Presidential polls: Politics, like Major League Baseball, is numbers-driven

With 23 days and two important debates before Election Day, the presidential race could see major twists and turns. Here are the latest polling data, including an apparent advantage for Obama among early voters.

Charlie Neibergall/AP
President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during their first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Oct. 3. They face off again this coming Tuesday.

At this point in the presidential race – 23 days and two important debates until Election Day – reading public opinion polls can become obsessive. Together with another numbers-driven professional sport – postseason Major League Baseball – it’s almost too much to bear for a Decoder scribe with a BA in English and an old Radio Shack calculator.

But we’ll try to sort out the latest numbers (while waiting for Sunday’s MLB playoff games to begin, wondering how the Yankees will do without injured Derek Jeter and his postseason .364 batting average).

Everyone knows that Republican Mitt Romney has squeezed the race into a dead heat since he bested Democrat Barack Obama in their first debate. The Joe Biden-Paul Ryan vice-presidential encounter probably was a draw, although Mr. Biden’s eye-rolling, exaggerated sighing mannerisms, and Mr. Buttinski tactic apparently turned off a lot of people.

RELATED: Presidential debate: 7 defining moments in history (+video)

Still, Sunday morning brought some good news for incumbent Mr. Obama, hunkered down in preparation for Tuesday’s town meeting-style debate, as is Mr. Romney.

According to Reuters/Ipsos polling data compiled in recent weeks, Obama leads Romney by 59 percent to 31 percent among early voters – a 28-point advantage.

“The sample size of early voters is relatively small, but the Democrat's margin is still well above the poll's credibility interval – a measurement of polls' accuracy – of 10 percentage points,” Reuters reported Sunday morning.

Early voting was an important element in Obama’s 2008 win over John McCain, and it may be even more so this year.

“Seven percent of those surveyed said they had already voted either in person or by mail…. Voting is already under way in some form in at least 40 states,” according to Reuters. “Both the Obama and Romney teams are urging supporters to vote as soon as possible so the campaigns can focus their door-knocking and phone-calling operations on those who are still undecided or need more prodding to get to the polls.”

Both campaigns see the tactical importance here.

"We've made early investments in battleground states – where we've been registering folks and keeping an open conversation going with undecided voters for months – to build a historic grass-roots organization that will pay off when the votes are counted," Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher told Reuters.

Over in the Romney camp, campaign political director Rich Beeson declared, "Not only are we keeping pace with the vaunted Obama machine, but we believe our ground game will put us over the finish line on Election Day.”

Meanwhile, Obama’s people are working to hold onto (or perhaps increase) their clear 2008 advantage among Hispanic voters. This appears to be paying off, as evidenced by some important polls being conducted in Spanish.

Statistical guru Nate Silver, who writes the FiveThirtyEight blog for The New York Times, cranked those numbers into his model. The result: “The adjustment increased Mr. Obama’s win probability in Colorado to 57 percent from 44 percent, in Florida to 53 percent from 35 percent, and in Nevada to 77 percent from 62 percent. It even helped him slightly in Virginia, where about 5 percent of voters identified as Hispanic in 2008 exit polls.”

That upped Obama’s chances of winning the Electoral College to 69 percent from 63 percent, according to Mr. Silver’s figuring (which we’re sure is not reckoned on an old Radio Shack calculator).

Still, as Silver frequently tells his readers, “One should be careful about making too much of this.”

Much can happen over the next 23 days, especially in those Obama-Romney debates, where the president is under a lot of pressure to do better than his lackluster performance in their first encounter.

This column has included just 18 numbers so far, so if you’re feeling numbers-deprived, here are more:

The latest RealClearPolitics polling average has Romney ahead by 1.4 percentage points.

The battleground states are even more interesting: Ohio: Obama ahead 1.7; Florida: Romney by 3.2; Iowa: Obama by 3.2; Colorado: Romney by 0.7; Nevada: Obama by 1.6; North Carolina: Romney by 3.3; Wisconsin: Obama by 2.3; Missouri: Romney by 5.2; Pennsylvania: Obama by 4.5.

RELATED: Presidential debate: 7 defining moments in history (+video)

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