Oct. 10, 2012 at 12:18 PM ET
To figure out whether President Barack Obama will win re-election, don't bother consulting costly scientific polls. Just check out the self-serve coffee at your local 7-Eleven convenience store.
As it has done in every presidential election since 2000, the convenience store chain is selling red and blue to-go coffee cups marked with the names of the major party candidates, as well as regular, unmarked cups for undecided voter in its "7-Election."
So far Obama is ahead nationally by a wide 60-40 margin, although more scientific polls have the national race as virtually a dead heat. In the closely contested swing state of Ohio, where both candidates are campaigning heavily this week, the coffee cup poll favors the incumbent 57 to 43, with undecided coffee drinkers excluded.
Even though the poll bills itself as "unabashedly unofficial and unscientific," it has accurately predicted the winners since it began in 2000. Not only that, the results have hewed within 1 percentage point of the final popular vote. In 2008, Sen. John McCain got 46 percent in the 7-Election and 45.7 percent in the real election, while Obama got 52 percent of the coffee cups and 52.9 percent of the actual votes. In 2004, President George W. Bush beat Sen. John Kerry in the 7-Election 51-49, compared with 50.7 to 48.3 in the real polls.
Likewise the chain's coffee cup sales had Bush beating Vice President Al Gore in 2000 by a percentage point, while U.S. voters put Gore ahead by 0.5 percentage point in the popular vote. Still, the 7-Election did better than many major media outlets, accurately calling the race for Bush, who ultimately won by Supreme Court decision.
Other cheeky polls also point to a second term for Obama. "Chia Obama," for example, is outselling its Romney Chia planter counterpart, and Obama Halloween masks are also outselling their Republican counterparts.
One reason for the 7-Eleven poll's accuracy could be its large sample set in the millions, compared with 1,000 to 2,000 adults in typical scientific polls. The 7-Election surveys have held up even though customers are allowed to "stuff the ballot box." Each cup purchase, even from the same customer, counts as a vote.
During the chain's Sept. 28 free coffee day, New York looked like a shoo-in for Obama, at least from the 42nd Street location in New York City's Times Square. "It was crazy," 23-year-old cashier Brian Moravec told NBC News. "I had a table stacked with all the cups and nine out of ten people went for the Obama cup." As for the Romney one, people were saying, "Don't even give me that cup," the cashier said.
So which cup does Moravec take? "The courtesy cup. I don't even have time to get into politics," he said with a laugh as he moved to ring up a lottery ticket for another customer.
Those political junkies who do have time to track the voting can rack the results at 7-Election.com for both national and state-by-state results.
Neither campaign's press offices responded to a request by NBC News for comment.
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