PoliGraph: Johnson’s polling claim misleads

PoliGraph: MisleadingMark Twain once said that “there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics.”

That quote applies to a recent statement made by Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, who says two polls show he is within striking distance of Gov. Mark Dayton.

 “Mark Dayton is in trouble,” reads the headline of a recent Johnson press release. “These polls confirm that Mark Dayton is in trouble, and that I am in a great position with the general election campaign just underway.”

A separate post on Johnson’s Facebook page said “Mark Dayton is under 50%! We are only single digits away from victory!”

Dayton is in better shape than Johnson lets on.

The Evidence

The two most recent polls in the gubernatorial contest come from Rasmussen Reports and KSTP/SurveyUSA.

The Rasmussen poll has Dayton leading Johnson by eight percentage points, 49 percent to 41 percent.

The KSTP/SurveyUSA poll has similar results, giving Dayton a 9 percentage point lead over Johnson.

So, it’s true that Dayton is under 50 percent in both polls and that Johnson trailing him by single digits.

But pollster Rob Daves says Dayton’s lead is a solid one because Dayton is leading in most demographic groups. And according to the KSTP/Survey USA, Dayton has a lead in critical parts of the state, including the vote-rich Twin Cities area. (The Rasmussen poll did not provide information about where respondents live.)

There is good news for Johnson in these polls as well. For instance, Johnson has a lead among independent or undecided voters in both polls. Johnson’s campaign spokesman Gregg Peppin points out that the surveys show voters don’t view the state’s health insurance exchange and a new Senate office building favorably.

“Obviously campaigns matter, and it’s more than two months until election day, so things could change a lot,” said Daves, who is a principal at Daves & Associates Research.

Daves also points out that surveys are often used as a fundraising tool.

In fact, Dayton and Sen. Al Franken are using the same polls to raise cash.

“BREAKING POLL: Tea Partier Jeff Johnson is within single digits of Governor Mark Dayton, 40-49,” says a recent fundraising email from Dayton’s campaign. “Give now to help Gov. Dayton widen the gap before it’s too late!”

The Verdict

There’s truth to Johnson’s claim: Dayton is polling under 50 percent – barely – and Johnson is within single digits of Dayton – barely.

But is Dayton “in trouble” as Johnson states?

Not exactly. In addition to having an 8-to-9 percentage point lead over Johnson, Dayton is also polling well among key demographic groups and in key geographical areas.

For overstating the numbers, Johnson’s claim leans toward misleading.

  • leonidas11


  • Nicholas Kraemer

    I’m sorry but this “analysis” is nothing more or less than blatant shilling for Dayton. Please, please explain why this sentence is appropriate: “There’s truth to Johnson’s claim: Dayton is polling under 50 percent – barely – and Johnson is within single digits of Dayton – barely.” Did Johnson say “way under”? No. Johnson’s statement is true if Dayton polled at 0%-49.9% and if he is within 1% or 9%. Catharine, are you really saying that in this blog you plan to hold politicians to the standard of having to specify how true their true statements are?

  • Jeff

    Okay, this needs to be discussed…”in trouble” is a very subjective term and there is no way to determine the accuracy of use of that term, you cannot fact check the phrase “in trouble”! The idea that you did is extremely disappointing coming from a publicly funded entity and this entire article looks like cheer leading for Dayton. The real irony is that even Democrat candidates are using these same polls to raise money (indicating they are “in trouble”). Finally, you can only objectively evaluate the actual numbers cited by the campaign…single digits (100% true) and Dayton is less than 50% (again 100% true). Therefore the claims are 100% fact and true, not misleading. I expect more integrity from a public entity that is using my tax dollars.

  • webcelt

    Candidates try to play up how close a poll is for fundraising, so no surprise both Johnson and Dayton fundraised off it. “It’s down to single digits, hurry and send money!” But for perspective, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Texas is down eight points, and for that she’s written off as far as having a serious chance. So Johnson is at nine, and Dayton has trouble. Something doesn’t make sense somewhere. Maybe the key thing is Johnson has to pick up almost every undecided in order to win. That’s how 49-40 isn’t the same as 39-30. Dayton can’t take it for granted, but he’s not in trouble.

    • Andrew_DeMoray

      If he is not “in trouble”, why is Dayton ducking debates?

      • webcelt

        Six debates is a funky definition of “ducking”.

        • Andrew_DeMoray

          Dayton proposed 6 versus the 13 proposed by Johnson, none of which have happened yet. Meanwhile Dayton ducked the traditional debate at the State Fair, as did Franken.

          • webcelt

            Then I suppose Dayton could ask for 20 and make it look like Johnson was ducking at 13? Who cares what the venue is? Most voters don’t even tune in until after Labor Day. Johnson should know that. He is really reaching with these arguments. That tells us a lot.

          • Andrew_DeMoray

            If voters don’t tune in until after Labor Day, why does MPR bother hosting debates during the fair? Maybe you should let MPR know that they are uninformed and it tells us a lot.

          • webcelt

            Because that’s MPR’s job for the voters who do tune in. Not everyone follows politics as closely as we do. You’ll find people on election day who don’t know there’s an election.

          • Andrew_DeMoray

            It’s okay for MPR to reach out to aware voters, but ignorant for Johnson to do so?