Commentary: Don't put much stock in June presidential polls

The Kansas City StarJune 8, 2012 

I’m a man of unusual tastes.

I like jazz. (Deep into Count Basie’s small-group sessions these days.)

I watch reruns of “Hogan’s Heroes” and “The Andy Griffith Show.” (C’mon, let’s hear it for Andy. Friday was his 86th birthday.)

As I’ve told you, I’m into big, meaty books like the latest volume of Robert Caro’s ongoing series on President Lyndon Johnson.

So when I tell you that I spend way too much time piddling around with those interactive maps of the Electoral College, you begin to get the idea: I spend time on arcane stuff that you probably don’t.

And I’m big enough to admit it. So there.

But you learn stuff looking at the latest polls and bouncing around that interactive map. The unmistakable conclusion is that the presidential race is stupid tight and that any notion that President Barack Obama holds a sizable lead at this point is pure hogwash.

That’s especially true after Friday’s stock market meltdown in the wake of the latest lackluster jobless numbers. If the economy keeps sliding, any argument over who wins in November will disappear along with all those hopes of a bounce in job numbers.

Just days ago, this newspaper ran an Associated Press story that said Obama right now has 247 electoral votes to Romney’s 206.

Those numbers appeared significant because the magic number for election is 270 electoral votes. By that measure, Obama stood on the brink.

Or so it appeared.

But flit around one of the Electoral College maps (there’s a good one at realclearpolitics.com; just click on “Electoral College map” on top) and you can quickly see just how narrow the gap really is between the two candidates.

A whole slew of states falls into the tossup category. And new polls out this week from NBC News show that three swing states — Iowa, Nevada and Colorado — remain firmly in coin-flip land.

A tight race suggests that Romney will be mighty tempted to pick a vice president who can deliver a big state for him, even though the trend in recent years suggests that nominees pick running mates for entirely different reasons. (One recent example: John McCain didn’t pick Sarah Palin for Alaska. Come to think of it, why did he pick her?)

In a closely divided nation, it’s not hard to imagine the race remaining tight all the way through Election Day.

But University of Virginia smart guy Larry Sabato pointed out this week that over the past eight elections, Gallup has pegged the eventual popular-vote winner only twice in its early June horse race polling.

Take June 1988. Michael Dukakis led George H.W. Bush at the time 52 to 38 percent.

So beware of June polls. But don’t expect me to stop my tinkering with those maps.

I’m just built that way.

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