National polls are meaningless at this stage in the election (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

Any way you slice it, Obama is leading in states that account for well over 270 electoral votes. As we've said a million times before, Obama needs only Ohio, Florida or Virginia to prevent Romney from reaching 270 electoral votes in most scenarios. Romney needs all three.

Romney maintains a slight lead in aggregations of many polls. HuffPost's Pollster listed six new polls on Monday, and Obama led in only one. Romney led in three of these, and two were are tied. Pollster, which has a very transparent method of aggregation, combines all recent polls and has Romney up 47.4 to 47.2. RealClearPolitics, which aggregates polls with a completely opaque method, has Romney up 47.6 to 46.7.

If you are a poll junkie and you need your latest fix, I suggest following the latest polls in Florida, Virginia, and Ohio. If you are still obsessing over national polls, I suggest you brush up on the Constitution. Just in case, here's a link. It's free.

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Happy first birthday, 2012 presidential campaign (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

If this election is starting to feel interminable, Sunday was an incredible anniversary: Oct. 28, 2012, was the one-year anniversary of the filing date for the New Hampshire primary.

I do not want to sell the election season short. The official campaign began a year ago, but the unofficial campaign began well before that. This time in 2011, Texas Gov. Rick Perry had already flamed out (although his "oops moment" was not until early November) and Herman Cain was dominating the polls.

Most people who run for president appear to have been doing so at least since the third grade—and those are the late bloomers. But even by the bureaucratic measure above, the official campaign to replace President Barack Obama began two years, nine months and eight days after his inauguration. That's 450 days before the next inauguration.

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Xbox/YouGov Panel on Romney’s First Debate Victory & Obama’s Subsequent Debate Rebound (Syndicated on the Huffington Post)

Most political polls and pundits declared Governor Romney the runaway victor of the first presidential debate, while President Obama was generally credited with winning the second and third debates. However, what matters is not winning or losing debates, but whether the candidates won or lost votes because of the debates. Standard forecasting methods do not provide a clear answer to whether debate performances are accompanied by actual changes in voter preferences (i.e., whether the electorate cumulatively shifts their support one way or another around the events). A comprehensive analysis of the data from the YouGov/Xbox poll shows that Romney made a sizable gain after the first debate and that Obama cut back into that gain after the second and third debates. Overall, across the 30 days that included the ups and downs of the four most important preset events of the campaign, Romney had a net gain of 1.4 percentage point relative to Obama.

Understanding How Polls Affect Voters (Syndicated on the Huffington Post)

There is a lot of concern in the media and political circles about the effects of poll results on voters. In late September, when Obama was dominating the polls, Republicans latched onto the idea that the polling industry was skewing polls in Obama's favor to give him the air of inevitability. When Gallup's likely voter model later gave Romney a 7 point lead in mid-October, everyone started wondering not only what this meant about the election, but if could affect the election.

Finally, in a quiet period during the morning after the final presidential debate, the price of the contract for Mitt Romney to win the election escalated rapidly on Intrade, only to retreat back down almost as quickly. Had someone tried to manipulate the contract to make it appear that Romney won the debate or that the election was suddenly tied? Would that be a rational use of money?

To answer the burning question, researchers have long observed that people often conform to majority opinion (i.e. during every election, some people jump on the bandwagon and shift their preference to the leading candidate or the most popular policy).

Indiana Senate race now leaning Democratic after Mourdock’s abortion comment (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

We switched Indiana to a possible pickup for Democrats earlier this month, but at the time it had the longest odds for Democrats of the five Republican-leaning seats still in play.

There's a lot of daylight between these two suffering Republican campaigns in Indiana and Missouri. While Missouri's Akin's claim represents a fringe, discredited theory about rape and pregnancy, Indiana's Mourdock's position finds support among some in his party. The Republican Party's platform does not mention rape or incest when discussing abortion, and Rep. Paul Ryan has stated that "the method of conception does not change the definition of life" (though he dutifully defers to Romney's more moderate position now that he's on the ticket). Slate estimates that 12 to 15 of the 33 Republican senatorial candidates share this position.

A majority of Americans continue to believe that abortion should fall in the area between always legal and always illegal. Curiously, while public opinion on this point has not shifted much through time, polls have found that Americans are now more likely to identify themselves as "pro-life" than "pro-choice." Mourdock's statement is damaging not because it is factually incorrect, like Akin's, but because it exposes rifts among abortion opponents that no pragmatic Republican should want surfaced in this election.

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As goes February, so goes the nation (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

Since mid-February most states have drifted slowly toward their initial favorite. Even in early May, many states provided the whiff of promise with a 10 or even 20 percent likelihood of being picked off by the trailing candidate. This has not been a year of surprises. As you run the map from May 1 to October 23, you see states fleeing to the safe, dark colors until only a handful of the true swing states remain standing.

By shifting the shading cutoff at the bottom of the map, you can see how sparse those swing states really are. If you define a swing state as one where the underdog candidate has at least a 35 percent chance of winning, only three states make the cut: Colorado and Virginia, which both lean slightly toward Romney, and New Hampshire, which is 63.9 percent likely to go to Obama. Iowa and Ohio join the fun right below that 65 percent point for Obama.

We will update this map regularly over the next two weeks. One thing we know for certain: The light colors will get sparser and sparser as we approach the day of judgment.

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The election is over! (Results embargoed two weeks) (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

We'll know in a few days how much "Monday Night Football," Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, and Anything-Else-but-a-Foreign-Policy-Lecture detracted from the TV audience Monday night. The Signal does not particularly care about this factor, because the final debate was always destined to have a small impact. Three reasons:

* There are not many undecided voters left. In most national polls, undecided voters account for 2 to 3 percent of potential voters. This is plenty enough to sway an election, but these 2 to 3 percent are typically not voters engaged enough to be watching debates.

* For a nation that just wound down a seven-year war, is still fighting an 11-year-war, and faces the prospect of further military intervention in the Middle East, foreign policy still ranks low on the concerns of most American voters.

* The implications of this debate have only two weeks to etch themselves into a campaign narrative that has narrowed in focus to only a few states.

All told, this election is probably over. We're just not allowed to open the envelope for another two weeks. Take it away, Ohio.

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Most Polls Are Snapshots, but the Xbox/YouGov Panel Shows Voters in Movies (Syndicated on the Huffington Post)

Confused by the incredible movement and variation in the daily stream of national popular vote polls? The Xbox/YouGov panel is your antidote to the noise; the panel paints a very clear picture of how the vote intentions of Xbox LIVE users have changed over the past three weeks. After the first presidential debate on Oct. 3 there was a record jump in respondents switching toward support for Romney and that rise in support persisted for a few days. The vice presidential debate stopped the bleeding for Obama and the second presidential debate on Oct. 16 gave Obama a few strong days. During this entire time the number of undecided voters has slowly drifted downward.

For each day between Sept. 24 and Oct. 21, we estimated the percentage change in support for each candidate. This estimate is based on people who were interviewed on a particular day and at least once in the preceding five days, so that they reflect the actual changes of individual voters, not aggregate changes in different samples of voters. The change is calculated by computing the percentage of persons giving each possible response (Obama, Romney, Undecided, Other) in their most recent interview and the percentage distribution of the same voters on the current day. The percentage change is the difference of these two percentages, weighted by the baseline proportion in each group. We have been polling Xbox LIVE users on their voter intention continuously since Sept. 22. There is an average of 6,502 paneled users reflected on a given day and a total of 40,988 at some point since September 24.

Romney could win the popular vote and lose the election (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

To be clear, we don't necessarily think Romney will win the popular vote. Standing in national polls does not predict actual vote share, and those polls are swinging back in the president's favor. Romney's odds of winning a majority of the ballots, however, are higher than his odds of winning at least 270 electoral votes. This year, the Electoral College unfairly favors Obama: Romney must carry Florida, Virginia and Ohio, while Obama needs only one of them.

The latest Gallup tracking poll of likely national voters has Romney up by 7 points. A lot of virtual ink has been spilled on how and why Gallup's poll has become an outlier: I suggest Alan Abramowitz, Mark Blumenthal or Nate Silver on the subject. The more meaningful aggregations of polls at Pollster and RealClearPolitics both report a statistical tie between Obama and Romney in the national polls.

Of the three states Romney needs to win, Florida (80.0 percent likely for Romney) and Virginia (61.9 percent likely for Romney) are leaning in his favor. Ohio has stubbornly remained in Obama's camp, with a 65.0 percent chance of going to Democrats. Obama held firm in the state after his Oct. 3 debate debacle, Ohio's economy is doing relatively well, and early voting is already under way, minimizing the impact of late-breaking events.

Let the pundits tie themselves into knots over the latest Gallup poll. As usual, what America wants is immaterial compared to the desires of the Buckeye State.

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Obama still on defense (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

Woody Allen is often quoted as saying that "80 percent of success is showing up." Hackneyed though this expression has become, it applies quite accurately to the election as it stands today. President Barack Obama showed up at the debate on Tuesday night and stabled his teetering campaign.

Given the wide consensus that Obama did not mentally show up for the first confrontation with former Gov. Mitt Romney, his combativeness and general vigor appeared to convince the television audience that he still has some fight left in him. Instant polls suggest that Obama scored well overall and, more critically, with undecided and leaning voters. Polls of overall voters are not that meaningful, because most people will say their candidate won. But surveys of undecided and leaning voters, like those from CBS and Xbox/YouGov, give us valuable clues. Obama clearly outperformed Romney in both.

Our real-time forecast, heavily influenced by prediction markets at this point in the campaign, ticked up nearly 3 percentage points during last night's debate.

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