Election obsession: When one poll isn’t enough…

Last week, my crystal ball predicted an Obama victory, but if you’d like to follow the polls and make up your own mind, this revolution of the intertubes makes it ridiculously easy. From the possibility of a presidential landslide to a filibuster-proof Senate majority and on down to Congressional pickups, election nerds can track this year’s race like never before.

Even as recently as 2004, I mostly followed the presidential race using national polling data. Of course state-by-state data existed, but sorting through all the various Web sites to find it and track it just took too much work. Today, thanks to the aforementioned intertube miracle, a plethora of sites exist that track the presidential election on a state-by-state level — just like the founders intended.

The CNN election center has what they call a “poll of polls,” which is just a fancy name for taking lots of polls, assigning them various weights, and then turning the data into a nice graphic. They also let you click on the electoral map to assign various states to the candidates in order to simulate the inevitable Obama landslide that you think might happen in November. The New York Times also has a poll-tracking site that allows for your own election prognostication. They also have a map of congressional seats that looks like one of those warped maps of the earth based on population instead of, you know, the shape of the world. Even National Public Radio (NPR) has a map, which I’m sure translates well over radio.

Why stop with the mainstream media, though, when it looks like every math nerd with an Internet connection has put up his or her own poll-tracking site? Check out Pollster.com, ElectionProjection.com, Electoral-Vote.com, and of course, Real Clear Politics. A group of actual computer scientists and mathematicians at the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University have put up Election ’08, and according to The Wall Street Journal, some guy made 270 to Win “to promote his online guide to telecom rate plans.”

My favorite of the poll-tracking sites, FiveThirtyEight.com, weights various state polls, taking into account “that pollster’s historical track record, the poll’s sample size, and the recentness of the poll. More reliable polls are weighted more heavily in our averages,” according to the site’s FAQ. The two guys who run it openly admit they support Obama, but they also have made their methodology and data completely transparent. I’m no expert at that kind of math stuff, but it looks legit to me. They also do a great job of creating charts and graphics that present the data in an understandable and visually appealing way.

The reason I keep coming back, though, isn’t for the data. These guys also have a fantastic blog with an insightful analysis of the twists and turns of the campaign season. Did you know, for example, that Drudge may be priming a McCain campaign “reboot?” Frankly, while I’ve noticed the same “niceness” trend in John McCain’s recent rhetoric, it seems to come mostly from the candidate himself and not from the rest of the crew, his wife and VP pick included. My own theory is that McCain read the same polls as everyone else and decided to try and earn back a little piece of the soul he’s sold off over the last few months. Whatever that strategy may do in the polls, it ain’t gonna do enough to win him the election, but it might win him back some self-respect.

Phew! Well that’s at least an afternoon of Internet debauchery going through all of those sites. With everything out there, though, I’m sure I overlooked at least a few really good places to get election information. Please go ahead and add your favorite to the comments, and remember — the only poll that really matters happens on Nov. 4th (and a little bit before), so make sure you go out and vote!

Colorado Independent’s blogumnist (blogger-columnist) Jeff Bridges has worked in Democratic politics for the last 10 years, serving as communications director for two congressional races in Colorado and two governors races in the Deep South. Bridges also worked as a legislative assistant in Washington, D.C., with a focus on military and small-business issues.

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