News You Can Use: Summer Polls Useless
How do you reconcile the excitement and enthusiasm of the Obama campaign and Sen. Barack Obama’s apparent confidence with the polls showing a neck and neck race between Sen. Obama and Sen. John McCain? Ignore the polls, says Clive Crook in the Financial Times:
How does one make sense of this? The simple answer may get me ejected from the guild of political commentators, who have a lot of space to fill between now and November — but I report it nonetheless. It is that these early head-to-head polls and the vast enterprise of political analysis, nit-picking and minute speculation they support, are, to a first order of approximation, worthless. In short, you resolve the paradox by ignoring them.
Note that if you do, science is on your side. Alan Abramowitz, a politics scholar at Emory University, has shown that summer head-to-head polls convey almost no information about the forthcoming election. (Subsequent head-to-head polls are not much better.) Instead, he has a simple “electoral barometer” that weighs together the approval rating of the incumbent president, the economy’s economic growth rate and whether the president’s party has controlled the White House for two terms (the “time for a change” factor). This laughably simple metric has correctly forecast the winner of the popular vote in 14 out of 15 postwar presidential elections.
That would give the advantage to Sen. Obama and I think that’s right.
Kevin Drum notes this finding and comments:
In any case, Abramowitz’s metric, which ranges from -100 to +100, gives John McCain a score of -60 this year, which means he’s as doomed as any candidate ever. This suggests two thing: (a) Obama is going to win a very convincing victory, and (b) the only real way for the McCain campaign to give itself a chance is by going negative early and hard. I’ll put money on both those things.
I think it’s just too early to tell. Wait until after the conventions, after the Olympics. That’s when I’ll start looking at polls and, when I do, I’ll look at a) polls of likely voters and b) polls from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia.