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VOL. 127 | NO. 205 | Friday, October 19, 2012

Taking Stock

National pollster Rasmussen shares insights

By Andy Meek

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The presidential race is still too close to call, the debates won’t shift things much from a statistical perspective and there’s a fair chance Democrats will retain their majority in the U.S. Senate.

Political analyst Scott Rasmussen attends a reception at The Westin Memphis Beale Street Hotel as part of the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Those are some of the prognostications national pollster Scott Rasmussen shared with a few Memphis audiences this week, one day, incidentally, after the second presidential debate at Hofstra University. Rasmussen was here as the latest guest of the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club for its monthly speaker series.

On an overcast night when many elsewhere in the city were racing home to beat the rain, Rasmussen held the attention of a group of business leaders Wednesday, Oct. 17, at The Westin Memphis Beale Street Hotel for nearly an hour at a private reception sponsored by FedEx. He talked politics, sports, business and the national economy, eventually fielding questions from the crowd and then facing a line of private inquisitors afterwards.

Rasmussen and his father founded the cable sports network ESPN. He’s also the founder and president of Rasmussen Reports, and his political polling is often mentioned alongside that of the Gallup and Quinnipiac organizations in the national press.

Not surprisingly, he gave a feisty defense of his fellow pollsters, some of whom have come under fire recently for, the claims go, stacking their samples too much with voters of one political persuasion or the other.

“There’s not a pollster out there deliberately skewing results to influence anything,” Rasmussen said.

The presidential debates were naturally at the top of the crowd’s mind since, of course, the rhetorical bare-knuckled brawl from the previous day still was dominating the news cycle. Rasmussen, though, took the crowd back to the first debate, the one widely acknowledged that former Massachusetts governor and Republican nominee Mitt Romney is believed to have won over a lackluster performance by President Barack Obama.

On the morning of the first debate, Rasmussen said, his organization had the president up 49 percent to 47 percent over Romney. In the first debate’s immediate aftermath, his polling flipped that to 49-47 with Romney on top.

What that showed, he went on, is some 98 percent of the country didn’t change its mind after the first debate.

A female questioner drew Rasmussen’s attention to Congress. She referred, without realizing it, to the same basic thing Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was asked about when he was in Memphis in recent days for a fundraiser.

An attendee pressed Ryan on how effective a House of Representatives controlled, as it is now, by Republicans could work with the White House if Obama won. Not well, Ryan told the attendee at his fundraiser at the Racquet Club of Memphis. Everyone, he went on, is too firmly entrenched politically, and Ryan said he doesn’t see that changing at all if Obama wins.

That said, Rasmussen said he sees a 60 percent to 65 percent chance that Democrats retain control of the U.S. Senate. Right now, he went on, the presidential campaigns are essentially fighting a political version of the trench warfare that dominated World War I – intense clashes with high stakes to try and win what amounts to very little ground.

The Romney and Obama camps, he said, are trying to “cobble together just enough votes to win.”

Rasmussen also offered an unsolicited piece of advice for Republicans. If he were running for office as one of them, he’d advocate some level of cuts to the military, which he said would give a Republican the political cover needed to secure the cuts they most want to get on programs on the domestic side of the ledger.

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