The Horse Race: Trying and Failing to Ignore the Polls

Last month, I was starting to relax. According to the polls, the President’s chances of re-election were looking so good that I was starting to focus my efforts on keeping the Senate and maybe even taking back the House.

Then came the response to the first debate and the crazy surge for Governor Romney.

Now, I understand that polling is not an exact science. I also fully expected that this election — like the ones in 2000 and 2004 — would be extremely close. All I have to do is look at my Facebook feed to see how polarized this nation has become.

I told myself I wasn’t going to freak out. And the best way to keep calm would be to shy away from most articles about polling. Sure, I’m making my daily pilgrimage over to Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight blog (where President Obama’s electoral college projection has slipped from over 300 down to 289.2). But I’ve been deliberately skipping the rest. I don’t need or want any information that will dampen my enthusiasm or prevent me from keeping my eyes on the prize, because the prospect of a Republican victory (and consequences like a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade) is too terrifying to contemplate.

I am determined to keep my eyes on the prize.

But it’s difficult when the media continues to cover the election like a horse race. And it’s hard to keep the polls off my radar (especially when I am so addicted to the political stories I am reading that I find it tough to break away and work on anything else).

Twenty minutes ago, I received something that threw me for a loop. And it came directly from the Obama campaign.

Subject: Memo from Joel Benenson on Flawed Gallup Numbers

Even though I’ve been shying away from the polls, I do know that Gallup tends to be a bit conservative (not in the political sense, but more like they are cautious. They’re definitely not skewed to the right like the Rasmussen poll). I figured this would be about the general tightness of the race — or even recent numbers that showed Romney one or two points ahead in some battleground states (which is also within the margin of error. Like I said, this election is close.)

But the first paragraph revealed that this is something worse than that:

The latest Gallup/ USA Today Battleground survey showing President Obama and Governor Romney tied with women in battleground states (48-48) is an extreme outlier, defying the trends seen in every other battleground and national poll.

Never mind the characterization of the poll as an outlier.

Tied with women?? When did that happen?? HOW did that happen, when Paul Ryan has been part of the contingent waging a War on Women for the last two years — and Mitt Romney has tacitly approved?

I know the answer to the third question — it’s for the same reason as the post-debate Romney surge in the first place: some people have only just now started paying attention. It is incredible to me, after all those years of campaigning, all those crazy-ass Republican primary debates — but there were a lot of people who never heard Mitt Romney talk about his “severe conservative” credentials. People who prove Eric Fehrnstrom absolutely right about the “shake of the Etch-a-Sketch.”

Here is the entire memo:

The latest Gallup/ USA Today Battleground survey showing President Obama and Governor Romney tied with women in battleground states (48-48) is an extreme outlier, defying the trends seen in every other battleground and national poll.

  • This result underscores deep flaws in Gallup’s likely voter screen.

Only 2 years ago the distortions in Gallup’s likely voter screen were exposed, leaving Gallup’s survey 9 points off the mark just days before the election.

  • Gallup’s likely voter model predicted a 15 point advantage for Republicans, 55-40, on October 31, 2010.
  • The final result was a 6 point margin, 51-45.
  • That year, Gallup’s registered voter survey was much closer to reality at 48-44.

Gallup’s data is once again far out of line with other public pollsters.

  • In 14 state polls conducted across 8 swing states since October 4, President Obama leads among women in every single one.
  • President Obama has a double-digit among women lead in 10 of these polls, including several surveys where the overall horserace is close or the President is behind.
  • On average, President Obama leads among women by 10.3 points and overall by 2.3 points. (See table on page 2 for results)

We believe the problem with Gallup’s outlying data is rooted in their 7 question likely voter screen, which distorts the composition of likely voters, leading to erratic and inaccurate results.

  • In Gallup’s current survey, Obama leads women by 53-44 among registered voters in the Battleground States, which is closely aligned with results from other pollsters.
  • It is only when the likely voter screen is applied that their results become so out of step.

Several of the likely voter questions create a bias against groups inclined to support Obama.

  • For example, Gallup asks voters both whether they have voted in their precinct before and where people in their neighborhood go to vote.
  • This creates a bias against registered voters who more likely to move from time to time, such as young voters, renters, minorities and urban dwellers, all of whom tend to lean toward the President.

In the past, Gallup’s justification for such outlying numbers is that they are providing a snapshot of voter attitudes during a particular time period, not predicting the outcome of the election. But this implausible result among women appears to not even provide an accurate reflection on the electorate today, making its value questionable.

Horserace and Horserace among Women in Post-Debate State Polls

State Poll Field Date Overall HR HR among Women
Ohio PPP Oct. 12-13 51 BO – 46 MR 54 BO – 42 MR
Ohio NBC/Marist Oct. 7-9 51 BO – 45 MR 54 BO – 42 MR
Ohio SurveyUSA Oct. 5-8 45 BO – 44 MR 50 BO – 41 MR
Virginia NBC/Marist Oct. 7-9 47 BO – 48 MR 54 BO – 42 MR
Virginia NYT/CBS/Qpac Oct. 4-9 51 BO – 46 MR 56 BO – 40 MR
Florida NBC/Marist Oct. 7-9 47 BO – 48 MR 54 BO – 41 MR
Florida ARG Oct. 8-11 46 BO – 49 MR 49 BO – 46 MR
Colorado NYT/CBS/Qpac Oct. 4-9 47 BO – 48 MR 51 BO – 45 MR
Wisconsin NYT/CBS/Qpac Oct. 4-9 50 BO – 47 MR 53 BO – 43 MR
Wisconsin PPP Oct. 4-6 49 BO – 47 MR 52 BO – 45 MR
New Hampshire ARG Oct. 9-11 46 BO – 50 MR 49 BO – 48 MR
Pennsylvania Philadelphia Inq. Oct. 4-8 50 BO – 42 MR 55 BO – 37 MR
Pennsylvania Susquehanna Oct. 4-6 47 BO – 45 MR 52 BO – 42 MR
Minnesota PPP Oct. 5-8 53 BO – 43 MR 56 BO – 41 MR
AVERAGE BO +2.3 BO +10.3


Now, the Obama campaign’s intention in issuing this memo was to keep people like me from getting freaked out, and I see the irony in the fact that it had the opposite effect. I immediately looked for some other news outlet that had received this memo and had started to parse it so I could post one on the MOMocrats Facebook page (uh, because it’s faster than writing something myself), but Google only showed me posts from conservative outlets (which did not help at all).

So here you are. By now, I’m willing to bet that more progressives have written some thoughtful thoughts on this matter, and I will find those. Let wiser heads talk me down and help me with that keeping my eyes on the prize thing.


Author: MOMocrats

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