Questions for Sean Quinn, political polling guru

| News Editor

On Thursday, Student Life’s Puneet Kollipara talked to political blogger and polling expert Sean Quinn, a Clayton, Mo. resident, about the presidential race in Missouri, the vice presidential debate and recent political polls. Quinn writes for the polling and analysis Web site fivethirtyeight.com.

Student Life: Where does Missouri currently stand in the presidential race, and what have the polling trends been?

Sean Quinn: As of [Thursday] morning, our projection for Missouri is a very narrow McCain win; I think we had McCain by less than a percent. And in fact we saw at least one poll, if not several, that show Obama ahead. Based on the track record and based on track records of these different pollsters, we’ve been able to predict that Missouri, in November, should be a very narrow McCain win. As we get more data, if polls keep coming in stronger and stronger for Obama, that trend’s going to show that it’s moving towards Obama’s direction, [and] we’re going to see a flip.

SL: What is the importance of the youth vote in Missouri, and could it tip the race one way or the other?

SQ: In Missouri the youth vote’s going to be important. It’s going to be important in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan [and] Virginia, where the Obama campaign was really putting in a lot of effort. Now, we haven’t seen a lot on the McCain side. As far as youth vote, to the extent that Washington University students and students at Columbia and Rolla and Kirksville all across the state turn out, it’s one those possible ways that that 0.4 percent that we project McCain to win Missouri by, we might actually see that Obama wins because these little percents add up because he turns out the college vote.

SL: How do vice presidential debates affect polling numbers, and how is this debate different from others?

SQ: In past history, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal when vice presidents go at it. What we have here, though, [is that] tonight is a little bit of an anomaly. I can’t recall from looking [at] past vice presidential history any moment where we have a candidate who, [as it] seems from all sides, not just the liberal side, but the independent and conservative side, [is] having people openly question whether she is able or qualified to do the job. We go into these McCain offices and see volunteers; they’re not there to volunteer for John McCain, they’re there to volunteer because Sarah Palin is on the ticket and she excites them. If they were to boot her from the ticket, game over. Maybe the expectations are so low that she’ll be able to pull out some kind of “victory” just by not having any type of moments like she’s had on the recent Katie Couric interview, for example. If she does do terribly, it really could affect the numbers.

SL: What should students take from the debate?

SQ: It’s an amazing opportunity because this election has been the most dramatic election. This is something they’re going to remember 20, 30 years from now. Voters get to weigh [which] way they want to go. Even though McCain and Obama aren’t here, these two picks have had just as much drama packed into them in a short period of time. One way or the other, whether Sarah Palin lives up to expectations or not, it’s going to be a night that people talk about for a long time.