and interpreted.

The release from the Gregg campaign says the deficit puts Gregg within the margin of error, but veteran pollster Brian Vargus, who has worked on both Democratic and Republican campaigns, says error margins regularly get manipulated.

“Let’s say that their error factor is plus-or-minus five points,” he says. “Well what they’ll do is they’ll add the five points to their candidate, subtract the five from the opponent and if they’re ahead, they’ll release that number.”

“We trust the polls that we put together,” says Gregg campaign spokesman Daniel Altman. He says polling from outside groups is unreliable, so the campaign has to commission its own data sets.

“The polls that we pay attention are our internal polls and the poll they take on Election Day,” Altman says.

Vargus says it is a common strategy to try to kickstart fundraising, too.

“Meanwhile they coordinate it now with e-mails campaigns to say ‘All we need is another $10 from you and you’ll be the one that’ll put us over the top’ and all that sort of stuff,” Vargus says.

The same e-mailed press release from the Gregg campaign does exactly that — offering three web links at the bottom where those receiving the note can financially support the candidate.

Stan Jastrzebski

WFIU/WTIU News Senior Editor Stan Jastrzebski spent time as a reporter with WGN Radio in Chicago and as an editor at Network Indiana, an Indianapolis news service. Stan is the winner of awards from the Associated Press, the RTDNA, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. He hosts WFIU's Ask the Mayor and anchors WTIU's InFocus.

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