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Experts: swing state polls most crucial



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A deadlocked presidential race and the public opinion polls often make for a confusing mix of information for voters to digest. So with the critical second presidential debate set for Tuesday night, which polls matter most?

While the national polls are important, the polls in the swing states are even more vital. That's what makes this debate so critical.

Longtime Utah pollster Dan Jones has been watching the polls closely.

"It's going to be very close," he said. "What people have got to realize is there is error in every poll."


How many undecided voters really are left in America? It's not about that. It's about making sure that the people that are on your side, or partially on your side, get out and vote. They feel the momentum. They believe in you as a candidate and they're excited.

–Tom Love


An average of the latest national polls shows a race that is statistically tied. Jones says savvy political observers check factors like the margin of error -- the smaller the better -- sample size, the number of people interviewed -- the more the better -- when the poll was taken and how questions were asked.

But most importantly, Jones says, people must focus on polls in three big states - Virginia, Florida and Ohio -- that could go either way.

Candidates need 270 electoral votes to win. Combined, those three swing states have 60 votes up for grabs and will determine the outcome of the election.

The latest polls show President Obama with a slight lead in Ohio and an even more slender lead in Virginia, while Mitt Romney holds a slight lead in Florida.

With polls so close, every debate matters, not only in convincing undecided voters, but in firing up each side's base voters.

"How many undecided voters really are left in America?" said political strategist Tom Love. "It's not about that. It's about making sure that the people that are on your side, or partially on your side, get out and vote. They feel the momentum. They believe in you as a candidate and they're excited."

Romney got a clear boost from the last debate, so President Obama is looking to reverse that trend Tuesday night.

Both candidates will likely face tough questions on the economy. This time around, the candidates will engage in a town hall-style debate at Hofstra University in New York.

The moderator, Candy Crawley, will take questions from the audience rather than asking them herself. Both candidates will need to be ready for anything, and this will serve as a chance for both to prove their ability to think on their feet.

Romney was the aggressor in the first debate, and many expect the president to take that roll Tuesday night.

It will be a challenge, because the candidates need to show empathy toward the voter asking the question while challenging their opponent at the same time. Obama is familiar with this style -- he did well in a town hall debate against John McCain in his last election.

The candidates also won't have a podium behind them. They'll be standing freely and will need to move around and not appear frozen.

Contributing: Jennifer Stagg

John Daley

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