Thursday, October 18, 2012

State of the Race: When Plouffe and Silver agree...take it to the bank

In his Abbreviated Pundit Roundup today at Daily Kos, Greg Drowkin put a couple of quotes side-by-side that back up what I've been saying about the latest national polling. It just so happens that the two come from guys that - together - trump the savvy of all of the rest of the commentariat on this issue combined.

David Plouffe:
Polls in September that showed Mr. Obama with a lead of eight or more percentage points in Ohio and elsewhere were a “fantasy,” [David Plouffe] said. The president’s margin of victory in battleground states was going to be “one, two, three, four points at most.” “In those states, if the election were held today, I’m as confident as anything I’ve been in my life, that we would win the election,” Mr. Plouffe said. “I assume tonight’s debate performance will strengthen that a little bit. I think it will provide some more excitement for Democrats and our supporters as Romney got additional enthusiasm off his debate.” 
“But the structure of the race is pretty established,” he added.
Nate Silver:
It continues to be noteworthy, in my view, that in slow news cycles — as in most of the spring and summer months — the polls have generally converged to show an overall advantage for Mr. Obama of about two percentage points. After his best news cycles, like after the Democratic convention, Mr. Obama pulled ahead in the polls by four to five points, while Mr. Romney remained about tied with Mr. Obama after his best series of events. But some of these effects could be artificial, as a result of nonresponse bias.

Perhaps the New York debate — viewed as a modest win for Mr. Obama by instant reaction polls — will reset the news cycle to a neutral enough point that the potential effects of nonresponse bias will be reduced...

On the other hand, it’s possible that Mr. Obama’s “win” in the debate will seem more definitive in the coming days, and that he’ll get a bigger bounce in the polls. If so, there will be some reason to be suspicious of it.
If you want to know what Silver is referring to when he talks about "nonresponse bias," you can read what I wrote about that in a piece titled The Anatomy of a Bounce.

The sad truth of it is that we've all spent the last month riding a rollercoaster of highs, lows and back to highs again based on a quirk in polling that overstates the public's reaction to political events...while all along the reality is that "the structure of the race is pretty established."


  1. Again, SP, thanks for your good sense.

    Plouffe is very good at what he does. I sincerely hope he continues working national elections for Democrats, because he's cut from a different cloth than the crew who worked with Bill Clinton.

    Yes, all along the president has had a number of paths to victory and a slight advantage in all of them, and Romney has had more or less one, which is to win all the swing states they are now reasonably contesting. It's not likely. And yes, it's been that way since June or July.

    Most of the hyperventilation on our side was nonsense and counterproductive. Though, I will say that when it looked like Romney was totally collapsing--public screwup after public screwup--I felt some elation that we might take the House decisively. It's still possible, but we are back in reality now.

  2. I agree with both of these men in their assessment, but would want to ask Nate Silver if the swings in polling can be so easily dismissed as not impacting the election results or as overstating their impact once early voting has begun. As OFA's effort to bank early votes is currently underway it seems to me that there is potential for events such as the second debate win and the "binders full of women" craze as well as Mitt getting fact checked in real time sort of grease the skids for the good guys. Sure, they may be destined to level back out to a more accurate reflection of where the population really stands, but for that moment, isn't the exaggerated effect still reflective of the environment in which we're functioning as we knock on doors? It may be a temporary and exaggerative phenomenon, but it is there none the less for a moment and possibly capitalized upon with swift action.

    Frequently NFL playoffs and NCCA basketball tourneys go to the team with the momentum, not the team with the best full season.

  3. I made a prediction earlier this year that there would be a 1-2 week period in the Fall in which Democrats would start pulling out the razor blades, convinced that Obama was going to lose, because one or two polls came out showing Romney in the lead.

    I also predicted that Obama would go on to win comfortably.

    (past results is not a predictor of future performance).