A Very Good Look at Polling and Poll AnalysisDan McLaughlin (also known as Baseball Crank) has an excellent article at RedState discussing polls, and why we need to take them with a grain of salt this year. It is a very long article, but well worth the read if you want to understand the underlying math and assumptions that goes into using small samples to predict the behavior of large groups.
Yesterday, in one of the comments, I mentioned that I am less concerns about "movement" in the polls right now, than I am with the facts on the ground. We can get caught up in a small polling bump for Obama and start worrying about its meaning. But small bumps in polling averages have very little import 5 days from an election. As Dan says in his article:
Obama is getting clobbered with independent voters, traditionally the largest variable in any election and especially in a presidential election, where both sides will usually have sophisticated, well-funded turnout operations in the field. He’s on track to lose independents by double digits nationally, and the last three candidates to do that were Dukakis, Mondale and Carter in 1980. And he’s not balancing that with any particular crossover advantage (i.e., drawing more crossover Republican voters than Romney is drawing crossover Democratic voters).
We are now in the period where the campaigns are executing their ground game. What is important to the campaigns is executing their early voting operations and getting their voters to the polls on election day. Swaying the last few undecided voters toward your message is of much less importance to winning.
For the most part, the War for Independents is over. Obama started the war by trying to damage the Romney brand using 5 months of negative campaigning. The negative War on Women and Bain ads are still running in Florida. Romney instead tried to woo them by convincing them "we can't afford another 4 years". He got their attention during the first debate, and has solidified their support during the last two weeks by promising to "reach across the aisle". This is the same message that Obama used in 2008 to great effect. It is also a message that Obama can not use this year. His governing style over the last 4 years would make that claim laughable. As we enter the last 5 days, Independents are favoring Romney by an average of 8 points in all the current national polls. This is about a 20 point swing from 2008, when Obama dominated.
Now we are in the period of the early voting ground game. This is where Obama won the election in 2008. He ran up such an advantage among early voters that year, that in many states, such as Florida and North Carolina, even though he lost the vote on Election Day, he still won the state. But Obama's early voting advantage has collapsed. Over on Breitbart they discuss Pew's finding that Obama is suffering from a 26% drop in early votes. Over at AEI, Henry Olsen takes a look at the Ohio early votes and find support for Romney's claim that they are turning out new GOP voters, while Obama is underperforming in counties that support him. A key paragraph from his analysis:
The numbers are particularly strong for Romney in the southeastern coal country on or near the Ohio River. From Scioto county in the south to Columbiana county in the north, early voting shares range from a low of 63.5% in Monroe to 82.7% in Columbiana. (Athens County, an Obama stronghold because of Ohio University, touches the Ohio River- its early voting share is only 57.4%). To compare, the early voting shares in the largest and strongest Obama counties (Cuyahoga, Lucas, Franklin, Summit, and Lorain) never top 61.0% (Cuyahoga).If these early voting trends continue, then Romney will have erased Obama's strongest advantage in the race. It will all come down to turnout on election day. This is an area that Reince Priebus at the RNC has focused on specifically for the last two years. They tested the methods in June in Wisconsin during the Scott Walker recall, and were able to over perform all expectations during election day. Walker was able to win 60 of 72 counties, and cruised to an easy victory, well beyond expectations.
So take a deep breath and focus on the important things now. Watch where the the campaigns are going (Wisconsin), and take heart that the Romney campaign is where they wanted to be, and are executing their final week strategies.
One final note from Dan's article. I want to note his unknowing acknowledgement that my efforts here are on the right track.
One of the more widely-discussed efforts to fix the problem of topline poll data varying by turnout models is Dean Chambers’ UnskewedPolls.com, which takes the internals of each poll and re-weights them for a more Romney-friendly turnout model. In concept, what Chambers is doing is on the right track, because it lets us separate how much of the poll toplines is due to the sentiments of different groups and how much is due to assumptions about turnout.
Hat tip to Matt for pointing out this article to me.