After hesitating yesterday, the Gallup and Rasmussen trackers both lurched in Romney’s direction, with Romney taking a 2 point lead in Rasmussen and closing to within 3 points in Gallup.
The movement in Gallup, Rasmussen, the We Ask America polls, and Reuters/Ipsos are all consistent with a four-point movement in Romney’s direction. If confirmed, the race could be a dead heat. Additionally, a Clarus Research Group survey showed Obama leading by 4 in a one-day sample prior to the DNC but found Romney leading by 1 on Thursday.
If confirmed by other pollsters, a 3.7 point shift would be enough to inaugurate a whole new ballgame, but additional time and confirmation from other pollsters is necessary before confidentially judging the size of Romney’s bounce. The national trackers still include pre-debate interviews in their samples and if Romney maintains his gains, then his advantage might grow over coming days, especially in the Gallup tracking poll.
But judging movement is difficult with such a small number of relatively unrepresentative pollsters. Since the DNC, Gallup and Rasmussen have both produced samples showing Romney tied or leading. In those instances, the other pollsters did not confirm their movement and Gallup and Rasmussen eventually moved back into alignment with the broader consensus of polls.
It is important to consider Gallup and Rasmussen's longer-term averages. While Obama led by 2 points in Rasmussen and 4 points in Gallup immediately prior to the debates, both tallies were above Obama’s longer term lead of .6 in Rasmussen and 3.2 in Gallup in post-DNC samples. Similarly, Rasmussen found movement in Florida and Virginia, which were Rasmussen’s two best state polls for Obama last month, but not Ohio, where Obama’s September result was more typical.
And short samples immediately following the debates might exaggerate Romney’s peak, much in the same way that Obama appeared to lead by 7 or more points in the initial post-DNC samples. This could be especially true for automated pollsters with low response rates conducting one-day samples without callbacks, and you might notice that many of the polls showing decisive movement in Romney's direction fit into this category. Whatever the merits of WAA, Gallup, Rasmussen, and Reuters/Ipsos, they are not representative of the broader slate of polling firms that regularly survey the presidential race. There is no guarantee that the other pollsters show Romney making similar gains.
So what’s the big picture? It is quite clear that Romney is making gains and if a more diverse set of pollsters confirm movement of this magnitude in Romney's direction, then the race would be a dead-heat. But although today’s polls are consistent with a 3 or 4-point movement, they are quite insufficient to prove a 4-point shift in Romney’s direction. As was the case yesterday, we’ll have to wait until at least Monday or Tuesday, when the broader universe of live-interview pollsters conducting multi-day samples start to weigh-in.