Latest Gallup Poll: Obama Clinton in Statistical Tie

Out of nowhere comes the most recent USA Today/Gallup Poll declaring Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama in a statistical dead heat in the contest for Democratic presidential nominee. In a hypothetical race in which former Vice President Al Gore joins the race, Senator Obama leads by one point, and in the current race sans Gore, Hillary has a one point advantage.

It’s an interesting poll, but one that is all too easily dismissed as noise, which leads us to Mr. M’s third rule of politics; be careful how you read polls. When looking at trend analysis in regards to how the candidates are doing, I try very hard not to focus in on any single poll, and the reasoning is pretty simple.

Polls, as a kind of political crystal ball, aren’t all that reliable. As it turns out, how five hundred or a thousand people vote today can vary to a degree with how millions of people vote tomorrow. If that weren’t the case, every major pollster would go out there and run their polls the night before an election, and voila, they would be able to scoop who the next president or senator or whatever would be without fail.

But that’s not how things work. No, where polls are more valuable is as an indicator of trends, ie. it’s not important exactly what the numbers are for any given poll so much as the direction in which everyone’s poll numbers is heading, and to varying degrees, why.

So I do look at individual polling, even one that is so far off the norm such as this, because often times what appears as noise could actually end up being an early indicator of a trend. And to this degree if we widen out the results to their maximum error, what you still find is Hillary and Obama drawing closer together as time moves on.

But for a much more reliable look at how things are going, I direct you to one of my favorite sites, Pollster.com, which actually has a good write up of this particular poll.

And since we’re over at pollster, I want to show you guys a page I look at just about every day. It’s pretty much an aggregated running chart of all the polls in regards to the primary. And lower down you see the various primary candidates matched up against their counterparts across the aisle in hypothetical general elections.

Over the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve seen two major things in watching the trends that I think are important. For one, there is Fred Thompson who was on the rise, but is actually, strangely enough, on a downward slope. No doubt this will skyrocket once he officially announces, but what this downward slope could signify is that while Thompson will get a bump from announcing, it is likely that this will be only temporary. We’ll have to see.

The other thing that I think is interesting is Obama’s over all trend. The last leg of his chart showed him on a plateau for I would say the last couple of weeks, but in the last few recent days, this plateau has shifted into an upward slope, meaning that somehow the Senator has reinvigorated his campaign. Meanwhile, Senator Clinton has been on a slow skid for quite some time now.

Overall, what it looks to me is assuming these trends remain relatively constant, Obama catches Hillary just around somewhere at the end of the year. Of course, we can’t look into the future, but if anything, these trends show that it is at least a possibility.

Another interesting thing that I think requires a little reverse engineering in our thought processes is the effect that Gore has on the entrance of the field. According to this gallup poll, Obama and Hillary obviously give up the largest amount of points, but Hillary gives up slightly more, while Gore scrapes a little from all the lower tiered candidates. I think it’s possible, therefore, to see the effect changing the field may have on the front runners status. Whether adding someone new or removing someone, there becomes a shift in the support that SLIGHTLY favors Obama.

And what of Hillary’s losses in the support category? Just going off gut hunch, I’m not thinking that those who used to support Hillary are ditching her for any of the lower tiered candidates, leading me to believe that the losses she gives up are going to filter through to Edwards and Obama, which again, goes towards favoring Obama. Likewise, the polling trend shows that Obama has not shown a significant decrease in support, so it is hard to say where that is going.

As it stands, should Obama start leaking supporters, considering that he is running largely on a new kind of political philosophy as such, I think it is safe to say that he’s not going to be leaking his support upwards so much as maybe downwards; voters who looked to Obama as an ideal fresh face becoming disenfranchized and moving on to someone who is new and perhaps to his left. I see Obama support leaking to Edwards, maybe, or a Dennis Kucinich, and the lower tiered candidates.

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