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Political Polling: Cream Rising to the Top?

With primary season in full swing, major national pollsters have stepped into their cyclical period of prominence, trying to predict – or for some, shape – the trend of electoral opinion.

Rick Schultz

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It’s that time of the political cycle again.

They face off against each other, trying to prove who really has the pulse of the American electorate.

And on Election Day, voters will finally determine who is right and who is wrong.

And by they, we don’t mean the politicians. 

We mean the pollsters.

With primary season in full swing, major national pollsters have stepped into their cyclical period of prominence, trying to predict – or for some, shape – the trend of electoral opinion.

Among the most accurate in recent years have been Rasmussen Reports and the Trafalgar Group, to name just a couple. But the most ubiquitous, via his weekly online programming and various news media appearances, has been Richard Baris and his Big Data Poll.

Baris, “The People’s Pundit,” hosts weekly YouTube programs, occasionally with the renowned attorney and political analyst Robert Barnes. In addition, he has appeared on national news programs, with hosts such as Tucker Carlson, with more regular spots with Steve Bannon’s War Room and others.

With all eyes looking toward November’s Election Day, the Big Data Poll has already resumed its position as a frontrunner, giving an electoral snapshot heading into August 2nd’s primaries.

For example, two weeks ago, Baris released his Arizona statewide polls, showing considerable, and growing, leads for GOP Senate primary candidate Blake Masters and GOP Gubernatorial primary candidate Kari Lake. His data showed Lake leading by 17 and Masters by 13. 

And for being first with these developing snapshots, Baris was roundly derided and dismissed in many mainstream political circles.

But just a week later, many outlets are coming to the same conclusion as the Big Data Poll.

On Friday, the headline for Laurie Roberts’ opinion piece for the Arizona Republic read, “Kari Lake, Blake Masters, and Mark Finchem are all surging toward victory. Democrats cheer.” The article detailed the recent surge by both candidates. The same wave that was picked up early by Baris and simultaneously disbelieved by most analysts.

Roberts wrote Friday, “What was a 39-31 split in early July is now 51-33, according to the OH Predictive Insights poll, a combination of live callers and text. That resembles several other independent polls released in recent days. I didn’t believe them. Until now.” To her credit, she based her outlook on the emerging trend, first picked up by Baris.

On Friday, Rasmussen also released polls showing similar leads for the duo – Masters by 12 in his GOP Senate primary race and Lake by nine in her Arizona governor primary.

And just a day earlier, Trafalgar Group showed Masters up by eight and Lake by nine. Each reputable poll verifies what Big Data Poll had shown a week earlier. 

Baris began last week’s program by taking a victory lap of sorts.

“I just want to say before I start this that you might have noticed Doug Ducey’s own pollster. Just all the abuse last week I took with that poll, and Doug Ducey’s own pollster just came out. And so far, I’ve just seen the Governors. I’m sure it says the same thing with the Senate if they’re polling that as well. But the fact of the matter is, the CD Media Poll definitely had Kari Lake leading and our next guest (Blake Masters) leading.”

Regarding Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, Baris was referring to a newly-released Data Orbital poll out of Arizona, which also showed Lake leading by 11 over Karrin Taylor Robson.

When political writer, David Catanese, tweeted the final @OHPredictive polls before this week’s primaries, which also showed Lake leading by 18 and Masters by 15, Baris tweeted, “Damn, that looks familiar. Looks like our final interviews. That’s rather remarkable.” 

The Big Data Poll has been correct with most of its polling over recent years. In 2020, he was correct in calling Florida and Ohio as big blowout states in favor of President Trump. He was also cautious, stopping short of saying the President would carry Nevada, Minnesota, or New Hampshire. His data also showed Trump would do well in Georgia and Arizona. Regarding those two electoral outcomes, both Baris and Barnes shared hours of analysis in the months that followed the 2020 election.

