My colleagues and I went out on a limb yesterday when we wrote an op-ed piece saying that teacher unions were in trouble—both with the electorate and among teachers themselves. We reported a shift of 7 percentage points against the unions between our 2012 Education Next annual poll, the full results to be released this summer, as compared to results we reported one year ago. Teacher opinion against those who claim to represent them shifted even more dramatically. Never before had we detected such a swing against the unions.
So I watched the news last night with a worried eye after CNN told me that the exit polls in Wisconsin showed a tight race, with each candidate expected to get 50 percent of the vote. Wow! I thought. So all the polls leading up to election day were wrong. Only the Democratic pollsters, Public Policy Polling, came close with their prediction that the race had tightened to within 3 points, indicating that either side could win. Did our Education Next poll get it wrong? Had the Wisconsin electorate shifted against the governor? Had there been no shift against public sector unions after all?
In the days leading up to recall day, it seemed that Walker would win the race fairly easily, because Real Clear Politics (RCP), which calculates the average of all publicly reported polls, said that Walker had a 6.7 percent margin, and I had learned from earlier elections that the RCP average is better than any one poll at predicting the result.
So what was the final result?—a Walker win by 6.9 percent. The RCP average was much, much better than the exit polls administered after the voters had cast their ballots!
Talk about a home run! Congratulations to Real Clear Politics!
Never believe any particular poll (other than the Education Next poll, of course), but do believe the average of a bunch of polls. Right now, the RCP average tells us Obama is leading Romney by 3 percentage points. That number does not tell us what will happen on election day, but it does tell us that the incumbent president has a slight advantage today in a race that remains highly contested.