Two new polls give Mitt Romney the edge

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 9 2012 11:00 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this July 20, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks in Bow, N.H.

Charles Dharapak, File, Associated Press

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Two new polls showing a Mitt Romney lead have shaken up prominent liberal bloggers.

Liberal super-blogger Andrew Sullivan took to the Daily Beast on Monday in full meltdown mode, with the headline, "Did Obama just throw the entire election away?"

More measured in tone was Markos Moulitsas at the Daily Kos, who actually commissioned the PPP poll that showed Romney leading by 2 points on Tuesday.

Kos wrote that the poll showed "that Obama's debate performance was an epic blunder. Romney gave his partisans a reason to get excited about him and they've responded. It should come as no surprise that people like to fight for people who are fighting for them."

"The Pew poll is devastating, just devastating," Sullivan wrote. "Before the debate, Obama had a 51-43 lead; now, Romney has a 49-45 lead. That's a simply unprecedented reversal for a candidate in October. Before, Obama had leads on every policy issue and personal characteristic; now Romney leads in almost all of them. Obama's performance gave Romney a 12 point swing! I repeat: a 12 point swing."

Sullivan probably needs to take several deep breaths, walk around the block, and sip a little of the skeptism that Republicans have been using all summer and fall.

Or, as conservative pundit John Podhoretz put it on Tuesday, the polls are "garbage," noting that only 9 percent of respondents talk to pollsters now and no one has any idea how to account for cell phones.

"All we can be sure of," Podhoretz wrote, "in the words of the peerless Internet humorist Iowahawk, 'political poll results accurately reflect the opinions of the weirdo 9 percent who agree to participate in political polls.'"

"What yesterday proved is that all bets are off. We’re judging the state of this contest with junk data, and we need to stop. Until pollsters can figure out how to avoid all these crazy mood swings and white noise, they should be put on political and pundit probation."

What is left for the political junkie?

For months now, Republicans have discounted Obama's large leads in many polls by asking a simple question: will exit polls actually show that Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 6, 7 or more percentage points?

The same question now applies in reverse to the Pew poll.

Before adjusting for likely voters, the Pew registered voters sample was 36 percent Republicans, 33 percent Democrats and 30 percent independents. That's an R+3, which most observers believe is a very unlikely outcome. And that's before the likely voter filter, which would goose the R column even further.

Is the Pew skew real, or is it a random variation? Will Republicans, who in the best years usually hope to break even in exit polls, actually measurably outnumber Democrats in this election?

The PPP poll is less easily dismissed, as it actually had a D+3 sample.

How does a D+3 show roughly the same results as an R+5? First, the PPP poll shows Obama retaining a much lower percentage of his own party vote. Pew shows Obama retaining 94 percent of Democrats, while PPP shows him holding only 87 percent.

Party loyalty, in addition to turnout, is a very significant variable and bears watching.

PPP also showed Romney with a 6 point lead among independents, compared to a 4 point lead in Pew.

How does one account for the wild swings in party ID shown in the Pew poll?

One theory holds that party ID is fluid and will spike and fall based on events and public perceptions. This is the school that all along has argued that polls "skewed" toward Democrats are defensible snapshots of the public pulse.

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