Thursday, April 19, 2012

How to read the presidential polls

National polls either show President Obama slightly ahead, or behind, Mitt Romney.

Yes, pollsters like it that way so they can say they were half right.

In fairness, some pollsters, like Rasmussen, lean right and some, like PPP, lean left.

Actually, national polls, particularly this early in the election cycle, are essentially meaningless.

In fact, they'll be mostly meaningless all the way up to election day.

The only polls that matter are for these states, all in the Eastern time zone: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.

They are the battleground swing states because Obama and Mitt will focus most of their attention, and withering assaults through TV ads, on those five states.

It'll be 5 p.m. PST on Nov. 6 when those polls close in the five battleground states.

By 6 p.m. PST, the presidential race will be decided. No need to wait for the TV talking heads to tell you.

At seven months out, though, here's what we know so far: Mitt will lose his "home" states of Michigan, Massachusetts, California and, perhaps, New Hampshire. It's safe to say he'll carry his onetime "home" state of Mormon Utah and its six Electoral votes.

Check out this Electoral map for some insight. Right now, it's estimated that Obama has 227 likely Electoral votes, while Mitt has 170. There are 140 Electoral votes up for grabs and only 270 needed to be elected president.

As we learned from the 2000 election, the popular vote means nothing. It's all dependent on the undemocratic Electoral College.

If Obama were to carry Florida (29 EV) and Pennsylvania (20 EV), then he'll be re-elected. Should he lose those two states, but carry Ohio (18 EV), Virginia (13 EV) and North Carolina (15 EV), he'll still win.

If he wins all five of those states, it will be another emphatic victory for Obama.

The average of the polls right now for the battleground states looks like this:

Florida: Obama, +5.0
Ohio: Obama, +8.6
Virginia: Obama, +4.0
North Carolina: Mitt, +2.0
Florida: Obama, +4.2

Of course, much can change in seven months. Mitt could Twitter his way to a lead in those states, but it's more likely that he'll be the Mitt-wit and lose most of them.

Still, voter-suppressing efforts by Republicans could be a factor in the swing states, which could lead to some disturbances at the polls. Whenever Republicans see African-Americans or Hispanics in a voting line they see "voter fraud," which is a non-existent problem ginned up by the GOP.

If you want to follow the most reliable poll guru out there you can read Nate Silver's blog on the New York Times website. Nate was so accurate in 2008 that the Times gobbled up his blog.

You can also check out what the gamblers think at Intrade. Right now, that market is showing a 60 percent chance that Obama will win a second term. Mitt is trading at 38.1 percent.

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