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Election Day: Which Polls to Believe?

We’re approaching the moment of truth for election analysts. Twenty-four hours from now, some will have egg on their face and others will look like geniuses, but the world will swiftly move on. Via Meadia isn’t overly concerned with horse-race coverage, particularly when the results will soon be obvious, but we believe that Sean Trende’s final analysis of the race at RealClearPolitics is the best and most thorough we’ve seen.

His advice: be more skeptical of predictions relying on state polling than national polling. So although the national polls still lean slightly toward Obama, the results will be closer than many are predicting:

[M]ost importantly, the state polls have been showing fairly strong “house effects.” Remember, polling is not really the random exercise that exists in a stats lab. Pollsters get the raw data, which is almost always grossly unrepresentative of the population due to low response rates. Pollsters use a variety of proprietary formulas to engage in a game of 5-dimensional chess, weighting the data by race, class, gender and other “hard” demographic variables.

Then, pollsters have to make assumptions about what turnout will look like and, most importantly, who is going to turn out. By the time all is said and done, a pollster’s assumptions can play as important a role in the result as the data; the randomness of the draw is diminished.

Right now, the state RCP Averages forecast about a 75 percent chance of Obama winning. The national polls have it closer to 50-50, although with most methods predicting that Ohio’s PVI will be slightly Democratic, it’s probably more like a 55 percent chance that Obama wins.

If you assign, say, a 70 to 80 percent chance that the national polls are correct, that still translates to about a 60 percent chance that Obama will win. That’s a lot less than most of the other oddsmakers are giving right now, but it’s about how I see things.

That’s about where we stand, folks. Read the whole thing.


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