Calm Down and Do the Math

Is President Obama ahead or tied in Ohio? If you look at the poll released this morning, from Quinnipiac University, the clear answer is that Obama has a solid lead—five points, as a matter of fact. But if you tuned in this afternoon and saw the poll from Suffolk University—which shows a tie between Obama and Mitt Romney—you’ll either be panicked (if you’re a Democrat) or thrilled (if you’re a Republican). 

All of which makes today a case study in why you shouldn’t give too much weight to individual polls. At this point in the election, dozens of companies are polling thousands of people in an attempt to get some sense of where the electorate stands. Each pollster will have a different methodology, a different strategy for getting respondents, and a different way of weighting the various answers. Some sample sizes will be incredibly small, others will be unusually large.

All of these variables and all of this activity means that, every so often, polls will show mutually exclusive results. When this happens—today, for example—the correct response isn’t to ask which is “right” and which is “wrong.” Rather, it’s to look for averages and other tools that give a collective look at the polling. Outliers balance out outliers, and you are given a better picture of where the race stands. This doesn’t have to be sophisticated; even something as crude as the Real Clear Politics average—which relies on the latest polls—is preferable to individual surveys.

Now, with all of that out of the way, what does Ohio, that battleground of all battlegrounds, look like? According to the average of averages—drawn from aggregating results from Pollster, Real Clear Politics, and Talking Points Memo—Obama is ahead by 2.4 points. If you support the president, this is a solid sign for November 6. —Jamelle Bouie

 So They Say

“The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one's country deep enough to call her to a higher plain.”

George McGovern 

Daily Meme: What Would Martha Do?

  • Tonight's the final presidential debate for the 2012 election cycle (sob), and it's the first to focus on foreign policy. What could be in store?
  • Walter Russell Mead says to expect Obama to portray Romney as George W. Bush incarnate while Romney tries to make himself into Obama incarnate—but different!
  • Zach Beauchamp hopes that Romney explains himself for once.
  • Expect to hear a lot about Benghazi
  • Or maybe Iran will be the hot topic.
  • Or maybe Pakistan?
  • James Traub expects the debate to unfold thusly: "Is there an Obama Doctrine? If so, what is it?" "I killed Osama bin Laden." "Thank you, Mr. President. Governor Romney, your turn: What's wrong with the Obama Doctrine?" "Libya. Libya. Libya." "Well, I guess that wraps it up for tonight. Vote early and vote often, folks."
  • But maybe we're underplaying Benghazi. Is it an important opportunity for both candidates?
  • Then again, who are we kidding? How the debate will play out is about as unpredictable as the foreign-policy scenarios they'll be discussing.
  • One thing we can be sure of: Bob Schieffer will likely get guff from both sides, while he wishes he was playing with his honky tonk band instead of refereeing these two.
  • Also, everyone will be daydreaming about Martha Raddatz

What We're Writing

  • Tom Daschle and Rich Yeselson remember George McGovern.
  • Monica Potts reports from Jefferson County, one of the swing districts most crucial to the presidential outcome. 

What We're Reading

  • If swing states became real battlegrounds, the Obama campaign's troops would far outnumber Romney's.
  • The New Yorker endorsed Obama in this week's magazine, in an editorial replete with umlauts.
  • Are you an undecided voter? If so, John Dickerson would like a word
  • Jane Mayer profiles Hans von Spakovsky, a Republican lawyer at the center of voter fraud fear-mongering.
  • The Akin campaign doubles down on its analogy comparing Claire McCaskill to a dog by calling her a "bullshitsu" on Twitter today.
  • Love 2 Broke Girls? Then chances are you've seen quite a few Obama ads. If you like Andy Griffith on the other hand, Republicans want YOU.
  • Canvassing grows more and more important as the election draws near. But watch out, dangers can include trying to convince your ex's parents to change their vote.
  • What were debates like in the 20,012 B.C. election? 
  • Why is Abe Lincoln the most popular president when it comes to impersonation?

Poll of the Day

As we wait these last few hours before the presidential candidates spar over foreign policy, many Americans have already made up their minds on what our role should be overseas. A new Pew survey shows that across ideologies, Americans are ready for the United States to take a smaller role in the Middle East—63 percent in total.

For more polling information, go to the Prospect’s 2012 election map.

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