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Washington Post The Fix blogger Chris Cillizza on recent polls

Thursday, October 25, 2012
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HH: Now I’m joined by Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, of course is not a partisan in this race. He’s just reporting on it all. Chris Cillizza, I don’t know what people see in Ohio, but I see massive crowds for Mitt Romney like the Red Rocks crowd he had in Colorado. And if you’re trying to measure voter enthusiasm from inside the Beltway, I don’t know how you do it. But what do you hear about it?

CC: Well, you do it a couple of ways. I think you’ve got a good way. Go to events and see what the crowds are. Hugh, that’s one. Obviously, polling would suggest, our poll, Washington Post poll and other polling would suggest that Romney does have I don’t know if it’s a large enthusiasm advantage, but I would say it’s a slight enthusiasm advantage. But that’s a huge change from ’08 when Barack Obama had a huge enthusiasm advantage at this point over John McCain. So yeah, we are down to it. I mean, I think a lot of it now, and we focus a lot on independents and undecideds, but a lot of it now is, also, this should not be forgotten, is about getting the people who you know are for you out there and making sure they vote.

HH: Chris Cillizza, I want to check in on the ABC/Washington Post tracking poll…

CC: Sure.

HH: But first, Team Obama pushing back very hard today against the Associated Press poll, which shows Mitt Romney two points up and the gender gap gone. I mean, they complain more about the polls than the Republicans did a month ago. What do you think about that poll? And then tell us about where Washington Post/ABC tracking is today.

CC: Well, I would say this, and I’ll put it, I’ll put our poll in there, too. I think these are all snapshots. It’s all dependent, Hugh, and you know this, too, it’s dependent on how you define who’s a likely voter. That is part science and part art. Most pollsters do it a little bit differently – look at past voting history, look at, some people look at how enthusiastic you are, how closely are you following the election. There’s all sorts of different measures. But that’s why people always say to me why does one poll show Obama up five or three, and one poll shows Romney up five or three? It’s just based on a likely voter sample. Depending on who you think is going to vote, it determines who’s ahead. I would say I think it’s basically tied. We have not, we release our tracking poll, our daily tracking poll, we started Monday at 5PM. So we haven’t put it out for today. The last two days, we’ve had it among our likely voter sample, Romney 49, Obama 48.

HH: Let me read to you some numbers.

CC: Sure.

HH: 47.1, 45, 47, 47, 48, 45, 47, 48. From the Real Clear Politic national polling data, that first one, 47.1, is the average. Those are all President Obama’s numbers. And if you notice something, they were all beginning with four. Isn’t that a problem, Chris Cillizza?

CC: I would say that, let me talk generically first about how you would look at this, and then talk about the presidential race. Normally, if I told you there’s an incumbent somewhere between 47 and 48 and a half, maybe, Hugh, I bet that top end number is a little bit subjective, but certainly 47 at this point in the race, most people would say that person is at least a 50/50 shot to lose because, the argument goes, if you’re not for the incumbent already, why would you be for them? That is broadly true. We saw that in 2010 House races. Democrats said well you know, look, we’ve had our incumbent Democrat at 47, and the other guy is only at 42. Well, a lot of those people lost, because again, if you are undecided, there would be no reason that you were going to go with the known commodity at that point. You’re going to go with, give the other guy or gal a chance. I think that is generally true in the presidential. The only think I would say is this is not, this is such a high information choice compared to House, Senate, even governors races. People know so much about the two of them that it’s a little bit different. I still think people have a better sense of Obama than they do Romney just because he’s been the president for four years. But I’m not totally sure all undecideds, or all people who are on the fence now break toward Romney. I would say, though, that if you do believe kind of politics, campaign politics 101, certainly more of them would break to Romney rather than Obama.

HH: There’s also an interesting subtext to that. Michael Barone wrote a piece today about suburban voters swinging heavily to Romney. Now if you want one demographic to swing your way, it’s the suburban demographic, because A) it’s the swingiest of the swings. It goes higher than most. And they turn out with greater regularity. So that’s sort of a number within the number. But let me ask you about, I talked to Scott Rasmussen about this.

CC: Sure.

HH: The cell phone issue, Scott is very objective, some of the pollsters I’ve had on are evasive. They don’t want to admit that this is new terrain for polling. We can be wrong on either way, because people just simply don’t know how to poll in this new information era.

CC: I think some of it is, I think everyone recognizes that there is a younger group of people who do not have land lines, and who use cell phones as their only phone. The issue is how many as a percentage of the electorate. And again, this gets back to how people, I think, misunderstand polling. It is not pure science. There is clearly statistics and science in it, but it is also art. It’s the pollster saying I think 8 percent or 10 percent based on what I know of our sample should be cell phones, or a 15 or 20 percent, or whatever it is. Or you know, I think if a person has voted in the last two presidential elections and said they’re a 9 or a 10 in terms of their enthusiasm for this election, then they count for the likely voter screen. I think, I feel like there’s so many polls out there and so little understanding of how these things are put together. It is at least equal parts art and science. And Hugh, you know this.

HH: Yeah.

CC: And you know, I feel people getting frustrated, well how can polls show different things. Because the sample is different in that the composition of who each pollster is saying is going to vote is a little bit different.

HH: I’ve got to say, if people want great writing, they should go read your colleague, Dan Balz’ report from Red Rocks. It’s on the front page of the Post today.

CC: He’s such a talented guy.

HH: Here’s one graph. A crowd estimated at 12,000 jammed into the outdoor concert venue. Romney patted his heart in response to the thunderous and sustained applause that greeted him when he was introduced on stage by running mate Paul Ryan. Spectators enthusiastically smacked together their red and white thunder sticks with the drop of every zinger or one liner for Romney. It was everything he might have hoped for. That’s beautiful writing, and it’s gorgeous campaign reporting. But the key here is 12,000 people, they turned away thousands, outdoor venue, concert venue, nighttime in Colorado. Chris Cillizza, has the President had anything like that? I mean, objectively, has he?

CC: He has had upwards of 10, 12, 13,000 in certain venues. Now I will say, Hugh, if we’re comparing it to ’08, you know, I still remember there was that kind of very famous picture in, I think it was Oregon, of 65,000 for an Obama rally. We’ve not seen that. I do think rallies are important. I do think crowd size can be telling. But I also think we have to be careful not to put too much into it, and I only say that because you know, we’re talking about tens of millions of votes. You know, you’re in Ohio. In Ohio, in ’08 and in ’04, there were over 5.6 million votes cast. 12,000 or 15,000 or 20,000 people as compared to 5.6 million votes is an incredibly small number. It doesn’t mean it’s not important.

HH: One more number then, Chris.

CC: It doesn’t mean it’s not important, but it just…

HH: I agree.

CC: Yeah.

HH: But one more number. $111 million dollars raised in 17 days by Romney.

CC: I agree, that is a remarkable number by Mitt Romney. I think at the end of this day, we’re going to look back on both sides, Hugh, and be just absolutely stunned by the amount of money when all is said and done, the amount of money that both sides have raised. I remember writing a piece months and months ago, it was in the spring, about how Barack Obama would be the first billion dollar candidate. And his campaign pooh-poohed it. No, you’re raising expectations, blah, blah, they’re going to clear that and then some. And I think Romney may well, too.

HH: And oh, I think Romney definitely is.

CC: Amazing.

HH: And I think people are pouring in all over the place because they want him to win so badly, and they think $25 dollars rightly matters. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post The Fix, go get your Fix. Send Chris an email, chris.cillizza@washingtonpost.com. He’ll put you on the Fix mailing list, you’ll want to be there.

End of interview.

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