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One Way to Look at the Presidential Polls

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Current polling detailing the 2012 race for the White House between presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama (above) should be met with scrutiny.

Anyway, not everybody falls into the trap of overgeneralizing from a single survey or of comparing surveys conducted by different polling firms. Mark Blumenthal, a former partisan pollster turned polling analyst for the Huffington Post, never fails to be smart, measured and modest in his analysis.

And most professional pollsters, Democrat and Republican, are much more cautious than the average casual political observer of reading too much into one poll number or in projecting forward on the basis of a single survey.

Itís no wonder that there is some confusion about the race for the White House, given the wide range of polling results from different outlets.

Gallup once again shows Romney ahead, most recently by 3 points (but a couple of days earlier by 5 points), while Fox has him up by 2 points. The CBS News/New York Times poll has the race even, but Quinnipiac University and Pew have Obama up by 4 points, NBC News/Wall Street Journal has the presidentís margin at 6 points ó the same margin as its late February/early March survey ó and CNN has Obama ahead by 9 points (down from 11 points less than a month ago).

According to Pollster.com, all surveyed registered voters. While most are within the ďmargin of error,Ē the results lead to very different conclusions. Some have Romney ahead narrowly, while others have Obama with a substantial lead.

Given the range of results, not all of these polls can be conveying the state of the race accurately. Two recent Fox News polls in the swing states of Ohio and Florida might be able to help ó if, of course, you believe they present an accurate snapshot of the contests in their states. Conversely, if the national numbers are right, then the state numbers canít possibly be accurate.

The April 15-17 Anderson Robbins Research (D)/Shaw & Company Research (R) poll for Fox News shows Obama leading Mitt Romney by 6 points (45 percent to 39 percent) in the Buckeye State.

If those numbers are correct, then the Gallup and national Fox numbers must be wrong. In addition, if the state survey accurately reflects the state of the presidential contest, then the CBS News/New York Times numbers canít be right either.

Ohio is a swing state, and it is unlikely that Romney will win nationally but lose the Buckeye State by 6 points. In fact, heís likely to do better in Ohio than he is nationally. After all, Obama won Ohio in 2008 by about 4.5 points while he was winning nationally by just more than 7 points.

The Fox News state survey in Florida, conducted by the same two companies at the same time as they were polling in Ohio, shows Obama leading Romney by 2 points in Florida, 45 percent to 43 percent. Again, the national Gallup and Fox News numbers and the Fox Florida numbers canít both be right.

Obama carried Florida four years ago by less than 3 percentage points while he was winning nationally by more than 7 points. He will surely underperform in Florida again later this year, so if he wins Florida, he certainly will win nationally (by a larger margin).

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