We're Still Months Away From Needing To Take Presidential Polling Seriously, History Suggests
John Sides and his blog The Monkey Cage were recently honored by The Week, who named Sides' poli-sci outpost the "Blog of the Year." It's well deserved, because of Sides' dedication to talking about politics in a way that relentlessly demystifies the process. (Click here, and add to your daily reading.) For instance, you may already hear some early hyperventilation over presidential polling results. You can, and should, continue to be amused by this! But, per Sides, you can stop taking it all that seriously.
Sides features the historical research of Temple University's Christopher Wlezien, who went back through over fifty years of presidential polling to prove something you probably already knew -- polls conducted more than 300 days out from an election are, strictly speaking, worthless. (Remember way back when a few weeks ago, when Donald Trump was "surging" in the polls? Ha, ha.)
Sides on the research: "They take all of the polls from up to 300 days before the presidential elections from 1956-2008 (except for 1968, which did not have polling that far back). They then forecast each presidential election outcome with the polls, starting 300 days before the election and continuing day-by-day until Election Eve. The figure below plots the trend in the r-squared from the forecasting equation. If polls were perfect predictors of the outcome, the r-squared would be 1.0. If the polls were pretty much useless predictors, the r-squared would be 0."
So, keep this in mind. It won't be until February of 2012 that polling starts getting halfway decent -- almost as if there will be some presidential primaries happening or something! And we're still a year away from polling beginning its upward climb into the realm of being "somewhat reliable predictors of the eventual outcome."
So what should you be paying attention to right now? In an earlier Q&A with the Columbia Journalism Review's Greg Marx, Sides explained: "I pay relatively little attention to early polls. I am watching presidential approval and changes in macro-economic indicators."
Speaking of, did you hear about how the "Latest Home Sale Prices Show Downward Spiral With 'No Relief In Sight'"? (Also, the nation is in the middle of a massive and under-reported unemployment crisis.)