I’ve owed PJM another polling piece for a couple of days, but frankly there’s not much left to say that’s particularly deep. Look, it’s like this: for all the reasons I’ve mentioned before, the polls this year are more unreliable than ever. When the pollsters have to call eleven people to get one person to cooperate, then nobody has any idea what the real population is thinking.
That said, there are some things to look at that can perhaps help you sleep tonight.
I. Michael Barone
There’s not a lot of people smarter about American politics than Michael Barone; he’s worked for both parties over the years, he’s made a life study out of American politics. And he’s been saying for weeks that he thinks Romney will win. He said it today, again.
Bottom line: Romney 315, Obama 223. That sounds high for Romney. But he could drop Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and still win the election.
II. Today’s Washington Post
In a story today titled “Obama’s Defectors,” the WaPo looks at a long series of their polls. Rather than averaging them — I just drove a bunch of people screaming from the room by showing a proof of the problems of averaging, so I promise I won’t, but believe me, it sucks — they looked at a long series of polls of various different subpopulations. In each case they asked people who had voted for Obama if they were going to again. In every case, there was a fair proportion of “defectors.”
Overall, “[t]wo weeks of Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll interviews find 84 percent of likely voters who supported Obama in 2008 support him this year, while 13 percent say they are switching to Romney and 3 percent are backing others or haven’t made up their mind yet.” Now, from the standpoint of the Republican Party, whether they vote for Romney or for Mickey Mouse, they reduce Obama’s vote. Now, here’s a little bit of math for you: Obama got about 53 percent of the vote in 2008. Obama is only getting 84 percent of those votes this time.
84 percent of 53 percent is 45 percent.
One of the things that turned the election for Obama in 2008 is that while a lot of people were excited about Obama — from the people who thought he really was the Messiah to middle of the roaders who just thought it’d be cool if we elected a black man — a lot fewer were excited about McCain. Lots of hard-core conservatives thought he was a RINO; a fair number of people believed the hatchet job on Sarah Palin; a bunch of otherwise sensible people got gamed on the financial crisis. The result was that from about the first of October on, the crowds were surging for Obama; early voting was way in Democrats’ favor.
This year, the actual data is much the other way. (There were some polls, of course, that early on claimed Obama was getting amazing proportions of the early vote in, say, Ohio, but they turned out to be what mathematicians call “nonsensical,” with sample sizes of, like, 50.)
I’m going to propose an idea: in the absence of other evidence, I think we should assume that people who vote on Election Day will be much like the people who vote before Election Day. This election is different from previous ones in one significant way — we’ve made it ridiculously easy to vote early or absentee (unless, of course, you’re in the military overseas, but that actually is a fairly small population). You don’t need to be extra enthusiastic to vote early.
If I’m right, then Republican turnout will turn out (heh) to be quite a bit more enthusiastic, and therefore more likely to vote, than Democratic.
If the population is exactly evenly divided, and 53 Republicans show up to vote for every 45 Democrats, what is the actual result?
53 percent Republican/47 percent Democrats
Now, does all this mean Romney is certain to win? Of course not. Hell, all those D+8 polls could come true. Someone could come up with pictures of Romney in bed with a dead boy and a live girl. A New Madrid earthquake could disrupt the whole country. The Mayans could turn out to have been optimistic.
I’m just saying that the way to bet is that Romney has the odds on his side; instead of letting uncertainty discourage you, there are three days left. Stay calm, do what you’ve been doing, and remember the goal.