Poll Analysis: Dead Cat Bounce?

Not too terribly long ago I put forth the situation facing John McCain in the polls.  First and foremost he had to stop the ever widening gap between him and Obama, and then he had to reverse the trends in his favor.

With thirteen days left in the race, this hasn’t happened yet.

I know this goes without saying, but there are essentially three things that can happen over the next thirteen days; the race could tighten, stay the same, or break wide open in favor of Obama.  If McCain does manage to pull ahead and win, there’s very little chance he will do so by even a modest margin, let alone a landslide.

In general, most, including myself, believed and continue to believe the race will tighten.  Obama has arguably hit something of a ceiling, and as undecideds gradually shuffle into one column or another, they will do so at a rate that is more likely to benefit McCain than Obama.

And for at least a little bit, there was some evidence that McCain was making headway in the national polls.  Further, at least Florida was put back in play, Ohio has tightened, and generally McCain has stopped the bleed of electoral votes even if Obama still manages to hold on to enough states to put him over 270.

But before this trend could gain enough momentum to actually be worth reporting on, what we are seeing in a series of polls potentially is another widening of the race.  Gallup does show the race tightening by a very small amount, but Obama still maintains a clear lead. After that you have yesterday’s NBC/WSJ poll showing the race widening, just like FOX News, and Zogby.

Taking these and other polls into consideration what we see is something a trend that showed Obama peaking but McCain looking to make a hard come back.  Then over the past couple of days, McCain’s rise is beginning to stall out while Obama’s minor downward shift begins to flatten.  This would almost appear to be a “dead cat bounce”, or in other words, McCain hit the bottom, and he started to bounce a little bit because he really didn’t have any further down to go.

In order for him to even be competitive on November 4th, he can’t afford to have his rise stall out at all, not with less than two weeks left to go.  But that’s exactly what it looks like we are seeing right now.

Now, as you know, the national polls don’t tell you who is going to win.  But let’s remember that state by state numbers lag behind the nationals.  What this means is that McCain’s window to turn this thing around is actually more narrow than one might think.

If we are generous to McCain and say that state by states lag behind the nationals by only, say, five days, that suggests that McCain needs to be even with or over Obama by the end of the work week next week.

But if the nominal tightening of the race that we saw over the past few days was really nothing more than a dead cat bounce, this could mean that McCain could begin next week in the same or worse position than he is currently in.

I still expect this race to tighten before November 4th comes, but we have to recognize that each day that goes by where the race doesn’t tighten increases the possibility that McCain may lose by a blowout.

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