Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Polls Look Very Strange

The rolling average of polls maintained by Real Clear Politics has Supreme Leader Obama ahead by 7.2 points as of 0842 Central Time this morning. Since the collapse of the markets, the Supreme Leader has pretty steadily maintained a lead here of between five and seven points. The average appeared to tighten a little last week, moving back to five points and under. . .but now the gap is widening again in St. Barack's favor.
My own sense of things, for the record, is that Obama is ahead by an amount slightly exceeding the margin of error, perhaps four or five points. But seven points? A new Zogby/Reuters/C-SPAN survey of 1,200 or so "likely voters" from 20-22 October has Obama leading by twelve points. Fox News, hardly a hotbed of loyalty to the Leader, has Obama, (in a poll taken by Opinion Dynamics) during roughly the same period, up by nine points among 936 likely voters. Meanwhile, there are the outliers: a George Washington University Battleground Poll of 1,000 likely voters, taken between the 15th and the 21st, has Obama up by only two points. Finally, there's an AP/GfK Roper poll of 800 likely voters, taken from the 16th to the 20th, showing Obama leading by one point.
Moving to the battleground states, the polling there is weird too. For example, in Virginia, a state that went Republican in the last two elections -- the Real Clear Politics rolling average has the Supreme Leader up by 7.0 points -- but an NBC/Mason-Dixon poll of 625 likely voters from the 20th to the 25th has Obama on top by only two points. On the other extreme, a CNN/Time poll of likely voters from the 19th to the 21st has Obama up by ten points. If you don't believe a poll compiled under the auspices of two of the most objective outlets in journalism, try a Rasmussen survey taken on the 16th of 700 likely voters showing an Obama lead of ten points, also.
What on Earth is going on here? I think it is indisputable that demographic and other trends in Virginia favor the Democrats, the areas around Alexandria and Richmond have been driving Virginia in a more Blue State direction for some time. But I just can't credit that Virginia has made this dramatic a swing since the last election.
The same strangeness is showing up in other places. Polling is showing Obama leading by an average of 2.7 points in Missouri, of all places. In 2000, Bush carried this state by 3.3 percentage points -- even giving Gore all of Nader's 1.6 percentage points of the vote would not have helped the Democrats. In 2004, the doubtfully popular President Bush defeated Kerry in Missouri by 7.2 percent of the vote. I'm sorry, I simply do not give much credence to polling showing that Obama is really ahead in Missouri.
I am not saying that the polling is inaccurate. . .I think. But I wonder about the methodology of some of these pollsters, I wonder about the degree to which the media, and the Obama campaign (through the agency of its massive cash advantage) are hyping trends that favor the Supreme Leader. Finally, I wonder about the degree to which the Obama advertising blitz and the trendiness of his candidacy are driving respondents to flat-out lie to pollsters.
My sense is that Obama is ahead, but that he has not closed the sale. I don't know if McCain can still win: time is short, and he has monstrous structural handicaps to overcome. But if he can't win, he should still (if his campaign is even half-competent) be able to come close enough to make Mr. Cool do some sweating.


Mr. Vickroy said...

Watch Gallup. It has consistently moved in a "logical" manner.

After each debate, where McCain does his Stockdale impersonations, Barack surges. During financial market free-fall, Barack moves up. Etc - almost completely pegged to news of the day.

However, when "nothing" is happening, people gravitate back to McCain.

Probably human nature - when we are in strife, we want the police to come save us. When we are just living our lives, we don't want to see a cop.

Not that it will matter - there just aren't enough electoral votes in states where McCain is (a) campaigning and (b) has a chance.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Mr. V,

Thinking on it more, I think the pollsters are possibly having trouble with what constitutes a "likely voter." I think that has to be all at sea because of the Obama phenom.

I agree with your comment, and will take your advice on Gallup.

Candidly Caroline said...

Two comments:
1. Democrats, particularly in this race, are more likely to participate in polls.
2. What many people say and what many people will do - once inside that voting booth, when the reality kicks in - will be different.