Monday, September 8, 2008

Poll dancing

The Obama camp must be reeling. Polls are showing the Illinois senator trailing.

A reference to the latest polls showing McCain ahead of Obama by 10 points (says USA Today)? No, that first sentence is a throwback to polling data between April 28 and May 4, which showed Hillary Clinton ahead of Barack Obama (depending on which poll you followed).

Three polls had Clinton's lead nationally between 3 and 7 percent. It should also be noted five polls that overlapped the same period showed Obama with leads of 1 to 12 percent. Also,

Now if you're looking at Sept. 8 polls, (and Real Clear Politics keeps track of current and past polling data) McCain leads by 1 percent (Rasmussen) or 10 percent (USA Today/Gallup). One only needs to go back to Friday, Sept. 5, to see Obama with a 6 percent lead (Hotline/FD).

With all these numbers jumping back and forth, what to they mean? Nothing - and everything.

If the McCain/Palin bump is because voters are supportive of a woman on the VP slot or sympathetic to "negative" Palin stories, that's likely a temporary cycle. What can Obama do about that? Send Biden to Switzerland for sex-change operation? Dump old Joe for Hillary?

If polls favor one candidate over another on the issues, then a candidate might address those perceptions to win over those potential voters. That's a potential risky proposal, depending on the issue. If surveys showed people heavily in favor of the war in Iraq, it would be unrealistic for Obama to suddenly change course and say he now supports the war. But if it's an economic issue and the landscape has changed (i.e. - the government control of the mortgage crisis) that action can change what a candidate had previously said on the issue.

There's only one true "poll" that matters. That will occur on Nov. 4, and the answer made in ballot boxes across the country will be binding.

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