Polling has been conducted at an unprecedented level during this election cycle. As of today, margins between the two presidential candidates are anywhere from two to sixteen points depending on which survey you read. But what if we're heading for another election where the polls are totally wrong? I'm not referring to 2000 or 2004 where there were most famously problems with the exit polls. I'm talking about 1980.
Time Magazine conducted a lengthy analysis of the opinion polls following Ronald Reagan's landslide victory over President Jimmy Carter. (Hat tip: The Corner) Two trends jump out from this analysis. First, there were estimates that many voters changed their minds in the last 48 hours. These voters broke towards Reagan because they were unsure about how the Iranian hostage crisis was being handled. As a result, they changed their minds late and affected the outcome of the election.
The other trend they noted then is one that certainly seems to fit today: pollsters oversampled Democrats. My guess is that's exactly what's happening now as pollsters have been guessing that turnout will be higher among Democrats but fail to take into account other factors that can affect how they vote.
Making matters worse is that current polls have had a tendency to overstate support for Senator Obama. This is because he draws a lot of younger voters but they tend to be notoriously unreliable in showing up at the polls on Election Day. Also, blue collar voters that make up substantial portions of the electorate in key states are very difficult to poll because they don't respond to pollsters.
The bottom line is this: go out and vote today. Don't let the pollsters or the media or anyone else tell you that this election is over. We could have a long night ahead of us and some very surprising results in the end.