“I’m not being arrogant here. I don’t want it to come across as arrogance. It’s just that this happens every time,” Baris said with a laugh. “I release a poll; this is the way it is, this is what we’re finding. And there’s always these critics that say, ‘oh no, Lake does not lead by that much. Blake Masters is not winning by that much.’ Ok, whatever.”

Baris has spent countless hours over the past few years detailing the shortcomings of the current polling industry – from their methods to their agendas. He has often described the difference between reputable pollsters, whose goal is to take an accurate snapshot of public opinion, and groups that incorrectly skew their samples or build a model based on flawed surveys. He also notes that as much as who you poll and how you weigh the samples, it is crucial to examine how you ask the question.

In last week’s program, he specifically cited specific data-collecting methods as being better than others. Specifically, he said that faced with a months-long pandemic shutdown, many people signed up for internet polls and panels out of pure boredom. These people, Baris says, now make up a much higher percentage of online polls and surveys, dramatically skewing the results.

“A lot of these people are just really high-interest voters, and they don’t represent the entire electorate,” Baris said. “So these consumer panels are really blowing the metro vote way too; it’s way too much in the sampling.”

On Saturday, Baris tweeted, “It’s just crystal clear at this point that certain pollsters have no interest in correcting their repeated failures.”

Over the years, Baris’ People’s Pundit Daily and What Are The Odds, with Baris and Barnes programs, have become YouTube staples for political junkies and data nerds alike. Master classes in statistical analysis, demographic trends, and trending political issues.

Last week, Baris made a few other predictions based on his mid-year polling and gauge of the current electoral mood.

Number one – Kari Lake is the early favorite to win the race for Governor of Arizona, regardless of the mainstream media narrative that she is “unelectable.” 

Number two – in a break from the popular media narrative, his surveys found that those supporting the overturning of Roe vs. Wade are 10% more “certain to vote” than those opposing it.

And number three – Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis would be an “unbeatable ticket” en route to Republicans re-capturing the White House in 2024.

This week, we will see how Big Data’s polling holds up during the primaries. And over the next few months and a couple of years, viewers will watch Baris’ programming to see if his results remain predictive of our nation’s most crucial races and issues.

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Dom Theodore Saved Glenn Beck’s Career Before Beck Saved His Life

“I was at the Mayo Clinic getting a test … he paused during a stop set and he called me and he prayed with me before I went in for that scan … that’s a good friend.”

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A photo of Dom Theodore and the Glenn Beck Program logo

Dom Theodore, the man Glenn Beck credits with saving his show, said the famed talk radio host saved his life. After 30 years of friendship, the pair have shared a lot together.

However, Theodore’s influence can be heard on more than just Glenn Beck’s show, it can be heard across the country.

“I’ve only done radio my entire life. I started answering phones at a radio station when I was 12 years old, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Theodore told Barrett News Media over a Zoom call.

Growing up in Detroit, a young Dom Theodore answered phones for WKQI. “I would come back as the program director of that station, which was kind of interesting.”  He eventually landed in Tampa, where he met Beck. “Glenn and I just hit it off really, really well. We became really close quickly.”

Dom Theodore, the Program Director at WFLZ was just across the hall from Glenn Beck, who was doing afternoon drive at WFLA. Soon after was the moment which Beck calls the moment Theodore saved his career.

Just a few months into Beck’s new gig, he dropped a career bombshell on Theodore. “He said, ‘I think I’m getting fired.’ I said, ‘Ok. Why do you think you’re getting fired?’

“‘Well, the program director of WFLA said to me today, ‘I hope it’s too early to say that we hired the wrong person’.”

Doing a show trying to please everyone, Theodore believes Glenn Beck lost sight of his own vision. “I said, ‘You know what? What’s happening is you’re doing somebody else’s show. You’re not doing The Glenn Beck Show. You’re doing somebody else’s show hosted by you. And so that’s never going to work. It’s not connecting because it’s not coming from [the heart].

