The PJ Tatler

Funny Poll Games in Ohio?

Reader Matthew writes:

OK, so I’m reading today’s WSJ/NBC/Marist poll results, which show the race tightening, but Romney still not taking much of a lead anywhere.

In Ohio, where Obama is up 51-45, the Journal reports that “nearly one in five Ohio poll respondents had already cast their ballots — and they favored Mr. Obama by a 63%-37% margin.”

Nearly one in five? That seems incredible. The Ohio Sec of State reports that as of last Friday, “more than 59,000” Ohioans had already voted (voting started last Tuesday). Add in a comparable amount for this Tuesday (the day the WSJ poll concluded; the polls were closed on Monday for the holiday), and you have maybe 75,000 early voters. (Hell, round up and make it 100,000 if you want.) According to the Ohio Sec of State, there are nearly 8 million registered voters in Ohio. In 2008, there were 5.8 million ballots cast. Even if turnout were markedly lower this year — say 5 million — 100,000 early votes (as of the close of the WSJ poll) would be two percent; last time I checked that’s a lot less than “nearly one in five.”

Peculiar, no?

Well, yes and no. The Journal appears to have oversampled early voters and conflated them with absentee ballot requests, though the two aren’t necessarily the same thing. According to the Ohio secretary of state’s office, about 1.1 million absentee ballots have been requested. That number gets us to the Journal’s one-in-five estimation based on 2008 turnout. But it doesn’t mean that all of those absentees have already cast their ballots, or that they even will actually vote. They probably will, and some undoubtedly have filled out their ballots and sent them in. But it’s not out of bounds to say that one-in-five Ohioans have decided to be part of the early voting process. It is out-of-bounds to say that one-in-five have already voted and given Obama a lopsided lead. That hasn’t happened. The poll has evidently found many early voters among the 9% of Americans that we know actually respond to polls.

It also strikes me as out of bounds to extrapolate how Ohio will vote based on 59,000 out of about 5 million potential votes. We don’t know where those votes came from or who cast them. We don’t know if they’re Obama Phone voters or coal mine voters, to take two extremes.

Also read:

Wargaming the Electoral College: Quickfire Thursday Edition