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The chief lament in the presidential campaign right now may well be “so many polls, and so little time.”
Time, that is, to stack them up all together and see how and if they make sense. Polls are the chief element of the “horse race” aspect of the campaign, obsessing over who’s winning and by how much, regardless of issues.
Ever since the early days of the Gallup Poll, the first one that was taken seriously, polls have always had their skeptics, those who doubt that polling can really predict an election.
But, happily or not, history has shown that they are generally right, even in a close election.
You have to go back to 1948 to see an election that really did turn out far differently than polls had suggested.
Pollsters never figured out that Harry Truman would rally himself and attack the GOP “do-nothing” Congress in a way that changed the dynamics of the campaign. But that result has been the exception and not the rule.
In the close election of 2004, the polls generally called it right. Bush was seen to have a narrow lead up until the end, but John Kerry still had hope in the big electoral vote states. He carried Pennsylvania but ran out of steam when Bush took Ohio. The 51-48 result was consistent with what the polls had been saying.
This year, Mitt Romney faces a veritable stew of polls – both national and in individual “battleground” states - that show him not just trailing, but losing by significant margins in very important places.
In Pennsylvania, which Democrats often carry but is usually competitive, Obama is 10 to 12 points ahead. The talk is that Romney has basically quit there.
Ohio was worrying Republicans before the conventions; they’re deeply concerned about it now. It’s clear that Obama is leading, in part because the state’s many auto workers know the president saved GM when Romney wanted it to go bankrupt.
In Virginia, where the new 21st century demographics helped Obama win in 2008, the president leads by eight points, according to the latest Washington Post poll.
Of all the battleground states – Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin – Obama has steady leads in all but one; Romney has held a clear advantage in only one, North Carolina (and new polls show that one tightening).
Conservatives cannot say with any credibility that these are just “liberal media” polls that are biased toward Obama. The Fox News Network – their most reliable propaganda machine – is also finding the same results in its own polling.
You can say “I don’t believe the polls” if you wish. I’ve been there and done that and it never seems to work out.
Polling also measures how people feel about the candidates on issues. The most devastating development to Romney lately has been to lose the majority of those who think he’s the one better for the economy.
He held that advantage until recently and now it’s gone the other way, and that’s a dire warning for the outcome. His whole ball of wax has been the economy, and if he can’t convince people that he can do a better job of managing it than Obama, he’s finished for sure.
As you read this, it’s quite possible that Romney has done so well in the first debate that his numbers may soon start to impprove. But we’ll only know that when we get the first … polls!
A horse race it is, among other things, and the one in the lead now is Mr. Obama. The last turn looms ahead.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.