“’My advice to you is go in there and do The Glenn Beck Show. Do that show that you wanted to do from day one, the one that you told me about.’ And he said, ‘Ok. Won’t I get fired for doing that?’ I said ‘You might, but you know what? Would you rather get fired for doing something that you think might work instead of continuing to do what you know isn’t working?’”

This helped launch Beck into the superstar we know today.

Many years later, Dom Theodore says the radio host saved his life. “I almost died in 2020. They discovered cancer in both of my kidneys. I had to have my kidneys removed and a transplant, all within a period of about six months, and it was a horrible time.

“There was not a test a procedure or anything that I went through that Glenn and (Beck’s wife) Tania weren’t on the phone the night before praying with me. I was at the Mayo Clinic getting a test and Glenn was on the air at the time. And he paused during a stop set and he called me and he prayed with me before I went in for that scan, and I will tell you, that’s a good friend. That’s a real friend.”

Today, Dom Theodore said of his health, “Thankfully, I’m doing ok for the most part. Now I have a transplant, and I’m still standing.”

Still working hard and as passionate as ever, he is looking for more content innovation in the industry. “Because of the debt service that a lot of these big companies have, the focus has been on producing what we’ve always done just at a lower cost point. Instead of experimentation and innovation.”

He noted, “The only way that this industry survives is content innovation. I know no one wants to hear that. I know that I’m saying things that are politically incorrect, and I don’t really care. I don’t really care. The radio industry CEOs hate this when people like me speak. They hate it because they know I’m right.”

Theodore noted what makes good radio is simple and hasn’t changed over the years.

“Somebody asked Les Moonves this question at one of our CBS meetings, and his answer was absolutely brilliant. He said, ‘Entertainment hasn’t changed since the days of the Colosseum. At the end of the day, it’s about having an interesting story and telling it in a really interesting way.’ And I do believe that that is the core basis of everything we do.”

While cultivating good talent takes time, Theodore said good talent often comes from interesting people who are often creative. 

“What did the radio industry do in the last 10 or 20 years as it’s become more and more corporate? We threw all those people out. Now, ‘They’re too high maintenance. Just get rid of them. So why don’t we replace them with people that conform, that do as they’re told, and execute the plan that comes from above? Never questions authority.’ There might be a better employee, but that sure doesn’t make for better content.

“By the way, where did all the creatives go? Where do they go? Digital. There’s no rules and on YouTube, I can do whatever the hell I want. Why do I need some program director to tell me what to do? I can do a podcast and do whatever the hell I want. And some of them did it. And we’ve lost a generation of talent because we didn’t want to deal with the maintenance. I mean, how shortsighted is that?”

For those who are less shortsighted and looking to follow in the footsteps of Dom Theodore, he said don’t.

“I made a lot of mistakes through the years. First of all, don’t follow in my footsteps. Learn from my mistakes.”

The second part of his advice is being true to yourself and confidence in your truth. “I think being true to yourself is a matter of not conforming. In your gut that little voice inside you knows that you’re right and you’re doing something that’s different than what anyone else is doing. And therefore, because people don’t understand it, you’re being told that it’s wrong. You’re probably right and they’re probably wrong. And time will bear that out. So, have confidence.”

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A Step-By-Step Guide to Analyzing Nielsen Trends on a Quarter-Hour Basis

It makes sense to analyze your stations and your competition at this level because every quarter hour matters.

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A photo of a line graph with the Nielsen logo

If you read last week’s column, you know how to use the Nielsen PPM Analysis Tool to look at individual days in the survey month. It’s worth taking time each month to see how your stations as well as your competitors are doing each day. Are you seeing any patterns in the data?

Now let’s drill down even deeper. Again, one of the goals of the PPM system was to let you see discrete days and times and have some confidence in the data because the full panel would be there. In other words, a sample size that limits some of the crazy wobbles we get in the diary service. That has prevented PPM from having some crazy wobbles as well, but for the purposes of this column, let’s set that issue aside.

