Monday, September 17, 2012

Obama Leading in Polls as Clock Ticks


The NBC/WSJ/Marist Poll that came out on September 13 gives Obama the lead in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia:

From NBC's First Read
In both Florida and Virginia, Obama is ahead of Romney by five points among likely voters (including those leaning toward a particular candidate), 49 percent to 44 percent.

In Ohio, the president’s lead is seven points, 50 percent to 43 percent.

Among a larger pool of registered voters, Obama’s advantage over Romney slightly increases to 7 points in Virginia, 8 in Florida and 9 in Ohio.

. . . Romney likely needs to capture at least two of these states, if not all three, to secure the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the presidency.

By comparison, Obama can reach 270 by winning just one or two of these battlegrounds – on top of the other states already considered to be in his column.

(Obama also has an additional path to victory without any of these three states if he wins the toss-up contests of Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.)

Public Policy Polling reports that Obama has a five point lead in Virginia over Romney:
PPP's newest Virginia poll finds Barack Obama leading by 5 points, 51-46. Obama's lead is unchanged from a month ago when we found him leading 50-45 in the state. He may not be seeing a bump from the convention in the state at this point, but he was in a pretty good position to begin with.

Virginia continues to look like it may be something of a firewall state for Obama. PPP has now polled it 9 times this cycle, and President Obama has led by at least 4 points on all 9 of the polls. He's been ahead by 5 points, 5 points, 8 points, and 8 points over the course of the four surveys we've conducted in 2012.

However, we must be cautious in our reading of such polls, lest we jinx the results with too much idealistic hope. I plead guilty of being optimistic, along with Nancy Pelosi who said this weekend: "If the far right thought that Romney could win, they might be more enthusiastic about him. . . He’s not going to be president."

And then there's the story from Politico that the Romney camp is imploding and throwing senior adviser Stuart Stevens under the bus as the scapegoat. More about that here:
Snark Amendment: Romney Camp Chaos

Conversely there are the Romney-side Republican naysayers who dismiss all polls as inaccurate or untrue because in their state of denial they can't accept a scenario in which Obama might be chosen by the people for a second term. For them, Josh Marshall on Talking Points Memo had this message:
I’ve been watching elections professionally for going on two decades.
From a fair amount of experience I’ll say one thing: if your theory is based on some sort of systematic error on the part of most pollsters, you’re almost certainly in for a really long election night.


Nate Silver on on NYT 538 blog writes in "Watching the Clock and Awaiting the Unknown" that we should just watch the polls day by day, and in time all would be revealed.
Each day that Mr. Romney fails to make gains in the polls will count as an opportunity lost for him. And with each passing day, the model will become slightly more confident that a small lead in the polls will translate into an Electoral College victory for Mr. Obama, since the error in the polls becomes smaller as we get closer to Nov. 6.

It’s also worth tracking the number of undecided voters remaining in the race. The model assumes that overall uncertainty in the forecast is a function of the number of undecideds, in addition to the time left until Election Day.

. . . The average bookmaker now makes Mr. Obama about a 75 percent favorite to win re-election, almost exactly as the FiveThirtyEight forecast now does.

Silver does warn about believing all the comparisons to past races, making "if...then" statements about what will happen. For example, Republicans are trying to compare Obama to Dukakis, as reported by David Weigel of Slate at the Values Voter Summit in Washington:
. . . conservatives are talking themselves into optimism. “Before you decide the election is over based on September polls,” writes Mike Huckabee in an email to supporters, “remember that coming out of the 1988 Democratic convention, Gallup showed an insurmountable 17-point lead for that great former president, Michael Dukakis.”

Walking around the conference, I heard the Tale of Dukakis again and again. But the story leaves out how George H.W. Bush’s convention came after Dukakis, and he made the most of the opportunity to erase that lead. Like every “maybe this time will be like that time” analysis, it leaves out the demographic and culture shifts that have made it easier for a Democrat to put together 270 electoral votes.

Nate Silver says to take all such analysis, both pro-Romney or anti-Romney, with a grain of salt. As he explains it:

I would urge some caution if you come across analyses that take the form: “No candidate has won when trailing in the polls by X amount as of Y date, subject to conditions P and Q”.

These analyses may convey something of the right spirit, in that they emphasize that the polls have a history of being pretty accurate after Labor Day and the conventions. But they do it with much more specificity than is warranted. There is no magic date when polls go from being inaccurate to accurate, and no exact threshold at which a lead in the polls goes from being surmountable to insurmountable.

Rather, it all exists along a probabilistic spectrum, with a candidate’s chance of winning primarily a function of the size of his lead, the time remaining until Election Day and the number of undecideds left in the electorate.

So I guess he is trying to give the Republicans some hope that Obama's lead isn't insurmountable, but we do know that most voters have made up their minds, and I don't lean towards the "undecideds" being relevant the way Silver does.

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