Tuesday, October 28, 2008

President For Life Obama?


Most polls give Barack Obama the lead over John McCain, but by how much depends on who you ask.

Barack Obama's been leading John McCain in almost every national poll since late September, and it may seem like he's got the election all sewn up.

But the Democratic presidential nominee's margin has fluctuated wildly, anywhere from 1 to 13 points in the past two weeks alone. And a few recent polls are even within the margin of error, suggesting McCain could actually be leading among certain sets of voters.

This doesn't mean the surveys are masking a widespread McCain advantage -- he's still trailing in most major battlegrounds needed to secure the election. But survey disparities are so great this year as to suggest that the numbers, contrary to the old adage, sometimes do lie.

Part of the problem? The sheer amount of polls being conducted across the country.

FOX News political analyst Karl Rove said by his count, there have been 177 national polls conducted as of Oct. 24, compared with 55 at the same time in 2004.

"The proliferation of polls, particularly polls run by universities that may not have the skill and capability that a professional polling outfit has, are really not helpful to the process, in my opinion," Rove said.

But some of the inconsistencies in the polls this year can also be traced to the method used by the pollsters.

The "expanded" Gallup poll, unlike the "traditional" one, includes those citizens who call themselves likely voters but who've never actually voted before.

"This year, I think all pollsters are concerned about how they're defining 'likely' voters, and trying to understand turnout," FOX News polling director Dana Blanton said. "There's been so much attention placed on new registration and enthusiasm among the electorate, and it's just -- it's extremely hard to figure out that, that piece of the puzzle."

Obama held a 10-point lead Monday in Gallup's expanded poll, but only a 5-point lead in their traditional poll.

Karlyn Bowman, who studies public opinion for the American Enterprise Institute, urged voters to examine the wording and sequencing of a poll's questions, to be wary of sudden spikes -- and to shop around.

"If you see a huge change in let's say the McCain-Obama margin overall, you might want to think about whether or not there has been something that's happened that would produce that kind of extraordinary change," she said. "But I think it's important to look at one poll, and then to compare that poll to other polls, and that's the way you can be an educated consumer."

A survey of the polling landscape shows the latest CBS News/New York Times poll to be the outlier, placing Obama up by 13 points.

A FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll last week had Obama up by 9 points.

Investor's Business Daily, which came closest to nailing the race between President Bush and John Kerry in 2004 (within four-tenths of a point), has the current presidential race within the margin of error. And The Associated Press recently reported a virtual tie.

With polls still fluctuating but mostly showing Obama in the lead, the Illinois senator says he's taking nothing for granted.

"Don't believe for a second this election is over. Don't think for a minute that power concedes," Obama said Monday in Canton, Ohio. "We have to work like our future depends on it in this last week, because it does depend on it in this last week."

McCain, meanwhile, is pledging to stun the pundits on Election Day.

"Let me give you the state of the race today. There's eight days to go. We're a few points down. The pundits have written us off, just like they've done before," McCain said Monday in Ohio. "Senator Obama's measuring the drapes ... You know I guess I'm old fashioned about these things. I prefer to let the voters weigh in before predicting the outcome."

Both Blanton and Bowman said there appears to be no evidence of a so-called "bandwagon effect" in American elections -- the idea that widespread dissemination of polling data trending a certain way will cause voters to in turn move in that direction. Such an effect might have led to a Hillary Clinton-Rudy Giuliani pairing, once the favorites in their respective races.

Experts say the "bandwagon" effect might be more common in places like Israel or Great Britain, where election cycles are much shorter.

From Audacity of Hope: 'I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.'

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