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Are the Tight Polls Just Pre-Fight Hype?

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A touch-screen voting machine (credit: CBS)

A touch-screen voting machine (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

Talking to a friend on Thursday, I was asked when I think we will know who will win the Presidency. Will it be Tuesday night or Wednesday morning?

My friend’s question made me consider all of the polling done nationwide and particularly in the swing states where it seems the race is tightening.

I say “seems like the race is tightening” because polling can have a funny effect on a major race.

I learned this lesson when we were covering the second time Wayne Allard ran for U.S. Senate in Colorado in 2002. He was in a very tight race, running against Tom Strickland for a second time.

Publicly announced polls over the last few weeks of the election season showed Strickland with a very slim lead. Being the non-incumbent, the polling results created a lot of hype about the incumbent losing his seat.

However, we featured debates as part of our coverage that year, and I had the opportunity to see the campaign managers up close. I was always astonished about how calm and confident Wayne Allard’s Campaign Manager, Dick Wadhams, seemed when I saw him back stage before and after the debates, even as the media was focusing on the potential upset of his candidate.

When Allard ended up defeating Strickland by five points, I quickly understood why Wadhams was so calm. The race that was supposed to come down to one or two points, and was supposed to be won by the other guy poised for the upset, was called for Allard by the time most media outlets went to the 10:00pm newscasts.

I am not using the Allard example as a way to predict the Presidential race. My point is that polling can increase the drama before an election, but more often than not the actual races are not that close.

The 2000 Presidential race dramatically affected the way we look at election results, but the fact that the 2000 race that came down to hundreds of votes in Florida, is the exception, not the rule.

However, polls predicting tight races and possible upsets are very much the rule. Whether it’s the Presidential race or races much closer to home, polls often shows the races close before the actual votes come in.

My intention here is not to cast dispersions on pollsters. They do the best they can with the most up to date tools available.

My point is that polling, no matter how scientific or unbiased, is only polling and not actual votes.

I don’t have any more secrets to guessing the outcomes of Tuesday’s election than anyone else. However, when I look at all of the major title fights I have witnessed, whether they were Super Bowls or Presidential races, very, very few of them live up to the hype.

Even when the teams are evenly matched, even when the candidates are getting out their bases, and even when the experts say that the competition may go into overtime, more often than not, it simply does not live up to the hype.

Maybe this year’s race will be different. Maybe it will come down to election officials counting votes in swing states into the wee hours of the morning. Maybe media outlets will find that the race is too close to call and won’t be able to call the race until their morning newscast.

Or, maybe swing states won’t swing that wildly and the race will be called by 8:30 local time.

It all depends on how you look at the polling. Is it prognostication or hype? Only time will tell.
About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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