When early results for the Illinois Republican primary started to trickle in March 20, Mitt Romney jumped out to a 25-point lead over Rick Santorum. And that made John McIntyre very nervous.
After all, his innovative RealClearPolitics.com (RCP) website had projected Romney would win Illinois by less than half that margin. How could that projection, based on an average of recent polls, be so far off?
But as the night progressed and additional precincts reported in, Romney’s margin began to settle back to earth.
Soon, his lead slipped below 20 points. It dropped and dropped, and when the night was over, Romney’s victory margin was 11.7 points – pretty close to the 10-point win that RCP projected.
Once again, RCP’s average of various polls had proved a remarkably accurate barometer of voters’ intentions.
“When it gets to the very end, our predictions have been pretty good,” says McIntyre. “Trends are very powerful.”
The Illinois outcome marked another in a string of big successes for RealClearPolitics.
Since McIntyre, a former options trader, along with Tom Bevan, an advertising executive, founded RCP in 2000, it has expanded steadily, spawning sister sites that include RealClearWorld, RealClearSports, and RealClearMarkets. One measure of its success: Forbes Media, publisher of Forbes magazine, purchased 51 percent of it in 2007.
RCP’s footprint in cyberspace is significant and growing. According to the Internet monitoring service Comscore, RCP’s readership has risen from 1.6 million unique visitors in February 2011 to 2.2 million a year later. That’s an increase of 38 percent, and puts it well ahead of venerable political websites such as The Hill and Roll Call.
“There’s no better place for finding everything I need in one place,” Democratic pollster and Fox News contributor Doug Schoen tells Newsmax. “I couldn’t imagine starting my day without RCP.”
Over time, RCP has earned a reputation for fairness, pulling the best political news and analysis from across the web and the political spectrum. Increasingly, it generates original content as well.
One day when Obamacare news was making headlines, the RCP news feed included a link to an op-ed by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the San Francisco Chronicle, followed by a column by anti-Obama Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer. Coverage was rounded out with another article from the liberal New Republic, followed by popular conservative Byron York at the DC Examiner. And so it goes, RCP pulling together the most important political news and opinion – and from all sides.
RCP has also become the “go to” place for the latest polls, a service that has become indispensable throughout the primary season. In addition to listing the latest polling data from Gallup, Harris, Rasmussen and others, RCP also offers its own branded “poll of polls” – as its rolling average is sometimes called in frequent references on cable news, talk radio and internet news sites. The RCP average has proven uncannily accurate in states that have been surveyed by the big pollsters.
On Super Tuesday, for example, RCP predicted Romney would win Ohio by less than a percentage point. He won by 37.9 percent to Santorum’s 37.1.
Similarly in Georgia, RCP said Newt Gingrich should win by 19 points. His margin of victory was a little over 20.
Of course, everyone has their off days in the inexact science of politics. Primaries in states where few detailed polls are conducted can be difficult to assess. And sometimes, a projection is simply wrong. Four years ago, for example, the RCP average suggested Barack Obama would cruise to victory in New Hampshire. Yet Hillary Clinton managed to pull off a 7,500-vote victory.
“That was pretty high-profile for us, but it was an anomaly,” McIntyre says.
One development that has caught McIntyre, and many other experts, by surprise this year has been the volatility of the GOP primaries. At one point it seemed each week brought a new front-runner.
“The dynamic is that the base of the Republican Party is not a huge fan of Mitt Romney and people are searching for another candidate, as we have seen with the various surges of Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum,” he explains.
Today RealClearPolitics -- which brands itself as “the essential site for those at the intersection of politics and business” -- is based in Chicago, far from the hallowed media mavens in New York City and the Nation’s Capital.
“This is a big country,” McIntyre tells Newsmax. “It’s not all about what happens inside the Beltway.”
Like others in the media, McIntyre stands to prosper from the GOP’s suspenseful state of political turmoil. But true to his data-driven inclinations, he says there’s no more than a 10 to 15 percent chance that the nomination will remain undecided all the way to the Tampa convention.
Yet as a man who predicts outcomes for a living, he offers an important caveat to that assessment.
“The race so far has not gone the way people thought it would go,” says McIntyre. “So I don’t see why it should go the way people expect from now on. It might go all the way.”
Whatever the outcome of the GOP nomination, RealClearPolitics will again find itself in the center of the storm as the general election heats up and races all across the nation become front page news.
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