Public Policy Polling published some discouraging news for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) earlier this week, noting that the Republican's approval rating has dropped to just 37%, making him the least popular senator in the nation.
The news wasn't all bad -- the same poll showed McConnell narrowly leading his most likely Democratic challengers -- but it had to be upsetting for the Senate's top Republican to see a poll like this one at a sensitive time in Washington, less than two years before his re-election bid.
McConnell's campaign manager, former Ron Paul aide Jesse Benton, has an explanation for the disappointing numbers: Public Policy Polling is deliberately manufacturing bogus data, as part of a larger Democratic conspiracy. Joe Sonka published a message Benton wrote yesterday:
On the first day of Republican Campaign Manager School, they teach us to ignore PPP polls. You see, PPP is a partisan Democrat polling firm, and they make their living giving the Democrat Party numbers they want to see.
Benton added, "Cooked polls are certainly only the start of the liberals' plans."
It's an interesting theory, I suppose, but it leads to some related questions. If Public Policy Polling were deliberately manufacturing bogus survey results to make McConnell look bad, wouldn't the pollster have shown him losing to his likely Democratic challengers? And if this were part of a larger Democratic plot, wouldn't PPP have shown some other, more vulnerable Republican incumbents as the least popular senators?
And if PPP polls are inherently unreliable, and its results are not to be trusted, why did it have the best year of any pollster in the country, while Republican outlets like Rasmussen were among the worst?
It's also worth noting that Joe Sonka reached out to PPP's Tom Jensen for a reaction to Team McConnell's paranoia. The pollster said:
I think one of the biggest lessons of the 2012 campaign was that when Republicans are attacking polls it's a sure sign that they're losing. GOP campaigns all over the country made these kinds of claims about us this year and we ended up calling every state in the Presidential race and Senate race we polled correctly. Nate Silver found that to the extent there was any bias in our polling, it was actually pro-Republican.
Jesse Benton himself knows well that the last time we produced a surprising poll in Kentucky it was right on the mark -- and that time it was to his benefit. In December 2009 we came out and said Rand Paul had a 19 point lead over Trey Grayson in the primary. That was an unexpected result at that point in the campaign and Grayson/McConnell's people attacked the heck out of us for several days just as they're doing now. I think that finding held up pretty well.
Benton was Rand Paul's campaign manager in 2010.