To start, fire up AT. Much like the day-by-day data, you’ll choose Trends, even if that doesn’t seem all that logical. Last week, I showed you that selecting the drop-down box next to the survey would give you the option to choose “day” which shows all the individual days within the daypart. 

Now, go to the “Time Period” option and click on the drop-down box next to the daypart.  You’ll see options for “block”, “hourly”, “half-hour” and “quarter-hour”. While I’m going to use the “quarter-hour” option here, you can also use this option to look at individual hours or half hours. Click on the “quarter-hour” option and you’re ready to go.

A warning for you: If you choose a broader daypart such as Monday-Friday, 6AM-7PM or God forbid, total week, AT will spit out a lot of data. That first daypart has 52 different quarter hours (13 hours times four) and if you’re looking at the survey month, you have 20 days. Let’s say you choose four stations to review. 20x4x52 is too much data for you to review at one time.

The best use of the quarter-hour option (or even the hour or half hour) is reviewing something major that happened. For a news/talk station, how did your station perform when Trump’s conviction was announced? Perhaps you had a big-name interview on your air that you promoted heavily? Was there a major local news story that occurred in your market that you covered extensively?

For a sports station with play-by-play, how well does each team perform? When I first joined Cumulus, I reviewed an entire season of the Golden State Warriors on KNBR. It didn’t matter who the opponent was because the best-performing games were the ones when the team went East. A 7 PM ET start time was 4 PM in California meaning more audience as the games were on during afternoon drive. For example, Golden State against a not-so-good team like Orlando or Charlotte on the road would pull far more audience than say, a Lakers game on a weekend.  How did the ratings look when a coach or manager was hired or fired? 

For any format, how does your morning show perform on a quarter-hour-by-quarter-hour basis? Are there obvious peaks and if so, what is the talent doing? When are the weak times?  Those will likely correlate with stop sets and there’s not much you can do but look closely.  However, if you have a stop set immediately after the best performing time of the morning, maybe you should move it.

The “hourly” option is useful when you have programming that doesn’t match specific dayparts. Most public stations have actual “programs” versus daypart shifts. Which hours perform best and yes, I know the answer will be Morning Edition and All Things Considered, but even those programs will have stronger and weaker hours. 

As always, I also recommend that you select the PUMM option along with your other estimates (persons, share, cume, etc.). Is one of your stronger quarter hours up against less available audience? If so, you might want to consider moving the content to a time when more listeners are available if that’s possible.

We all know that one Nielsen data point does not constitute a trend. While the quarter-hour option in AT offers the opportunity to drill down into the data, you probably need to look at a few months or more of data to discern trends that may motivate you to consider changes. 

Nonetheless, it makes sense to analyze your stations and your competition at this level because every quarter hour matters.

Let’s meet again next week.

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Merrill Reese is a Hall of Fame Broadcaster and Hall of Fame Person

I’ve never seen anybody who loves what they do more than Reese – and it shows.

Andy Bloom

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A photo of Merrill Reese
(Photo: Matt Mirro)

Long-time Philadelphia Eagles play-by-play announcer Merrill Reese is a Hall of Famer. This is not news to anybody who knows Reese. However, the NFL will make it official on August 2nd when Reese receives the prestigious Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award for 2024.

According to a news release by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Reese will be honored during the 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Week, which includes the Enshrinees’ Gold Jacket Dinner in downtown Canton on Friday, August 2, and the Class of 2024 Enshrinement on Saturday, August 3, in Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.”

He will join past Pro Football Hall of Fame Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award winners, including Fred Gaudelli, John Facenda, Al Michaels, John Madden, Pat Summerall, and Curt Godwy, among others.

There are so many reasons why Merrill Reese is a Hall of Famer.

