PSA for political junkies

If you are the type of person who obsessively follows the presidential election then you’ve probably already read Nate Silver’s great piece on how to be appropriately careful and thoughtful in approaching the soon-to-be firehose worth of general election polling data.  But, in case you haven’t, it’s a list of really useful things to keep in mind and you should read it.  A sampling:

2. Take the poll average. This ought to be obvious, but you should generally be looking for a trend to show up in several different polls from several different polling firms before you start to view it as newsworthy. Again, this differs a little bit from the primaries because there is less of a premium on recency in the general election; you’re usually better off waiting for another (or better yet two or three more) data points…

6. Keep paying attention to Mr. Obama’s approval ratings. In the early stages of general election campaigns, a president’s approval ratings have often been at least as accurate a guide to his eventual performance as the head-to-head numbers. Thus, for at least the next couple of months, I would pay as much attention to Mr. Obama’s approval ratings as his head-to-head polls against Mr. Romney…

8. Be careful with economic forecasts. Past economic performance should theoretically be incorporated fairly quickly into a president’s approval ratings and his head-to-head polls. But future shifts in economic performance could potentially send the numbers in another direction.

Unfortunately, these shifts are hard to anticipate, and the track record of macroeconomic forecasts is quite bad. Historically, the forecasts issued by economists have had essentially no ability to predict a recession more than six months in advance, and have large margins of error even a month or two out…

And plenty more good stuff.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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