Puzzled by the conflicting series of polls coming out this week?  Unsure about the legitimacy of polling critiques relating to samples and partisan splits?  You’ll want to watch this interview I conducted earlier today with Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling & Research, which conducts polls in Pennsylvania for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review as well as the GOP and the state legislature, and also polls in Florida for Sunshine State News as Voter Survey Service.  A month ago, Michael Barone correctly credited SPR and Jim for being the first pollster to report that Pennsylvania was in play in the presidential election.  At the time, other pollster scoffed, but now both campaigns are spending heavily and the state is “too close to call,” Jim tells me in this exclusive interview.

How did SPR realize that the Keystone State was up for grabs?  SPR polls in every state legislative district, and include presidential polling as part of their profile.  Barack Obama’s performance in every district had dropped significantly from 2008 — an average decline of seven points — and all three of the re-elect keys showed under 50% (head-to-head, favorability, job approval).  Jim had to defend those results when people shrugged off his findings, which he discusses with me here:

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After an interruption in the call, I reconnected with Jim to discuss polling issues in general, especially criticism over sample composition and partisan splits. While other pollsters claim that this criticism is illegitimate, Jim insists that this criticism is entirely valid, and criticizes pollsters whose models shift from week to week.

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Here are the three keys Jim says to watch in Pennsylvania. Romney needs to tie Obama in the suburbs of Philadelphia (where Obama won by 200,000 votes in 2008), outperform John McCain in the western part of the state, and win the turnout battle. Absentee ballot requests show Republicans winning the third key, at least in the last few days before next Tuesday, with a 19-point edge in requests.  Be sure to watch the whole interview, and keep an eye out on Sunday for the final poll in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.