Truman savors unanticipated victory.
With the dog days of summer drawing toward a close, the political party conventions ramping up to endorse foregone conclusions, and the “traditional” Labor Day onset of the fall campaign season looming les than a dozen days away, it’s time to consider some of the resources available to those who may wish to follow this year’s presidential campaign in the finest possible detail.
One particularly excellent resource is the website RealClearPolitics, a relatively comprehensive and fairly objective online resource with selected daily news, opinion, political analysis, transcripts, speeches, blog links and much more. One of RCP’s most useful features is a voluminous listing of political polling results from a broad range of public opinion monitoring firms across the spectrum, coupled with their own polling average, which has proven to be of significant accuracy and value. RCP also offers a detailed view of state-by-state polls, and summarizes the results in terms of electoral vote outcomes.
For instance, today’s RealClearPolitics average of political polling data gleaned between August 4th and August 18th has Barack Obama over John McCain by 1.3 points, 44.9 to 43.6 nationally. In terms of electoral votes, RCP presently projects Obama at 228, and McCain at 178, with 132 toss-ups. Assigning all toss-ups by current polls, no matter how narrow the margin, they have McCain at 274, Obama at 264, while yesterday they had Obama at 275, McCain at 263. Any way you slice it, going into the political conventions it is an exceedingly close race.
The RCP average comprises a number of polls from Reuters/Zogby (a poll of 1089 “likely voters” conducted from the 14th to the 16th, which has McCain up by 5 points) to Quinnipiac (a poll of 1547 “likely voters” conducted from the 12th to the 17th, which has Obama up by 5 points) and includes Gallup Tracking, Rasmussen Tracking, LA Times/Bloomberg, Battleground, and IBD/TIPP.
For an even more detailed view of the specifics of these polls and others, check out the Haysville Community Library’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Internet directory of political polls, which contains links to more than 20 polling firm websites.
In this same context, another useful comprehensive site with significant commentary on multiple polling efforts is Congressional Quarterly Politics’ PollTracker Today’s PollTracker update reports the implications of the two latest national polls under the rubric New National and State Polls Show A Struggling Obama A detailed discussion of the state-by-state polling results was also updated with the latest information earlier today in Latest State-by-State General Election Match-Ups The summary PollTracker take at the moment:
“Two national polls are out today with different pictures of the race, although neither of them are particularly good news for Barack Obama. There has also been a series of state polls in the last two days which showed the Democrat having difficulty gaining any ground.
“The George Washington University Battleground 2008 survey conducted Aug. 10-14 has John McCain in a dead heat with Obama leading him 47 percent to 46 percent with 2 percent preferring ‘other’ and 19 percent undecided. The poll is conducted jointly by the Republican Tarrance Group and the Democratic firm of Lake Research Partners.
“A Reuters/Zogby poll conducted Aug. 14-17 has McCain moving out front 46 percent to 41 percent with 13 percent undecided. The margin of error is 3 points. Last month, Obama had led by 7 points.
“These two polls come on the heels of yesterday’s Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg survey that had Obama and McCain in a statistical tie, with Obama ahead 45 percent to 43 percent in a survey conducted Aug. 15-18. The margin of error was 3 points.”
Finally, the one most important think that the informed consumer of political polling information should always keep foremost in mind: a very healthy sense of skepticism. Two websites offer especially useful tools to aid you in doing so. The Roper Center, a pollster attached to the University of Connecticut, offers an introduction to the art and craft of political polling in Fundamentals of Polling – Polling 101 and a follow-up Polling 201 in Analyzing Polls: Interpretive Analysis Both are well worth your time. Equally useful is 20 Questions a Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results from the National Council on Public Polling. While designed specifically for working journalists, it raises precisely the kinds of questions the well-informed consumer of news and information should ask before granting credibility to any reported polling results.
That’s enough in the way of basics for today. In subsequent posts we’ll consider a completely different alternative for predicting election results, a variety of websites analyzing electoral votes, and other questions of interest to observers of and participants in American politics.