Obama v Romney: Virginia Senate and a ‘dead heat’

Of little significance in the postelection blogosphere, Tom Raum’s Friday column reporting that a new poll, “final results”, has the winner within the margin of error over Tom Perriello in the race to replace…

Obama v Romney: Virginia Senate and a 'dead heat'

Of little significance in the postelection blogosphere, Tom Raum’s Friday column reporting that a new poll, “final results”, has the winner within the margin of error over Tom Perriello in the race to replace Eric Cantor in the US House of Representatives appears to have placed Mark Warner ahead of Jim Webb in the US Senate race in Virginia. Rather, it will have appeared to have placed the two main candidates ahead.

Here’s what Raum wrote:

According to a new Hotline/Harris poll, former Sen. Mark Warner (D) has a 6-point lead over former GOP vice presidential nominee Jim Webb (D) in the Virginia Senate race. Warner, a one-time Virginia governor, holds 46% of the vote, compared with Webb’s 41%. A total of 10% remain undecided.

I also know that Hotline is proud of its ability to accurately report where the presidential polling stands, so that perhaps they were simply being accurate in reporting the final poll results.

I actually liked Raum’s article, though (spoiler alert!) in keeping with typical media standards Raum does not even mention the name of the Hotline pollster, the Harris Poll, though I would like to suggest that his name might be Robert Rizzi, current and former director of Harris Poll. Raum noted that the Real Clear Politics rolling average (including polls taken over the week) shows a Romney lead of 4.4 points. Now, that can only be said to make the story entirely different if that lead is inside the margin of error.

In the US Senate race, the margin of error is a bit higher; the poll still shows Webb with 42 percent and Warner with 42.5 percent, a lead of 5.9 points. The race was not a poll taken over the last week, so it is not statistically different, except that, again, in keeping with standard practices, Raum only reported the original margin of error.

Rizzi, who was sworn in at the start of this month as the director of The Harris Poll, recently posted his most recent public columns, so that we can see how one of America’s leading polling organizations is covering a close US Senate race.

Of course, they are not calling this race a “dead heat”, as is traditionally news when polls are taken over a short period of time. Of course, that is “The media narrative” or something like that. However, if we look at the trend lines, we can see the tightness of the race. Remember, a margin of error is a multiple of the number of votes the polling organization is forecasting for the outcome, so a 2 point margin of error is, for example, telling us a range of 50-55 per cent of the vote. Remember, the vast majority of polls have a margin of error of +/-3.

They have a much tighter contest than that, so it is possible that either candidate could win, although these tables provide a better general indication. Webb is considerably better off than either Richard Shelby in Alabama, an office of record held by the GOP, or Mark Pryor in Arkansas, a seat held by the Democrats. As for the margin of error, that comes out to within +/-4. And even in Raum’s national average, Webb comes out with a 2 point lead.

The advantage is clear: Webb has more momentum, but it appears that Warner is only very slightly behind Webb.

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