Starting with his booming baritone voice and distinctive, often imitated (many Philadelphians do a Merrill Reese impression) but never duplicated style.

Reese has already been inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame and Temple University’s (his alma mater) Communications Hall of Fame.

Reese became the “Voice of the Eagles” in 1977. The 2024 season will mark his 48th consecutive season as the Eagles play-by-play announcer.

Reese is the longest-serving current play-by-play announcer in the NFL.

I’ve lived all over the country. I can think of no other city where people turn down the sound on national television broadcasts to listen to local announcers. In Philadelphia, Eagles games are synced with the largest cable provider and people really do turn down the television sound and turn up Merrill Reese and broadcast partner Mike Quick.

Reese called the Eagles Super Bowl LII victory in 2018, including the infamous “Philly Special” play, quoted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame release: “Foles in the gun. Clement to his right. Now lines up behind Foles. Foles moves to the right, and it goes directly to Clement, and Clement reverses it, and it goes into the end zone…And it’s a touchdown by Nick Foles!

While Merrill tasted the “Thrill of victory” in 2018, during three other visits to the “Big Game,” he knew the “Agony of defeat.”

But there are so many other calls that Reese has given testimony to, including: “The Miracle at the Meadowlands” (1978) and “The Miracle at the Meadowlands II” (2010), and his trademark, “It’s gooood!” after Jake Elliot’s 61-yard game-winning field goal against the New York Giants in 2017.

Then there’s Reese’s frankness. While he’s an unapologetic Eagles fan, he calls it out when the team or a player isn’t playing well, sometimes irritating the team’s management.

Life doesn’t begin and end with the football season. He takes part in so many community and charitable events. Many are on behalf of the Eagles, but many are not.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Reese is an ambassador for the City of Brotherly Love. He’s made guest appearances on “The Goldbergs” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

My first programming experience in Philadelphia was in 1985. That’s when I became an Eagles fan, and part of the attraction was Merrill Reese’s booming voice and passionate play-by-play calls.

I didn’t meet Reese working in Philadelphia in the 1980s or 1990s. The third time was the charm. I was named program director of WIP-AM in 2007. In 2008, I added responsibilities as operations manager for WPHT-AM, WYSP-FM (now WIP-FM), and WIP-AM. WYSP became the Eagle’s flagship radio station in 1992 (a fantastic story unto itself for another time).

Finally, I met and got to know Merrill Reese.

I saw firsthand the preparation Reese puts into each broadcast and his passion for football, especially for the Eagles. But I’ve never seen anybody who loves what they do more than Reese – and it shows.

Reese has said many times that he will never willingly retire. Believe him.

During my eight years as WIP’s Operations Manager, I was fortunate to develop a close bond with Reese. He was a mentor and one of my most trusted advisors. During football season, we spoke often – sometimes multiple times daily. During the off-season, we talked a couple of times weekly.

Reese is not only an extremely knowledgeable football announcer but also an astute observer of the broadcasting industry. He had an ownership stake and was the VP/GM of a suburban Philadelphia station for over three decades. He accurately predicted the successes and failures of WIP and other stations. His advice helped me avoid numerous mistakes.

My children grew up knowing him as “Uncle Merrill.” They would visit him at least once a season in the broadcast booth during half-time.

When my son was in second grade, there was a class assignment to have a relative with a unique job come in and talk about their work. My son asked, “Uncle Merrill,” who happily obliged and was a huge hit. It was amusing how many parents found a reason to attend school that day.

To this day, I bleed green. Even living 1,000 miles from Philly, I still listen to every Eagles broadcast by Merrill Reese and Mike Quick.

When I think about everything I miss about the Delaware Valley, Merrill Reese is right there at the top of the list.

Merrill Reese is a Philadelphia institution and treasure, and this August, he will be a well-deserved Pro Football broadcast Hall of Famer.

But Merrill Reese is more than a Hall of Fame broadcaster. He’s a Hall of Fame person.

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