The Washington Post

Campaign 2012: The poll star

POTUS campaigning Sunday in Melbourne, Florida. Or maybe Australia. You never know these days. (David Massey/AP)

This ain’t very fluid. The electorate has almost completely congealed in its preferences. People have seen enough. The candidates have been stumping and squawking and berating and fulminating since All In the Family was the number one show on television.

That said, if there’s a slight trend it seems to favor Obama. My friend Keating Holland at CNN says the voters liked the Dem convention and Obama is now up 6 points nationally. And Nate Silver reports an Obama bump: “[T]he polling movement that we have seen over the past three days represents the most substantial shift that we’ve seen in the race all year,” he wrote in his Sept. 9 post.

For a lot of pundit types, Silver is the poll star. His fivethirtyeight blog for the Times features a special hand-crafted election-forecast deelybopper, powered by proprietary AlGoreRhythms, that not only can tell us who is most likely to win but also what color tie he will wear in his victory speech. This morning Silver’s contraption declares that Obama has a 79.8 percent chance of winning on Nov. 6. The likely popular vote: 51.5 percent to 47.5 percent. Ohio has a 26.5 percent chance of being the state that provides the “decisive electoral vote” (am fuzzy on what that means, exactly). Obama will win about 315 electoral votes. All of this emerges, along with stock tips and a pungent espresso, from the Silver Machine.

Remember, these are not predictions. These are just forecasts. They’re scenarios. They’re probablistic conjectures presented to the public as discussion material. You can put it in your pipe and smoke it or you can walk away. Silver has a brilliant track record. He got 2008 right — in September. He correctly predicted that Tilden would win the popular vote but Hayes would win the Electoral College. He was the first to forecast the Jefferson-Burr fiasco of 1800. Thus Democrats who are feeling shakey and queasy and jittery and have that sewing-machine leg issue can refer to Silver’s latest and it’s like a big gulp of Mylanta with an Ambien chaser.

My personal algorithm tells me it’s going to come down to a few critical states, as always. Two of the last three elections were decided by a single state (Florida in 2000, Ohio in 2004). Distribute a million votes for McCain here and there in 2008 and it would have been a different ballgame.

We’re a divided country. It’ll be close. Eight weeks to go.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."


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