Dueling Polls Combine To Paint A Picture

Today we see a couple of polls that would seem to be in direct conflict with each other.  CNN has Obama’s lead over McCain narrowing; Obama 51 to McCain 46.  Meanwhile, today’s Gallup Daily Tracker actually has Obama’s lead growing to eleven points compared to yesterday; Obama 52 to McCain 41.

This might be taken as showing a state in flux, and to a degree it does, but at the same time these competing polls also manage to show points of stability in the race that should not lead Obama supporters to a point of panic.

The first point to show is that we see Obama hovering steadily at or a little bit above the fifty percent mark.  This in and of itself is significant in that if Obama continues to maintain his support at this point, McCain would either need all of the undecideds to break his way, and even then it may not be enough.  If Obama goes into election day with fifty-one percent or better, McCain’s essentially got no shot.

The other thing that I’ve found interesting is that while Obama has remained steady in the low fifties or the very top of the forties, McCain’s numbers appear to be far more volatile.  Obama’s general operating band seems to be only three points wide between 49 and 52, while McCain’s operating band is wider between 41 and 46.  To me this indicates that not only is McCain’s base of support smaller, but the leaners are far more variant and possibly easier to pick off over the course of the next two weeks.

The next thing to consider is that McCain’s attempts to employ the Ayers connection to Obama as a winning tactic continues to fail, with two thirds of registered voters not caring, or actually put off by the negative campaigning.  As I’ve mentioned before, any votes that McCain loses from this bit of mud-slinging is his own fault; he allowed his fingerprints to be caught on the smear which has had the effect of driving down his favorables.  Contrast this to Rove and Bush who depended on outside organizations to do all the smearing for them.

But even more important on this statistic is the possible implications it will have in the final days of the election.  Many of the all important undecideds don’t make their final decision until the last three days of the election season.  That’s when we’re going to see which way they will break.  In this instance, if McCain is still campaigning negatively, and two thirds of the voting populace is put off by this negative campaigning, it would not be unrealistic to see undecideds break to Obama by a factor of two to one.

Finally, there is the electoral map to consider.  In the Howard Kurtz column I linked to earlier today, he points out that MSNBC gives Obama 264 electoral votes (essentially one, maybe two states away), while CNN currently projects Obama winning 277 electoral votes.  Further, looking at Pollster’s electoral map, we see just what kind of shape McCain is in.

Over the past few weeks, Obama has held on to just about every state he’s had from the beginning, the one state in Obama’s territory that has slipped back into the toss up category has been Ohio (admittedly a big state).  On the other hand, we’ve seen Virginia, Florida, New Mexico, and Colorado, all red states, slip into the lean Obama column.  Further, North Dakota and Montana as well as Missouri and Indiana, are former red states that are now considered battlegrounds.

Of greatest interest to me are the two northern states of North Dakota and Montana which were blood red as recently as a month ago and are now jump balls in this coming election.

The significance of this is that McCain’s struggling to hold the territory that he has as of right now which is far from being enough ground for him to get to 270.  By contrast, Obama is not just easily holding his states, but he continues to encroach on McCain territory, and this at a time when Pollster is showing Obama winning 313 electoral votes.

The final thing to consider in these polls is that one should expect the race to tighten some in the next two weeks.  Undecideds are going to continue to make up their mind, and they are not going to do so 100% in favor of one candidate or another.  On top of this one has to recognize that Obama has a ceiling, that is, because of racial, ideological, and other factors, Obama’s never going to get over, say, fifty-five percent support nation wide nor in some states.  That Obama is over fifty percent in Virginia should be considered a rather astonishing development.

Thus, as Obama hits his ceiling, and undecideds filter slowly into both camps, one should naturally expect to see a narrowing of the race without feeling as though the election is slipping away from the Democratic frontrunner.  All in all, he’s still doing quite well.

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