By Dante Ramos
If you're a political junkie, your productivity at work and at home has flat-lined because of all the time you spend clicking through the latest polls from Ohio and Virginia on your desktop or laptop computer. Fortunately, there's an easy way to reduce your productivity in plenty of other settings, too. Talking Points Memo, which started years ago as a liberal blog but has blossomed into a one-stop shop for lots of political information and analysis, has released a well-designed app that compiles all manner of public polls and organizes the data in an easy-to-swipe way.
What's most appealing about the app is its well-designed user interface. If you've used your phone to visit websites that aggregate polls -- such as FiveThirtyEight or Real Clear Politics or the PollTracker section of Talking Points Memo's standard site -- you know that it's annoying to get at the data. This app just repackages the same data in a more accessible form. You can also set up a list of your favorite races, so you can easily check back on all of them as often as you like.
Now, how you interpret the data available here is up to you -- and is a matter of some controversy. It's become conventional wisdom that comparing yesterday's numbers from Pollster A with today's numbers from Pollster B is like comparing apples and oranges; better to look at an average of polls. But one aggregator, FiveThirtyEight, famously goes a step farther; it uses a secret model that gives more emphasis to certain types of polls and takes account of how other factors -- such as individual states' past voting history -- might affect the final election results in ways that today's polls don't anticipate. Since the first presidential debate, FiveThirtyEight has given Obama supporters far more reassurance than straight-up poll averages have.
The PollTracker, in contrast, just provides polls and averages of polls. There's not much wiz-bang engineering here at all. But the app is convenient. If you want to know, on the go, how Mitt Romney's doing in Nevada or how gay marriage is polling in Maine -- and I do! -- then this is an app for you.