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Forget the national polls--keep a close eye on four state polls instead.

The news media love to cite national polls to spur interest in the Presidential fall election. After all, these polls are plentiful, and the large sample sizes mean they are "accurate" in a statistical sense. (Smaller polls--say, regional or state polls--with smaller survey samples are less reliable because they have larger "margins of error.")

 

But these polls can be misleading.  Saying that Trump or Clinton are up by a few percentage points nationally ignores the fact that the US Presidential election is not a plebiscite, but rather a series of state elections that direct state-based electors to vote as directed (by the states' voters.)  And most states award their electors on a winner-take-all basis. And in fact, many states are reliably Dem or Repub, so those electors are easily predicted to be Dem or Repub--no one thinks Oregon will be Trump territory, just as no one thinks Clinton has a chance in Alabama.

 

So the key?  Look for swing states, especially those that both major campaigns agree are in play.   And as this recent article outlines, four states do emerge:  Florida (as always, it seems), Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.  To be sure, Pennsylvania's inclusion is interesting--no Repub has won there since the elder Bush in 1988.   But both campaigns agree Trump may scramble the usual voting patterns in that state.  Ohio and North Carolina are often considered swing states--in fact, since 1896, Ohio has picked the winning candidate, regardless of political party, 28 out of 30 times.  That's not a bad batting average.

 

The other way to tell which states are truly in play?  Watch where the candidate go to campaign.  Using this filter, the four states mentioned seem to qualify; both candidates have been spending significant time in North Carolina lately. Ditto Pennsylvania and Ohio.  

 

Other states that could come into play as the year goes on?  Maybe Virginia and Colorado, which have been swing states in the past.  As of now, however, polls show Clinton up by several points in both.  And maybe the Libertarian and Green parties could scramble some states, though it's too early to tell.

 

So keep an eye on those state polls in FL, OH, VA, and CO.  And if you're a voter in those states--it's gonna be close. Make sure you're registered to vote.