Network evening newscasts selectively cited polls to claim GOP is "closing the gap"
On November 6, all three major network evening news broadcasts pointed to "new polling" to assert that the midterm elections are "tightening." In doing so, these outlets ignored several polls released during the same period that indicate the gap between Democrats and Republicans is stable or widening.
On the November 6 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer selectively cited the recent Pew Research Center and USA Today/Gallup polls to claim that "Republicans nationwide are closing the gap" with Democrats. Similarly, on the November 6 broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos cited the recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, as well as the Pew and USA Today polls, as evidence that there was "no question the Republican base is getting back in the game." Stephanopoulos told host Charles Gibson that "the word of the day" was "tightening." On the November 6 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams and chief White House correspondent David Gregory -- without citing any specific polls -- claimed that there has been a "tightening" in the polls.
As Media Matters for America noted , however, while these polls do show the gap between Republicans and Democrats has narrowed to seven percentage points or lower, several other recent polls -- including those from Time, CNN, and Newsweek -- show Democrats with a lead in excess of 15 percentage points over Republicans. The two most recent polls, from CNN  and Fox News , show Democrats with double-digit leads. As the weblog Americablog noted , this point was also made by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report : "All Monday there was considerable talk that the national picture had suddenly changed and that there was a significant tightening in the election. This was based in part on two national polls that showed the generic congressional ballot test having tightened to four (Pew) and six (ABC/Wash Post) points." However, "there is no evidence of a trend in the generic ballot test. In chronological order of interviewing (using the midpoint of field dates), the margins were: 15 points (Time 11/1-3), 6 points (ABC/Wash Post), 4 points (Pew), 7 points (Gallup), 16 points (Newsweek), 20 points (CNN) and 13 points (Fox)."
From the November 6 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:
COURIC: Well, we're down to the final hours now of campaign '06, and the battle for control of Congress is getting tighter by the minute. Just how tight, we won't know until tomorrow night, when voters have the final say. Turnout, of course, is key, and both major parties shifted their get-out-the-vote drives into high gear. We'll have more about that in a moment, but first, chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer is here with the final pre-election poll numbers. Hi, Bob.
SCHIEFFER: How are you, Katie? Well, I tell you, it is closer, and the question now is just how close? Several polls out this weekend and today show Republicans nationwide are closing the gap. When pollsters from the Pew Research Center asked voters if they planned to vote for the Republican or Democrat in their local races, Democrats came out on top, but only by a four-point spread, 47 to 43. The new USA Today/Gallup poll reflects the same trend. Democrats come out on top, but the margin has shrunk in that poll from 13 points several weeks ago, to just seven now, 51 percent to 44 percent. Now, Katie, here is why the Democrats are nervous. Just a week ago, our CBS poll showed more than half the likely voters said they plan to vote Democratic, only 34 percent planning to vote Republican. Clearly, that spread is shrinking and things are moving.
Having said that, the Republicans are still behind, they are running with a president who has a very low approval rating, and all the polls show Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. So, it's going to be hard for the Republicans to close this gap entirely.
COURIC: Why do you think the numbers moved so much over the weekend, Bob?
SCHIEFFER: A couple of things. The Republicans had more money, they're really pouring it on, and all the polls show that their voters are now getting enthusiastic and fired up about all this.
From the November 6 broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:
GIBSON: And our chief Washington correspondent, George Stephanopoulos, is here. Well, George, things always tighten at the end.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that is the word of the day, Charlie, tightening. Three new polls out, over the last couple of days, including our own ABC News poll, which all show the Democrats' double-digit lead over the last couple of week basically being cut in half and more. There's no question the Republican base is getting back in the game. And they're starting to cut into the Democrats' lead among independents. Democrats' polls confirm this tightening, as well, but they also point out that margins like we just saw could translate into a big night for them. Remember 1994, when the Republicans took over, their margin that night was 52-46. They won 52 seats.
From the November 6 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:
WILLIAMS: New polling out today and tonight shows a general tightening in most battleground races, but there are some notable exceptions. We will preview all of it here tonight with our correspondents and analysts, but first, a final day of campaigning for the president. NBC's David Gregory is standing by for us with that tonight. David, good evening.
GREGORY: Good evening, Brian. And make no mistake, Republican Party leaders are bracing for losses but nevertheless they seized on some of that new polling you talked about, arguing that there is a tightening in the race and to argue that the Republican faithful are indeed coming home.
As Gregory mentioned, Republican Party leaders have indeed been touting the Pew, ABC, and USA Today polls. Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman appeared on the November 6 edition of CNN Newsroom and said: "Well, we understand that obviously any time you're in the sixth year of the president's term, you're in a tough environment. But here's what's interesting. There have been four national polls that have come out over the weekend and this morning, all of which show significant Republican momentum."