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Kathleen Parker / Politics

Poll Dancing

WASHINGTON -- With just days to go, this is the un-callable election. Between daily tracking polls, punditry, Intrade gambles, Nate Silver predictions, RealClearPolitics averages -- and hurricanes -- heads are spinning with anticipation and angst.

Who's going to be the next president?

Maybe Barack Obama; maybe Mitt Romney. It could be a landslide! For either one. Or not.

Such are the discussions along sidewalks, over cocktails, in corridors and in checkout lines. What the heck is going on? It's anybody's guess.

One thing going on is information saturation that reflects but also shapes reality. To what extent may not be knowable, but it can't be denied that the constant barrage of analysis, projection and prediction influences the very thing -- human behavior -- that the quantifiers attempt to capture.

As of Friday, Romney and Obama were within a decimal point of one another -- 47.4 Obama to 47.3 Romney -- in the national polling average posted by RealClearPolitics. Over at Intrade, the prediction market, odds favored the president 66.6 percent to Romney's 33.5 percent. RealClear put Romney's favorability rating at 6.3 to Obama's 3.7.

Then there's political polling guru Silver, who consistently shows Obama in the lead for the Electoral College and puts his chances of winning at 79 percent.

Combining all the above in some sort of meta-analysis, facing East while balancing on one foot and slicing carrots on the diagonal, you have to figure Obama will be our president for another four years.

Then again, people are unpredictable. Things happen. Weather happens. Ball teams win and lose. Moods swing. Humans fib. Babies cry.

One thing we know without a study or a poll is that people tend to like winners. Thus, when one individual seems to be leading, people don't want to identify with the loser and so align themselves with the top dog. The perception of loser-ness lends momentum to the apparent winner.

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Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group



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