We’re forty-four days until the end of the election and some early voting (overseas and military) is ready to begin this week.  The first poll to show Obama was opening a lead in Ohio after the DNC Convention was Public Policy Polling, but it was dismissed by some on the right as a Democratic poll that was merely seeing a post-DNC Convention Obama bounce.  Then came another and another.

Just as we said with the Mandel “surge,” it’s more accurate to look at the trendlines within polling outfits as the poll a race over time than to compare what one poll says to another and suggests that is a trendline.

The Ohio Poll conducted by the University of Cincinnati has long been considered the “gold standard” of public opinion polling in Ohio.  Although its sample size is much smaller this cycle than other polls, and it appears to be undersampling independents and African-American voters to the benefit of oversampling Republicans as a result, it still remains a widely respected poll in Ohio from both sides of the political aisle.

Before the conventions, the U.C. Ohio Poll showed the race at 49% Obama to 46% for Romney.  A three-point advantage for Obama, but still under 50% and well within the poll’s 3.4% margin of error.  Today, the University of Cincinnati Poll, on behalf of virtually every major newspaper in Ohio, issued its first likely voter poll after the conventions (it was taken a week after the DNC convention).  It shows Obama’s lead has grown to 51% to Romney’s stagnant 46%.  So, here we have the case where the incumbent is polling over 50% and has a sizeable lead over his opponent with 44 days left.  Even more important, Obama leads by five points on which candidate likely voters believe will do better in handling the economy.

Here’s how the major newspapers in Ohio characterized it:

  • Cincinnati Enquirer: “Divided state still a toss-up”
  • The Columbus Dispatch headlined the economy as the top issue and noted that the U.C. pollster noted that “voters may be in for a wild ride this fall.”
  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer actually headlined that Obama leads Romney in the poll, which would not be remarkable except the first two papers mentioned above downplayed it in their headlines.  The PD also did something the first two papers did not: mention the other recent Ohio polls showing Obama leading.
  • The Toledo Blade split the difference, and went with a headline like the Dispatch‘s, but then mentioned in the subheading that Obama led in the poll.
  • The Akron Beacon Journal also headlined that Obama was leading in the poll, and did not characterize it as showing the race as a “tossup.”

The notion that the race is a “tossup” and we “may be in for a wild ride” is technically true because even at five-points, it’s still within the outer range of the margin of error of +/- 3.4%.   However, that’s stretching the likelihood of the margin of error a bit.  Under the Enquirer‘s standard, that means that any poll where there’s not at least a seven-point advantage is a dead heat.  When the polls showed the difference between the two candidates as being within the 3.4 margin of error, then statistically there was a strong possibility that either candidate is ahead.  But when that margin hits 5, the statistically likelihood that Romney is tied or actually ahead is rather insignificant.

Furthermore, let’s look at the RealClearPolitics chart of the aggregate polling data of the race in Ohio:

We’re not in for a “wild ride.”  Historically speaking, incumbents this close to election polling 50% or better virtually always win.  In fact, Obama is polling better now than he was at this point in 2008 in Ohio. He’s actually polling at about the same margins he won the State in 2008, too. Something else every newspaper in Ohio failed to point out.

And then there’s this other takeaway.  Only 2% of the electorate is undecided.  There’s nobody left to persuade.  Chances are those 2% undecided voters simply won’t vote.  To win, Romney has to change voters minds in Ohio in a matter of weeks.

For example, this is how Mitt Romney tries to outreach to the Latino community. For reals.

Mitt Romney is essentially toast. If millions of third-party ads on the economy hasn’t torn Obama down enough to give Romney an advantage on the issue in Ohio, then I don’t think millions more will somehow hit the tipping point. Far more likey, Ohio voters are numb to the ads on television anyways by now. The electoral map is such that Romney cannot win without Ohio (and he’s losing), and he could still lose even if it winds up beating the odds and winning Ohio anyways.

  • I’m not a pollster, but I do have a question regarding the sample. You state that the sample under represents minority voters giving an advantage to Republicans (a logical conclusion). Is this something the pollsters did on purpose, or is it possible that they just had better response rates from white, Republican voters?

  • pb_dirtgirl

    But Joseph (if that’s really your name), newspapers want to sell papers and a blowout election with six weeks to go is not a storyline that sells.

  • JLM452

    To quote Han Solo, “Don’t get cocky, kid.” And Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” This is no time to relax. Hopefully, that will be Nov. 7th.

  • missskeptic

    Republicans are not happy about Romney and many will vote third party or not vote at all. Absentee voting will be around 50% – meaning that by Nov. 6th, 1/2 of the electorate will have already voted. And it may be a higher percentage than that, because of all the talk of TeaParty observers who plan to harass voters at the polls. Observers must follow strict rules: They have to register. There can’t be more than one or two at each precinct. They cannot interfere with the voting process. They can’t go rooting around in election workers’ stuff. If they do interfere, they get one warning, then the next time the sheriff is called. Although I do agree that these blowhards will target counties and/or areas which they see as urban/poor/undereducated.

  • Clairy

    Whistling past the graveyard? Bigotry and hate are powerful motivations for the GOP in 21st Century America. Ask the racist-moron GOP big-shot Doug Preisse in Franklin County Ohio.

    The GOP GOTV effort has even more importance coupled with gerrymandering and rules allegedly against the myth of “voter fraud” that are best enforced to keep likely Democrats out of the election. They have just begun to fight and will fight for their bigotry and domination of American political government. Happiness or unhappiness with Romney is irrelevant. He’s white and they want to reclaim the White House

  • Dave

    You are incorrect and missskeptic is correct. I am a longtime GOP voter who is not voting for Romney. Not voting for Obama either, but if my mindset is somewhat common, these polls make sense.

    I think I am not alone and there are many who have had it with the GOP and have thrown in the towel, at least for this cycle.

  • Alex

    Re margin of error ME: about 95% of the time, a candidate’s true percentage p will be within the ME of the sample estimate. So for Obama, within 3.4% of 51%. Also, only 68% of the time, it should be within half the ME. So chances are roughly two in three that Obama’s p is between 49.3 and 52.7. … Since you brought it up. Note also that this is assuming a random sample; not taking inti account the probability of error in design of the sample. … Also, of course, note that 1% less for Obama means about 1% more for the bot.

  • Dmoore

    Romney had to prompt a crowd to stop chanting Ryan, Ryan, Ryan by saying, “Hey,c’mon now it’s Romney-Ryan, Romney-Ryan.” Nobody took up the chant. What an embarassment. This isn’t the kind of thing that wins presidential elections. McCain had a similar problem with half-Governor Hair and Nails Palin. When the second on the ticket is more popular you got a big problem. Republicans must be purple with disgust. I seem to recall talk of a close election in 2008 and turned into a blowout. What fun.

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