Mark 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 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!"
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.