Friday, October 19, 2012

Presidential Election: The Battle of the Pollsters

Nate Silver - 538 pollster
While most Americans are focusing on the battle between Obama and Romney, hardcore political junkies (such as you) are also darting from one poll to another, and one pollster to another.

Gallup, the grandfather of polling, has raised hackles amongst some.

Nate Silver, a pro-Obama blogger, popular with non-Republicans, thinks that Gallup is out to lunch with its latest national running poll, which puts Romney up over Obama by 6%.

This is what Silver says about Gallup:

The Gallup national tracking poll now shows a very strong lead for Mitt Romney. As of Wednesday, he was ahead by six points among likely voters. Mr. Romney’s advantage grew further, to seven points, when Gallup updated its numbers on Thursday afternoon.

The Gallup poll is accounted for in the forecast model, along with all other state and national surveys.

However, its results are deeply inconsistent with the results that other polling firms are showing in the presidential race, and the Gallup poll has a history of performing very poorly when that is the case.

Other national polls show a race that is roughly tied on average, while state polls continue to indicate a narrow advantage of about two points for President Obama in tipping-point states like Ohio. The forecast has Mr. Obama as a narrow favorite in the election largely on the basis of the state polls. (You can read my thoughts here on the challenge of reconciling state and national poll data.)

Here’s Silver’s chart:

And another Silver chart:

Silver says Gallup’s success record is middling:
On the other hand, the pollster ratings are also based in part on past accuracy, and Gallup’s performance is middling in that department. It mostly gets a lot of weight by comparison, since the tracking surveys are a mediocre group on the whole.

Silver refers to RealClearPolitics, which aggregates the polls and shows a much closer race right now:

Finally, another giant amongst the prophets, Rasmussen, talks about a very close race:
Friday, October 19, 2012
The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Friday shows Mitt Romney and President Obama each attracting support from 48% of voters nationwide. One percent (1%) prefers some other candidate, and another two percent (2%) are undecided. See daily tracking history.

These updates are based upon nightly polling and reported on a three-day rolling average basis. As a result, roughly one-third of the interviews for today’s update were completed before Tuesday night’s presidential debate. In the two nights of polling conducted since the debate, Romney has a slight advantage. Tomorrow morning (Saturday) will be the first update based entirely upon interviews conducted after the second debate.
A president’s prospects for reelection are closely tied to his job approval ratings. Those who Strongly Approve or Strongly Disapprove vote for or against the incumbent almost regardless of who is challenging him.

Matt K. Lewis in The Social Reader takes a swipe at Nate Silver in article he titles Nate Silver vs The World.

In the past few years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a star that has risen higher or faster in the political prediction business than New York Times blogger Nate Silver.

This is for good reason. As On The Media notes, “In 2008, his blog FiveThirtyEight correctly predicted the outcome of the presidential race in 49 out of 50 states. (In that same election, he was also right about all 35 senate races.)” …

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s entirely possible that Obama will win re-election. (Before the first debate in Denver, even I would have agreed with Silver’s analysis.)

But the race changed dramatically, and my guess is that, right now, it’s probably a 50-50 proposition. (Silver would likely dismiss this by arguing that political commentators always think every election is a coin toss. But empirical evidence suggests the race is actually close. At the time of this writing, Real Clear Politics poll average has Romney up .1 percent.)

So why hasn’t Silver adjusted accordingly?

It could be that he is just frankly smarter than all the other pollsters, pundits and predictors.

Maybe he just got lucky last time?

Or maybe it’s wishful thinking? — Silver was up front about being an Obama supporter in 2008, and it’s hard to blame conservatives for wondering if he might be working the refs.

 So, who is right?

The answer is simple: the voters on November 6. Those Waitress Moms in the battleground states. Those younger voters who support Obama and might or might not actually vote. Those older folks who support Romney, and might vote.


  1. Rasmussen on the past weeks polling:

    Saturday, October 20, 2012

    The countdown to Election Day continues. President Obama’s much-improved performance in Tuesday night’s debate seems to have stopped his downward trend in the polls but has not yet helped him regain lost ground. Republican hopes for a Senate takeover, on the other hand, are slipping away.

    The daily Presidential Tracking Poll continues to show the race far too close to call, Romney has the edge in our daily Swing State survey, and the president still has a slight lead in the Rasmussen Reports Electoral College projections.

    However, seven states with 66 Electoral Votes remain in the Toss-Up category and three states have just shifted from Toss-Up to Leans Romney.— In Florida Romney’s now up by five. In North Carolina, he’s ahead by six. And, the GOP hopeful has a double digit lead in Missouri.

    As for the remaining Toss-Ups, the Republican challenger is ahead by three in Virginia, while Ohio and New Hampshire remain virtual ties. Wisconsin is a two-point race – Obama 50%, Romney 48%. The president is ahead by three in Nevada. Rasmussen Reports will release new numbers out of Colorado and Iowa early next week and revisit the other Toss-Ups as well.

  2. SurveyUSA Friday poll October 19 2012:

    In an election for President of the United States in Florida today, 10/19/12, Barack Obama is a nominal, statistically insignificant, single point ahead of Mitt Romney, 47% to 46%, according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted for WFLA-TV in Tampa.

    Compared to an identical SurveyUSA poll 5 weeks ago, Romney is up 2 points, Obama is down 1 point.

    Florida's critical 29 electoral votes remain up for grabs, 18 days till votes are counted. Romney has gained ground in each of 3 SurveyUSA tracking polls going back to 07/20/12. Obama's once 12-point lead among Florida women has been reduced to 4 points. The contest is tied among men.

    Narrowly, Cubans vote Republican. Decisively, non-Cuban Hispanics vote Democrat. Voters under age 50 vote for Obama. Voters age 50+ vote for Romney. Whites vote for Romney 5:4. Moderates vote for Obama 5:4. Independents break 44% to 40% for Romney.

    Voters with a high school education split 45% for each candidate. Voters with some college education split 47% for each candidate. Romney has a 5-point edge among those with a 4-year college degree. Obama leads among those who earn less than $80,000 a year. Romney leads among Florida voters who earn more than $80,000 a year. 4 of Florida's 5 regions break for Romney. Obama's advantage comes entirely from Southeast Florida, where he leads by 24 points. Obama has a Plus 3 Net Favorability today. Romney has a Minus 2 Net Favorability today.

  3. Gravis Ohio poll Saturday October 20 2012:

    President Obama and Mitt Romney are tied in the key battleground state of Ohio.

    · Romney leads by 6 percentage points among men (50 to 44 percent), while Obama leads by 4 percentage points among women (49 to 45 percent).

    · Both sides are doing well to consolidate their bases in Ohio. 87 percent of Democrats say they will vote for President Obama and 92 percent of Republicans say they will vote for Governor Romney if the election were held today. Governor Romney leads with independents 52 to 33 percent.

    · The president has a net negative job approval rating of 6 points, 44 percent approve of President Obama’s job performance while 50 percent do not.

    · Ohio voters are more likely by a 6 percentage point margin to think the country is going in the wrong direction (49 percent) than in the right direction (43 percent).

    Previous Gravis October Ohio poll, Romney+1 10-10-2012.
    September Poll Obama+1, 9-22-2012


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