Today's Polls: On Mccain's Momentum, Or Lack Thereof

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THE PLANK OCTOBER 18, 2008

Today's Polls: On Mccain's Momentum, Or Lack Thereof

John McCain has once again improved his position in the national tracking polls, having gained ground in 4 of the 5 6 trackers that published today (Rasmussen and IBD/TIPP
were the exceptions).** Our model now perceives that Obama has come
somewhat off his peak numbers, which were realized perhaps 5-7 days ago.At
the same time, McCain's improved position in the trackers is a little
bit difficult to reconcile with certain other pieces of evidence. In the Research 2000 tracking poll,
for instance, while McCain has gained 5 points worth of ground in 48
hours in the topline numbers, the candidates' approval ratings over
that period are completely unmoved. In the Gallup tracker,
while McCain has gained ground among likely voters since the debate, he
has lost ground among registered voters. Lastly, every poll conducted
on the debate itself suggested that Obama won the event.What I
think we may be seeing are some improvements in Republican enthusiasm.
Prior to the debate, McCain was having a very rough go of things in the
media, as the only stories seemed to be the ineffectiveness of his
attacks on Bill Ayers, and the nonresponsiveness of his campaign to the
economy. In the polls that measured these things, there was evidence
that enthusaism was very low among McCain supporters. A conservative
voter, having little real message to latch on to, and seeing McCain far
behind in the polls, might have been telling pollsters that he wasn't
sure if he was going to bother to vote, and therefore might have been
screened out by likely voter models, which all of the tracking polls
are now using.Between "Joe the Plumber", "spread the wealth",
"I'm not George Bush", etc., however, McCain at least now seems to have
a few somewhat more constructive talking points (in that sense, the
fact that the Ayers attacks went over like a lead balloon at the debate
might have done him a favor). So some of those crestfallen
conservatives might have moved back into the likely voter universe.What I don't know that McCain is doing, on the other hand, is actually persuading
very many voters, and particularly not independents or registered
Democrats. If that is the case, than McCain is likely to run into
something of a wall very soon here, brought about the Republicans'
substantial disadvantage in partisan identification. People sometimes
misunderstand the nature of "momentum" in presidential campaigns. If
McCain was down 8 points yesterday, and is down 6 points today, that
does not mean that he is
likely to be 4 points down tomorrow. On the contrary, polling in the
general election seems essentially to be a random walk,
with the minor stipulation that the polling has had some tendency to
tighten slightly during the stretch run (as our model accounts for).
That is, the polls are essentially as likely to move back toward Obama
tomorrow as they are to continue to move toward McCain.McCain's
other problem is that the polls in battleground states have not really
tightened at all. Obama gets good numbers today, for instance, in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Florida.
Obama presently has something like a 3:1 advantage in advertising, and
most of that advertising is concentrated in battleground states. As
such, this may serve as a hedge against any improvements that McCain is
able to make elsewhere in the country.** EDIT: I had originally missed the IBD/TIPP poll, which apparently does publish on weekends, and shows Obama gaining ground. It is not accounted for in today's simulation run.

There's More...

--Nate Silver

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