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Posted at 12:05 PM ET, 06/21/2012

Obama pollster: Stop obsessing over the daily horse race polls

Yesterday, a Bloomberg News poll found Obama leading Mitt Romney nationally by 13 points. Today, an Associated Press poll found the two men in a statistical dead heat.

Suffice it to say that the view of the race taken by Obama campaign’s lead pollster, Joel Benenson, tracks far more closely with the latter poll than with the former one.

“We don’t think this is a 13 point race,” Benenson told me in a brief interview. “We’ve said all along that this is going to be a competitive race, a close race.”

Benenson had some surprisingly pointed words for the media’s tendency to obsess over every national poll that comes out. Benenson, of course, is polling regularly, and his point isn’t that there’s anything wrong with the polling vocation or that people should ignore public opinion data. Rather, Benenson argued that the shifting focus from one different public poll to the next is creating a misleading impression. Their differences in methodologies — and the different findings that result — create the false sense that the race is volatile.

“The only thing that’s bouncing around are the public polls,” Benenson said. “The electorate doesn’t bounce around like that. It’s more static than the noise in all these polls. If you watch the electorate over time, they don’t jump up and down. This is a process.”

“Movement tends to come in small increments, and people ought to be mindful of that,” Benenson continued. “We had 45 different polls over a 42 day period. It’s an industry unto itself.”

Benenson argued that coverage of meaningless daily polling distracts from coverate of the actual policy differences between the candidates.

“People ought to focus on the race — on two, strong competing visions,” he said. “That’s what matters to voters and that’s what should matter to the folks covering it. — not who is right and wrong about the polling.”

As it happens, many political scientists agree with Benenson’s sentiments, and suggest focusing on polling averages instead. And there’s another point to be added, which is that the selective focusing on daily polls can exacerbate distortions about the race. When a recent Times poll found Obama’s approval down at 41 percent, many news organizations treated it seriously, even though it was obviously an outlier. Yesterday’s Bloomberg poll showing Obama way up was mostly treated as ... the outlier that it was. One drove the conversation; the other didn’t.

One other point: the political scientists will tell you that even short term fluctuations that are real don’t translate into anything meaningful over the long haul. Post-convention bounces and blips caused by major events, such as Bin Laden’s killing, will ultimately dissipate.

This is a very close race. And it likely will stay that way from now until Election Day.

By  |  12:05 PM ET, 06/21/2012

 
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