New Polls Show A Race That Is Widening

Earlier today I highlighted two national polls with very different stories to tell.  One showed Obama with a widening lead, and one showed Obama’s lead over McCain narrowing.  Despite the fact that these polls would seem to disagree with each other initially, I also showed how combined there were certain inferences we could make about the race that were not in disagreement (namely, that McCain’s support is shaky, while Obama’s been holding pretty solid in the fifty percent region).

Now there are two more polls out both of which would seem to confirm that the race is actually opening up instead of narrowing.

The first is the first data point in the Washington Post and ABCnews daily tracking poll.  This poll suggests that Obama has a nine point lead over McCain.  Still, I want to warn you that the real value in tracking polls is not so much the hard numbers they produce so much as the actual trends that they show over the course of time.

The second is a new CBS poll that not only verifies that Obama won the last debate, but also shows Obama up over McCain by thirteen points.  A month ago, maybe two, I would have said that a lead like this was shocking, but at this point we’ve gotten rather used to Obama scoring large leads over McCain, and thirteen points is no longer even in the outlier territory as maybe just being in the high end of the band.

Together these two polls would seem to lend more credence to Gallup’s relatively large lead as opposed to CNN’s dwindling lead.

But here’s what I’m really looking at when I look at the polls over the course of the next two weeks.  I’m not looking so much at the numbers, though I think if Obama continues to maintain at or above fifty percent that’s going to really preclude most chances for McCain to make an eleventh hour come back.

Instead what I’m looking at is trends, and more specifically, those trends in the context of state by state polls.  We know that state trends tend to lag national trends by as much as a week, maybe even two, so what I’m now looking for is anything that could serve as an early indicator to upcoming trouble for Obama in battleground contests.  The first thing that poll watchers should be on the look out for is concerted changes in polling trends.

That’s to say that individual polls showing one thing or another independent of the rest of the polls being put out on the national level should be increasingly discounted.  This is not, after all, a popular vote contest, and thus there’s no reason to sit and wonder which poll is accurate and which is not.  Instead, what you need to look at is if all of the polls act in the same manner, more specifically, if they all show a narrowing of the race at the same time.

The next thing to look at if there is such a concerted trend is to ask why?  Just because the national trends are narrowing doesn’t necessarily mean that the battleground trends will also narrow.  The battlegrounds will only narrow in concert with the national trends if the reason for the national trends narrowing is one that has an affect on the individal battleground states.  Okay, that was a mouthful, so let me illustrate.

Let’s say we start to see a narrowing of the race because, I don’t know, we come to find out that Obama doesn’t like oranges.  For five of the six states that both campaigns are contesting, this won’t make much of a difference, but in Florida, maybe, this will have a difference.

Got it?  Good.

So basically, as we get closer to election day, the national polls are going to become less significant other than to perhaps serve as an early warning for individual state polling in battleground states.  Right now, with polls being in general disagreement, but with a lot of them showing that the race remains rigid or even moving more in Obama’s direction, I think we can safely say that as of right now there’s not going to be any battlegrounds moving into McCain’s column over the next few days.

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