Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jay Cost: Are the Polls Tilted Toward Obama?

First off, a little about Jay Cost.  As a Republican/Conservative political junkie, if Jay didn't exist I would have to invent him. A short biography from Amazon:

Jay Cost has been a top political analyst for nearly a decade. He currently writes MORNING JAY for The Weekly Standard. He got his start with his simple, no-frills "Horse Race Blog" in September, 2004 because he was sick and tired of the inane media coverage of the Bush-Kerry contest. With his data-driven approach to the election, he was consistently ahead of the curve, and by the end of the campaign season his blog was drawing thousands of readers a day.

In 2005 he began working for the premier political website RealClearPolitics, where his audience reached into the hundreds of thousands. It was there that he again was ahead of the curve covering the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, predicting earlier than anybody else that Obama would be a real challenge to Clinton, then later sensing accurately that Clinton was down but not out. Today, he writes a twice-weekly column for the top conservative opinion journal The Weekly Standard.

Jay received a B.A. with High Distinction in Government from the University of Virginia, and later an M.A. in political science from the University of Chicago, where he is currently working towards his Ph.D. His approach to politics is an unusual blend of scholarly grounding, statistical know-how, and good old common sense.
Now  his comments on recent polls in the Presidential Campaign:

I see two ways the polls are tilted in favor of the president.

First, many of the polls are guessing that Democrats are set to turn out at levels that match or sometimes exceed 2008........

Second major point: There is a subtler dimension to this Democratic polling advantage........It has to do with how tightly the two sides have control over their own coalitions........ As we can see, Obama has tighter control over his base at the moment.(In current polls) Now, the difference may seem insubstantial, but I assure you it is not. After all, this is a race that will see the two sides separated at most by 5 points, so this basically gives the president a one-point boost over Romney, simply by virtue of having a more unified base.But is this historically accurate? Not really. In fact, over the last forty years, Republican candidates have consistently had tighter control over their base than their Democratic counterparts. ......

But I suspect that when the Democratic enthusiasm bump from the DNC finally settles, we are going to see the two parties sort themselves roughly in line with what they have done through history – meaning a slight edge for the Republicans, not the Democrats. That is also going to shrink Obama’s margin.

Final thought: As I mentioned earlier, a big “tell” here is that Obama cannot build any kind of lead among independent voters. That suggests to me that his advantage is built entirely on Democratic enthusiasm, which right now is above its historical trends and clearly on a post-DNC bump. Nobody in the postwar era has won the presidency by carrying less than 49 percent of independents, and Obama is quite a ways below that mark, even if some polls show him at or above 50 percent nationwide and in the key swing states.

Jay has many examples and statistic to back up the points he makes above, so read the entire article for a short course in Political Science: Polls 101: