Polling’s Crazy Stretch

As you probably know, I don’t obsess about polls until fairly close to election days unless they involve a less-tested race or show some interesting trend or sub-current. But it’s tempting to get overexcited about them, particularly in a year when there’s been relatively little movement in the presidential contest. So I urge you to pay attention to Nate Silver’s warning today that we are entering a “foggy” period in presidential polling thanks to temporary “bounces” involving the now-underway Republican veep rollout and then the two conventions.

Best we can tell, Nate reports, the “Ryan Bounce” for Romney is subpar–somewhere between zero and two percent, as compared to a median figure of 3-4% in election years going back to 1988. But it’s not clear whether that’s because (a) he’s already relatively well known; (b) he’s controversial, to put it mildly; or (c) in this polarized climate all “bounces” are going to be somewhat limited by the low number of swing voters.

If the latter proposition is correct, we’ll probably see subpar “convention bounces” as well. But in any event, watching the polls before 45 days out could be very misleading. After that, down the stretch, they tend to get more and more accurate, and that’s when to tune back in.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.