June Polls: How Significant?

The London Times notes Barack Obama’s current lead in the polls, but says the Democrats shouldn’t get complacent. Of the last five Presidential elections, only once has the candidate who was leading the polls in June won the popular vote. The Times points out the familiar precedent of Michael Dukakis, who led then-Vice President Bush by an average of 8% in the June 1988 polls, but went on to be trounced by 8 points in the general election.

dukakistank66.jpg

Republicans have long taken comfort in the Dukakis precedent. Still, there is another way to read the data. If we add up the number of points by which June polls missed the election results, it looks like this:

1988–16%
1992–10.5%
1996–8.5%
2000–5%
2004–3.3%

In other words, the June polls have come closer to predicting the actual result in every recent Presidential cycle.

This may be because improved polling techniques are giving a better read on the electorate, earlier. You could test this theory by checking later poll averages against actual results; I haven’t tried to do that. Another possibility is that our politics have become increasingly polarized, so that fewer voters change their minds over the course of a campaign. Either way, recent history suggests that we Republicans shouldn’t take too much comfort from the memory of Michael Dukakis.

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