Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Seeing Polls Like Ya Wanna See Them

This is an odd presidential election cycle for a lot of reasons, but one of the more interesting to me is the recent spate of selective reading of public opinion polls.

In other words -- partisans are seeing what they want to see.

  • Support the Republicans?  Rick Sanchez has your back, declaring Obama to be "on the ropes" based especially on national polling but pointing also to state-by-state numbers.
  • Support the Democrats?  A new story by The Hill is your cup of tea as it reports two new state polls, one useful, one less so, that suggest good news for Team Obama.

Of course partisans are going to spin polls their direction.  That's what partisans do.  News orgs have also fallen somewhat into this trap (not The Hill above, let me stress).  The good ones, they report them all, whether they favor one side or the other.  The pretenders (including a certain cable news network) tend to ignore the polls that fail to fit a narrative.  And the nutjobs, like Rush Limbaugh, analyze polls through a bizarre unexplainable filter.

So what's the right way to read the polls?

The race is tightening.  It was bound to tighten.  They tend to tighten the closer we get to Election Day.  Romney has "the momentum" but it's hard to say whether it's real or just people finally making up their minds, as you'd expect, or if it's something more real.  Given the nature of the debates it's hard to argue (unless you're a partisan, of course) that Romney's recent poll successes are anything more than a natural closing of the gap between two candidates.  That's my read, at least so far.

Short of some October surprise (isn't Trump doing one today?), the election will come down to turnout.  That's a different topic for a different day.

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