What to Ignore, and What to Pay Attention to, Pre-Super Tuesday
A couple days ago I suggested the spin wars over Mitt Romney’s narrow win in Michigan might actually influence its significance, insofar as the GOP Establishment’s fragile confidence in its boy Mitt Romney is his most important political asset.
At the end of Michigan Week, and on the brink of Super Tuesday, it’s not that clear how it is all sorting out. Yes, the panicky talk about finding a new Establishment candidate has abated, for the moment. Yes, Mitt has zoomed back into a solid lead in at least one national poll of Republicans (Rasmussen) and has also seen his support spiking in the last Gallup Tracking numbers.
The MSM, however, is beginning to treat Ohio as the truly significant Super Tuesday contest, and there Santorum is maintaining a lead in post-Michigan polls. Mitt’s spate of Michiga-centric gaffes in receding in the rear-view mirror, but his Blunt Amendment screwup is keeping alive fears that he has some sort of secret death-wish or political Tourette’s Syndrome.
So what to make of the current situation? Are the national polls a leading indicator of a Santorum Crash in Super Tuesday states, or is Santorum’s stubborn strength in Ohio a sign of a fundamental problem Romney has in the Rust Belt states that he overcome in Michigan by virtue of his homeboy status?
Nate Silver put up a highly relevant post late last night that provides an excellent guide to what to ignore and what to pay attention to in the pre-Super Tuesday public opinion surveys, based on an analysis of the race so far:
[T]he polls have been reasonably good in the last few days before the election. Not perfect by any means — worse than general election polling typically is, for example. But no worse, and probably somewhat better, than in past primaries.
In densely polled states — that term, importantly, would disqualify Colorado — there haven’t been any huge surprises on Election Day itself. If you think it counts as a surprise that Mitt Romney won Michigan by three points when polls showed a rough tie, or that Rick Santorum narrowly won Iowa when he was a couple of points back, you don’t have a realistic conception of how reliable primary and caucus polling is.
On the other hand, the polls have been pretty awful at most points prior to about three days before the election, seeing surges and momentum shifts that often dissipated.
So by that standard, it might be a good idea to ignore current polling and start paying attention to surveys that are in the field right now, and will be published over the weekend and Monday.
Still, keep your eye on media coverage of Super Tuesday as either a mega-primary with many fronts (ten, to be exact), or as Ohio plus a bunch of other places. The latter interpretation could make Ohio matter more than the delegate count or the number of primaries and caucuses won. Romney, of course, could make the question moot by winning the Buckeye State as well. But then again, it would be perfectly in character for him to find another way to inform Ohioans he could buy and sell the lot of them with pocket change.