Mainstream media have been obsessed with polling of the presidential race for the past nine months or so, and, at least on this last Sunday before the election, the polls they tout look good for the good guy.
I have mostly ignored the polling out of the belief that in the end, no matter what the polls showed in August or September, the race would be too close for comfort, at least for my comfort.
Nate Silver, the stats man from The New York Times, today estimated that Mr. Obama has an 85% chance of winning, taking 307 electoral votes. He explains:
Friday’s polling should make it easy to discern why Mr. Obama has the Electoral College advantage. There were 22 polls of swing states published Friday. Of these, Mr. Obama led in 19 polls, and two showed a tie. Mitt Romney led in just one of the surveys, a Mason-Dixon poll of Florida.
The pollmeisters at Huffington Post show the popular vote race at a virtual tie, Obama 47.7% and Romney 47.1%. However, they published this portrait of the most recent polling in the battleground states:
HuffPo Pollster says:
Given the torrent of incoming data, the model now reports nearly complete certainty about Obama’s narrow leads in the most crucial tipping-point states of Iowa and Ohio, but that statistical confidence assumes that the final polls are collectively accurate and unbiased. When we factor in the historical potential for polling error, the probability of an Obama win falls to roughly 90 percent in Ohio and Iowa. An Obama win in those states is thus still very likely, but a 1-in-10 possibility still exists, given the typical historical pattern, that the polls could be wrong enough for Romney to win.
Four more states — New Hampshire, Colorado, Virginia and Florida — continue to show closer margins, with Obama holding a slight advantage in New Hampshire, Colorado and Virginia, while Romney has a slight edge in Florida. If the polling leaders were to carry each state where they currently lead by any margin, Obama would reach 303 electoral votes to 235 for Romney.
All of that is close to what Nate Silver has said and it sounds good for the President, but it is that fragment of doubt—10% to 15%—that will keep some of us from sleeping between now and Wednesday.
What obviously matters more than all the polling is the voting. And early voting—which some Republicans have been trying to slow down or stop—favors President Obama, but not as much as it did four years ago. According to the Associated Press, 27 million people have already voted across 34 states, and Democratic early voters are ahead of Republican ones in most battleground states.
Again, early voting represents some good news for Democrats, but not anywhere near decisive. Perhaps a clearer—or muddier—picture will emerge on Monday, as the final national polls are released by big-time news organizations.
But it is likely that those of us who care a great deal about this presidential election will find some reason to worry over what those final polls show, no matter what it is. I know I am one who would find reason to fret even if the much-trusted Nate Silver came out tomorrow night and said Obama had a 99% chance of winning.
Worry, worry, worry from now until the agonizing end is all there is left to do.