Narrow election adds pressure for GW poll

As Mitt Romney and Barack Obama brace for a photo finish, national polling groups like the POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Tracking Poll will be under almost as much scrutiny as the candidates on Nov. 6.

The poll, which GW has sponsored for a decade and two consulting firms from opposite sides of the aisle have run for 20 years, is under increasing pressure to get the election results right as others like Gallup, CBS-New York Times and ABC-Washington Post jostle for supremacy.

The two presidential candidates are deadlocked, according to Sunday’s POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Tracking Poll, which had them tied at 48 percent of votes.

“Success in this business is measured by the proximity in the polling in the final days to the actual result,” said Chris Arterton, a professor of political management who oversees GW’s involvement with the poll.

The battleground poll – which polls 1,000 likely voters across the country and provides dueling analyses from the conservative consulting firm the Tarrance Group and liberal group Lake Research Partners.

Battleground officials say the poll’s opposing political bents plays to its advantage as it looks to rise.

Brian Nienaber, a GW alumnus and vice president at the Tarrance Group, said both partners run private polls for politicians, putting their reputation at stake to get the polls right.

“The big thing that makes us different is we have a pretty strong incentive to be right or we have a hard time recruiting clients if we look off,” Nienabor said. “We’re trying to get the data right, not sell a story. It makes us feel we have a poll to have a check and balance that makes us rigorous.”

He added that Tuesday would be the “ultimate judgment” for the poll, which he said showed momentum for Romney that would carry over into election day. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3.1.

The poll also inked a deal with POLITICO in 2010, a partnership that’s garnered increased attention. Mike Freedman, director of GW’s Global Media Institute, said the poll has landed exclusive mentions on CBS Evening News as part of an effort to raise its profile.

Debates around polling analysis and techniques have remained a fixture this campaign season, popularized by Nate Silver’s modeling projections for a sure Obama win.

“This year, the leap in level of sophistication when you get asked by normal people is really staggering,” Nienaber said. “People ask you about weighting and likely voter models – things that are in the realm of technical expertise.”

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