Sunday, December 24, 2006

Playing with the polls -- Billings Gazette style

The Gazette released a set of poll numbers in today's Sunday Gazette. The headline simply pointed out that Gov. Schweitzer (D), Sen. Baucus (D), and Rep. Rehberg (R) all have excellent approval ratings. Fine.

But the Gazette chooses to highlight Schweitzer's 50 to 28 lead over a hypothetical 2008 challenger in the front-page graphic. To make sure the message is clear, they have a quotation from the pollster in the front-page part of the story saying that Schweitzer's numbers would probably be higher against any particular challenger, since that person would have flaws. Perhaps true in general.

But the overall message if one looks at the front page only is that the Democrats, led by a popular Schweitzer, are cruising to victory and the maintenance of the status quo, since Baucus and Rehberg are both mentioned as having identical 68% approval ratings.

There is a bombshell in the back-page part of the article, though, that would have been front page news had the Senate seat been held by a Republican. Polls indicate that in a hypothetical 2008 matchup between Baucus and Rehberg for the Senate seat, the breakdown is 48 to 44% -- a statistical tie. This is huge news, since Baucus has such a reputation of unassailability.

As an added tidbit put in the inside story, Schweitzer's 65% approval rating is a slight drop from his high of 69% in May of this year. Perhaps not a significant drop, but interesting to note.