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Parsing polls: Nate Silver picks on target, Rasmussen not so much

November 08, 2012|By James Rainey
  • Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney concedes to President Obama on Tuesday night. Some polls suggested stronger support for the Republican nominee.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney concedes to President… (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)

The verdict is in on polling for the 2012 presidential race. New York Times statistical savant Nate Silver’s projections came very close to the actual outcome on both popular vote and the electoral college.

Gallup and Fox News favorite Rasmussen Reports — whose surveys consistently predicted a better outcome for Republican Mitt Romney — missed the mark.

Pollsters repeatedly say their surveys represent only a snapshot in time and should not be judged as predictive tools. But, inevitably, political pros and the public want to know which surveys came closest to the real-world outcome.

PHOTOS: America goes to the polls

Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog at had made a final prediction of 313 electoral votes for President Obama to 225 electoral votes for Romney. Obama had 303 electoral votes in the bag by early Wednesday morning. If the president maintains his slim lead in Florida, which stood at 47,000 votes Wednesday afternoon, he will finish with 332 electoral votes.

Silver projected a 2.5-percentage-point popular vote edge for Obama. The margin stood at 2 points, with some ballots still to be counted.

Gallup’s national tracking poll, in contrast, had shown Romney with a lead of as much as 5 points. It stopped daily tracking in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and one day before the election showed the Republican nominee leading by 1 point. Rasmussen’s final tracking poll also showed Romney with a 1-point lead.

Coming closer to the actual result with their final polls were ABC/Washington Post and the Pew Research Center, both of which showed Obama with a 3-point lead two or three days before the election.

Of the big polls followed by the Real Clear Politics website, Rasmussen also had significant misses:

Ohio -- Rasmussen: dead heat. Actual: Obama by 2.

Virginia -- Rasmussen: Romney +2. Actual: Obama by 3.

Iowa -- Rasmussen: Romney +1. Actual: Obama by 6.

Wisconsin -- Rasmussen: tie. Actual: Obama by 7.

Colorado -- Rasmussen: Romney +3. Actual: Obama by 5.

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