The Plank

Am Polling Update: Why Today's Swing State Spin Will Be Wrong

By

Quinnipiac
is out with polling this morning in the swing states of Florida, Ohio
and Pennsylvania. Barack Obama holds a lead in all three: he's ahead by
7 points in Pennsylvania, and 2 in each of Florida and Ohio. But also
in all three states, his lead is diminished from last month, when
Quinnipiac had shown him 4 points ahead in Florida, 6 in Ohio, and 12
in Pennsylvania.The
media is likely to focus on the near-term trendline -- one that shows
movement toward John McCain within the last month. The last set of
Quinnipiac polls were conducted near the peak of Obama's post-primary
bounce, and there is no doubt that he has lost a little bit of ground
since then.We like looking at trendlines too. But focusing on
only the last month risks failing to see the forest for the trees.
Fundamentally, the news is that Obama is ahead in all three states --
two of which are states that Democrats have made a habit of losing.
Moreover, if you compare his performance not just to the most recent
number, but to all other instances of the Quinnipiac polls -- this is
how our model looks at things -- the results are pretty decent for him:Month FL OH PAFeb M+2 M+2 O+1March M+9 O+1 O+4April M+1 M+1 O+9May M+4 M+4 O+6June O+4 O+6 O+12July O+2 O+2 O+7This is a weaker performance for Obama than in June, but a better performance for him than in any month but
June. Our model weights those two factors, and concludes that the
status quo has more or less been preserved. As of last night, our model
gave Barack Obama a 68.0 percent chance of winning the election in
November. With these polls rolled in, he has a 67.7 percent chance.There's
nothing really dramatic here, in other words. And to the extent there's
any news at all, it's that Florida and Ohio continue to move toward one
another in the polling, which has a lot of implications for resource
allocation going forward.EDIT:
Here's the other type of spin to watch out for. Quinnipiac's Peter
Brown implies that the movement in the polls reflects a negative
reaction to Barack Obama's overseas trip:

"The $64,000
question is whether Sen. John McCain's surge is a result of Sen.
Obama's much-publicized Middle Eastern and European trip, or just a
coincidence that it occurred while Sen. Obama was abroad," said Peter
A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling
Institute."While Obama was on tour, trying to show voters he
could handle world affairs, voters were home trying to fill their gas
tanks," Brown added.

This might be a perfectly valid
point of view -- if Quinnipiac had conducted polling 10-14 days ago,
immediately before Barack Obama embarked on his trip to Europe and the
Middle East. But it didn't; the last time the Quinnipiac polls were in
the field was six weeks ago. In the period intervening mid-June and
Obama's Iraq trip, a number of different things happened: Obama took a
lot of criticism for flip-flopping, the McCain campaign began to
champion offshore drilling as a wedge issue ... the campaigns really picked up their advertising spending.
Our model sees some decline in Obama's numbers over this period. But it
also thinks that the decline has halted -- and has possibly begun to
reverse itself -- since that time.

--Nate Silver

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