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Editor: Thomas A. Smith
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Thursday, November 8, 2012

RCP poll averages predicted 49 of 50 states « Hot Air

One last 2012 poll post for old times’ sake before we start in bright and early tomorrow morning with 2016 polls. (Joking, joking.) There was one basic meta-question in the sturm and drang over Nate Silver and statistical models: Were the state polls showing Obama sweeping the midwest correct or were the national polls, some of which had Romney ahead even at the very end, right in predicting a photo finish? Now we know. Sean Trende thoughtfully weighed the case for both sides a few days ago. My assumption, like many other people’s, was that O couldn’t duplicate the turnout he generated in 2008. All the polls showing, say, a D+6 advantage simply had to be wrong, as that was way too close to the D+7 he grabbed back then. There was too much stacked against him this time — unemployment near eight percent, liberal disillusionment with the pace of “progress,” a fervently negative campaign that demolished his Hopenchange brand, etc etc. Plus, Republicans couldn’t wait to get to the polls to beat him, and had even come to genuinely like Romney as he campaigned down the stretch. Logically, I thought, the best O could do was maybe D+3 and probably it’d be closer than that. Actual result, per the national exit poll: D+6. That’s why last night is so alarming. 2008 could be dismissed as a fluke but last night smells more like realignment. He essentially duplicated the results of his first “experiment,” which, in science, means we have validation of a hypothesis. Hypothesis: If Democrats can muster that sort of advantage even in the worst of times (albeit with heavy GOTV help from Obama’s superb organization), then the GOP’s starting each election in the near term in a hole.


The state polls were right and so Silver et al. were right. But the question remains, why were they right? Did they somehow anticipate that there would be unexpectedly low white turnout? Or did unexpected low white turnout make their guess of high minority turnout look correct when, had white turn out been normal, it would not have been? I don't know, but it seems to me all this "polls are indeed a magic oracles" talk is a bit premature. Would the state polls work as well in the event Republicans managed to nominate somebody who was able to get the sort of people who voted for McCain/Palin to vote for him? Maybe what he have is state polls that predict well when you have a seriously underperforming GOP candidate. Also, though it might be impious to ask, how do pollsters come up with their models of what the demographics of the turnout will look like? Did they somehow know that a lot of McCain voters would not vote for Romney (if that indeed turns out to be the case)? Or did they guess they would, but also guess more minority voters would turn out than did, and just commit offsetting errors? I don't know whether pollsters reveal this sort of information or not, but one would have to know this to know how awed to be by their prescience. And if they did somehow know a lot of McCain voters would not vote for Romney, how did they know that? Is there something they measure that reveals this surprising truth? And as far as odors go, it smells more like panic than realignment to me.--TS

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At the very least, I hope this election will end your strict reliance on Rasmussen Reports. Perhaps you'll instead start citing to Public Policy Polling (I can dream)!

Posted by: | Nov 8, 2012 11:46:20 AM

Yeah, Rasmussen came off quite badly, but including them in the RCP averages is probably a good idea. PPP has a poor reputation, and I can only go on what wiser heads than I seem to think.

Posted by: Tom Smith | Nov 8, 2012 12:04:06 PM

PPP actually has a pretty stellar reputation, particularly because they are consistently accurate (see last 3 elections), and the accuracy isn't just limited to when Democrats win (they were similarly good in 2010). I think you believe they have a poor reputation because they have a (D) after their name and are talked down on in conservative circles. Rasmussen's looked foolish over the past 2 cycles, usually being the outlier toward the Republican side. The incorrect narrative of this election is that the poll aggregators did a great job. They did a great job because they had quality state polls to aggregate, like those from PPP, who already had a good track record and was thus more highly weighted in aggregation models because of this.

Posted by: | Nov 8, 2012 11:56:26 PM