What's a Swing State Anyway?

08.07.12

New Batch of Polls: The Land Is Still Sliding!

Yeah, yeah, PPP is a Democratic-leaning outfit, so I'll put that on the record. But the results today showing Obama up eight in Virginia and six in Colorado look pretty credible to me. The North Carolina result, which gives Obama a one-point lead, looks like the sample may have been off in a way that favors Obama.

You have to look at the sample make-ups. In Colorado, the sample self-identified as 52 percent women and 48 percent men, which seems about right. And the party ID split was also plausible, with 3 percent more Republicans than Democrats.

In Virginia, it was 54-45 women, and the Dem-Rep-Indie split was just about even, which seems reasonable to me. PPP may have slightly undersampled blacks, too. The poll has African Americans making up 18 percent of the respondents, while they were 20 percent of the vote in 2008.

Now, in North Carolina, the sample doesn't seem right. It's women 56-44, and Dems over Reps 46-34, with Indies at 21. Remember, this is self-identification ("press 1if you're a Democrat"). There may be logical reasons for it in the moment, but the numbers obviously don't sound like what we're going to see on Election Day. Still...

PPP does have a very good reputation for accuracy. But I'd regard the North Carolina number as less reliable than the other two. So, if Virginia is in fact eight points, what we have, if we look back over the months, is a string of polls showing Obama leading by six to eight points, one Quinnipiac outlier that had it tied that got everyone all lathered up, and of course a few Rasmussens to tilt things in Romney's direction that people have to act like they take as seriously as the other polls, for whatever reason.

In other words, the bulk of the serious numerical evidence is that Virginia isn't even a swing state. Colorado is a little more so, but only a little. I confess it's a tad early to make these judgments. But I think a swing state is a state in which the polls from the reputable firms show it consistently within four points. If Romney hasn't nudged states like Virginia and Colorado into that category by mid-September, time is going to start running out on the guy. He'll have the debates, but of course his fundamental problem this summer has been that when people see him, their opinions of him go down. Maybe he should vacation from now til Nov. 5.