Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tell Your Polls to Chill

Numbers don't lie, but sometimes they tell small fibs that gain attention because, well, it's August and people at the beach need something to talk about.

So what's the latest chatter?
This article from Gallup, Obama in Close Race Against Romney, Perry, Bachmann, Paul shows the president roughly tied with those named in the headline, and trailing Mitt Romney by 48%-46%. What does this mean 15 months before the election? Probably not much. 

If you want Obama to lose then you say that his name recognition and incumbency still don't provide him with enough political cover in an election in which most people are not paying great attention.

If you support Obama's reelection, then you say that despite the horrid economy and general sense of unease in the country, he's still hanging with the Republicans and doesn't have far to go to get above the 50% threshold necessary to win.

The most interesting part of the article for me is this discussion of past elections:
  • In August 1999, Texas Gov. George W. Bush led Vice President Al Gore by 55% to 41% in a Gallup trial heat poll. That race ended up in a virtual dead heat, with Gore ultimately winning slightly more of the national popular vote than Bush.
  • In August 1995, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole was slightly ahead of President Bill Clinton in a Gallup poll, 48% to 46%. On Election Day 1996, Clinton beat Dole by eight points.
  • In August 1983, President Ronald Reagan was ahead of Democrat Walter Mondale by only one point, 44% to 43%. Reagan went on to beat Mondale in a 59% to 41% landslide in the November 1984 election.
  • In August 1979, incumbent President Jimmy Carter was tied with former California Gov. Reagan -- each getting 45% of the vote. Reagan ultimately defeated Carter by 10 points.
So the lesson is that polls this far from an election can be wildly wrong, solidly wrong, or just plain wrong. In the end, the direction of the economy will do much to decide who is elected in 2012. The other wildcard is who the Republican nominee is. A very conservative nominee might make the party's base very happy, but could turn off moderate voters. 

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