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10 Things You Should Know About the Post-Debate Polls

Answers to your imaginary polling questions!
 
 
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You may have heard that there was a debate last week between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Romney won, and then the political press turned his victory into a blow-out of epic proportions (the CBS' snap poll immediately following the debate showed that a majority of uncommitted voters thought either that Obama won (22 percent) or that it was a tie (32 percent)).

Since then, several polls have been released showing Romney making significant gains, most notably a Pew poll released on Monday that had the challenger up by 4 points nationally. This state of affairs has Republicans measuring the drapes of the Oval Office and some Obama supporters on suicide watch.

But it's not wise to read too much into the polls immediately after a significant development like Romney's winning performance in the first debate. Here are a few things to keep in mind when reading the polls this week.

1. I'm An Obama Supporter – Should I Feel Panicky/ Start Looking at Canadian Real Estate?

No, you should remain calm and wait for additional survey data. The thing that stands out about the polling right now is that it's very noisy – different pollsters are getting very different results. The best bet right now is to take individuals polls with a grain of salt and look instead at polling averages like those maintained by Real Clear Politics or Talking-Points Memo, or broader analyses like Nate Silver's 538 model, which incorporates polling with economic data to survey the state of the race. These are less likely to over-react to short-term, news-driven shifts in the race.

2. What's the State of the Race Right Now?

Again, it's pretty noisy. But it appears that Romney got a significant bump in the race – maybe as much as 5 or 6 points in surveys conducted on Thursday, Friday and Saturday -- which, according to Gallup, Ipsos/Reuters and Public Policy Polling, then began to recede on Sunday.

3. Does That Mean Voters Are Shifting Their Support From Obama to Romney

No. Romney may have pulled a few weak supporters from Obama, but the shift we're seeing is almost entirely about Republicans who didn't care much for Romney coming back into the GOP fold.

4. So, Did Romney Change the Fundamentals of the Race or Not?

It's really too soon to tell. Most of the polling we're seeing right now was conducted in the immediate aftermath of the debate. Some of it was conducted after the debate but before Friday's decent jobs numbers were released.

The Pew poll, for example, was conducted between Thursday and Sunday, but only 13 percent of the interviews were done on Sunday, so it's a bit front-loaded. Similarly, a Zogby poll released today finds the two candidates in a tie, but it was conducted Friday through Sunday.

The question is whether Romney got a bounce or a bump. We'll know in a few days. The rest is punditry.

5. Isn't This Tighter Race What Everyone Expected All Along?

Yes. After the conventions, Obama opened up a very healthy lead, but the fundamentals have always suggested that the 2012 election would be a tight race, with Obama the favorite but not hugely so. The reason Obama looked like he was headed toward a landslide win was that, as I mentioned above, a lot of Republicans and independents who vote for Republicans thought Romney was lame and were unenthusiastic about supporting him. With a strong debate performance, they are now finding him acceptable and we appear to be seeing the race we were supposed to see – tight, with Obama a slight favorite.

 
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