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Poll update and why you shouldn’t care much

The April poll leader has gone on to win only half the time

I could fill up this blog with fresh poll results every day and it’s tempting, in part because it’s so easy.

A week ago Monday Gallup started publishing a five-day tracking tracking and now publishes a fresh result every day. On that first day, Mitt Romney was up by one point, although most other polls suggested Pres. Obama had a slight lead. Since then, Obama has improved steadily and this morning finds him up by six points, 49-43.

You can slice and dice the numbers a zillion ways. In the most recent slice/dice, Gallup chose to emphasize a big gap across the more religious/less religious divide. Unsurprisingly, among those who call themselves “very religious,” Romney holds a commanding 54-37 lead. Among those who call themselves “nonreligious,” it’s 61-30 for Obama. The moderately religious break 54-40 for Obama.

On the other hand, Fox News has a fresh poll out showing a dead heat at 46 percent. Fox chose to emphasize that the public isn’t convinced that either candidate has a plan that will fix the economy.

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Obama’s approval rating has crept back up to 50 percent in the latest Gallup and several other polls have found a similar number, which reflects a substantial comeback from 39 percent in early October. 50 isn’t a great approval number, but it is higher than a comparable number at a comparable stage of the term for either Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980, or George H.W. Bush in 1992. Those are the last three presidents who were defeated for reelection. This link gets you the Gallup approval graph for every president going back to Truman.

My favorite poll study of the day is this one by Micah Cohen writing for Nate Silver’s New York Times blog. He looked at April poll numbers for the last 10 presidential election cycles and compared them with the final popular vote winner in November. Of the 10 cases, only five of the candidates leading in April went on to win the popular vote that mattered.

Of course, there’s a little trick to that one, too, because Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 but, if memory serves, didn’t become president.

That last point, of course, calls attention to the fact that it’s the electoral vote that maters, not the national popular vote. Pelnty of people are making up their lists of swing states and leaners. (Minnesota is generally rated as a blue leaner, but not quite safe.)

Here are two stabs at the Electoral College (not really a college) overview, both of which show Obama with substantially more states that look safe or pretty good than Romney. In fact, they show Obama within a swing state or two of the magic 270 needed to win and there are polls shnowing him with a lead in several of the key swing states.