Watching the polls

Or more specifically, Nate Silver. The New York Times‘ resident stats wizard now has Barack Obama at an 85.1% chance of winning the election on Tuesday:

There are not really any recent precedents in which a candidate has led by something like 49 percent to 46 percent in the final polling average, as Mr. Obama does now in Ohio, and has wound up losing the state. That does not mean such misses cannot or will not occur: there have only been a few elections when we have had as much state polling data as we do now, which is why the model allows for the possibility of a 1980-type error based on how the national polls performed that year.

But the reasonably high level of confidence that the model expresses in Mr. Obama’s chances of winning Ohio and other states reflects the historical reality that the polling average normally does pretty well.

That brings us to Pennsylvania — where the forecast model puts Mr. Obama’s chances at better than 95 percent.

One poll of Pennsylvania on Saturday, from Susquehanna Polling and Research, showed a different result, with the two candidates tied at 47 percent. But in context, this is not such a great poll for Mr. Romney.

The polling firm has had a very strong Republican lean this cycle — about five percentage points relative to the consensus, a much larger lean than firms like Rasmussen Reports and Public Policy Polling that are often criticized for having partisan results. Susquehanna is the only pollster to have shown Mr. Romney ahead in Pennsylvania at any point in the race, as they did on one occasion in February and another in October (Mr. Romney led by four points in their previous poll of the state). Perhaps they will be proven right, but it is usually a bad bet to bank on the one poll rather than the many.

Still, Mr. Romney’s campaign is making a late play for Pennsylvania with advertising dollars and a visit there on Sunday.

That is probably a reasonable strategy, even though Mr. Romney’s chances of pulling out a victory in Pennsylvania are slim. What makes it reasonable is that Mr. Romney’s alternative paths to an Electoral College victory are not looking all that much stronger.

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