Pre-Election Freakout Prophylaxis

Mittmentum getting you down? Worried sick that the election is slipping away? Stockpiling water and batteries for the coming apocalypse one might affectionately label a “Romney-Ryan administration”? I have the remedy, and it comes from those dastardly polls.

The campaign endgame began with the conclusion of the final presidential debate last Tuesday, and since then both sides have felt compelled to frame a piece of their closing argument as “we’re winning” — partly as a GOTV turnout strategy and partly as media narrative management strategy. With so many polls now released daily it is somewhat possible for each side to cherry-pick some data to build an impending victory spin.

But get a grip, Obamaphiles: The fact is polls in the aggregate are actually painting a quite consistent picture, one that favors Obama in almost all the important battlegrounds. The picture looks like this: In every key state starting in mid-August (pre-conventions), Obama built a lead, a working margin that was whittled down in the wake of the first debate on Oct. 3 to a substantially smaller lead. And here’s the essential part: Since the few days immediately following that first debate (roughly the period Oct. 4-9), the race has been stable … a smaller but consistent Obama lead, with the raw numbers for Obama and for Romney creeping up in tandem as undecideds break.

You can see this dynamic in every state that matters: Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, Virginia, New Hampshire.

In this chart I have grabbed a piece of the Huffington Post Pollster battleground state poll aggregations for each of these six states. Each state’s chart begins at Aug. 20 and ends at Oct. 26.

See the pattern? Kind of unmistakable. Debate #1 gave Romney back most of the terrain he lost during his bad post-convention stretch, but it gave it back to him quickly, and the race in these battlegrounds has been pretty stable ever since. Yes, the national polls took longer to settle down and they currently show a popular vote race that is excruciatingly close — essentially tied and perhaps even a slight Romney lead.

But it is also the case that Romney has not broken through in battleground states in a way that turns the Electoral College math in his favor. He still has a week to pull that off, and it’s hard to see how he manages it. (This may explain why Romney felt the need late last week to try to scare the bejesus out of Ohio voters by making shit up out of whole cloth about jobs moving to China.) So keep those freakout dials set low, Dems.

Methodological note: The Huffpost Pollster aggregation method, explained here and here, doesn’t merely average polls; it takes into account variations in sample sizes (giving more weight to better samples) as well as pollster house effects. By the way you see this same pattern in red-leaning battleground states (North Carolina and Florida) — a bump for Romney in the week following the first debate, and essentially a stable race since then.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.


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