Thursday, October 23, 2008
What to watch for in the polls--forget precision
With the national polls running from Obama+1 to Obama +14, what the hell are we to make of it?--If you are profoundly, and in my case, pathetically, addicted to the polls, you might be confused by all of this. Me too. But here are some tips on what you can expect in the next week-and-a-half.
1. In most--not all--presidential elections, the polls showed a tightening of the race in the last few weeks or days. People change their minds or chicken out or drop out. This has not happened yet. John McCain seemed to be making some gains last week, but that has been offset by a reversal this week. The polling aggregators, the guys who take all the polls and do things with the numbers, all seem to agree that Obama leads by about 6 points and that hasn't changed much in the last few weeks. The lead is pretty steady. If you look at the charts, particularly from politico.com, and turn the sensitivity down (use the tool button), you will see the true vector--which is fairly flat.
2. The lagtime between the national popularity polls and the state polls shrinks. Now there is about a two day delay: if one of the candidates moves in the national polls, it is reflected in state polls two days or so later. As we get closer to the election, that gap closes. The state polls are still reflecting McCain's uptick a few days ago. And of course, as I mentioned before, ignore the day-to-day changes. They are likely statistical noise.
3. In the days before the election, the polls will begin to converge toward one number. The outliers will move toward that number, meeting the other polls at whatever number it is going to be on election day. Add a grain of salt: Polling ends a day or so before the election and will miss very late shifts in the electorate. That's what happened in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire; the polls missed a late move for Hillary Clinton. That could happen in the national race but is not likely. If Obama really is 6 points ahead, that won't change between Sunday and Tuesday barring a terrorist attack or something.
4. All the statisticians who are projecting the winner (including those who claim they are not making predictions) are predicting an Obama blow-out, again by 6 or 7 points, fairly historic.
5. They could all be full of shit. The ghost of Thomas Dewey will not be exorcised for a long time.