Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Convention Bounces and National Polls

We're about two months away from Election Day, and every day stories run about Obama or McCain's "bounce" from their conventions, or selection of VP candidates, or what-have-you. There are things I dislike about both candidates, but the coverage of the campaign is particularly annoying at times. One aspect that really grates on my nerves is the breathless reporting of the latest results of national polls. Let me say this slowly: these...polls....are....useless.

We do not have a popular vote for President, we have an electoral system. The national poll is irrelevant. If you'd like a recent example, consider the year 2000, when GWB had fewer votes but won the election. If you'd like to go back further, consider that Bill Clinton won in 1992 without getting 50% of the vote. So examining national polls has close to no information to offer you on the election.

The appropriate metric to consider is the likely electoral vote count. Talking about national polling numbers is like talking about total runs scored in the World Series. Quick, who scored more total runs last year, the Red Sox or the Rockies? Doesn't matter. What matters is that the Red Sox won 4 games. Doesn't matter how big the margin was, it just matters that they won.

Regardless of the national polling, most states are probably locked into voting Republican or Democratic. Obama probably has 243 electoral votes pretty much locked up, while McCain has 240 (assuming Florida is solid McCain territory). To reach 270, the number needed to win, each of them has to capture some portion of the relatively undecided states in this list:
New Hampshire (4), Ohio (20), Michigan (17), Colorado (9), and Nevada (5). So just like the last several elections, Ohio is going to matter a lot.

National polling doesn't tell you a lot about how people in Ohio or Michigan or Colorado are going to vote. Day to day variations in national polling mean nothing. The total national vote means nothing. Most political reporting parses out the national polling results so closely because it is easy, and the reporters are lazy. If you want to look hard at the likely outcome of this election, track the movement in the polls in those five states.


Cheech said...

When will we live somewhere where our vote actually matters? Oh yeah, I hear Dartmouth is lovely this time of year. Perhaps a smaller punch than Ohio but do you really want to work at Ohio State?

Diane Vollrath said...

It's going to be rough if we tell FLA their vote isn't important - but then we don't get it right much of the time anyway. And while those few states matter most NOW it is because the citizens in the others made it clear earlier where they stand. If it is insinuated that "your vote doesn't matter" and therefore people in the "decided" states don't vote then all bets are off - so maybe we should campaign AGAINST voting to get our candidate into office, whoever he/she/he/he maybe - in appropriately selected states, of course.

And should we live in states whose electoral votes matter most or in states where we like the voters...or neither criteron? Gosh - I am confused!!!