Saturday, November 01, 2008


Here's an election memory, and correct me if I'm wrong: In 1988, on the Saturday before Election Day, my not-yet-wife and I stopped for a drink in the Village -- I think it was at the Lion's Head. Someone had left a copy of the New York Post on the bar, and inside was a story about a new poll showing that Michael Dukakis was gaining ground, and was in a statistical tie with George Bush.

Yes, I'm such a nerd that I still remember that.

I remember the pollster, too.


And here we are twenty years later, and yesterday one day's worth of Zogby raw data showed McCain winning. Remember, he combines four days' worth of numbers to get his publicly announced number. And that number still shows Obama winning.

In '88 Dukakis went out after that Zogby poll was released and said, "He's slipping and sliding! We're rocking and rolling!" (No, really, he did. It was a pretty bizarre moment.) But, um, a few days later he got blown out by Bush.

Here's the thing: I think most pollsters are honest. They lose credibility -- and, thus, corporate clients -- if they announce wildly inaccurate results, so they have good reason not to deliberately skew their numbers. (Yeah, I know: I was skeptical about recent Fox poll results. But I take Nate Silver's point that it's perfectly valid to survey a genuinely random sample rather than weight by party affiliation, though the poll reader should know the possible effect of this. I stand by my suspicion that Karl Rove knew those numbers in advance and tailored his Wall Street Journal column to fit them.)

But I imagine pollsters sometimes want to hedge their bets. That's why I'd say Gallup started crunching its daily numbers three ways -- in the hope that one of them will be accurate on Election Day, even if the other two aren't.

I think Zogby still can't honestly say he thinks John McCain is winning -- but I think he thinks a hint that McCain might be closing the gap is a good bet-hedge, just like that late poll in '88.

Either that or it's just that voters inevitably express doubt near the end in a race with no incumbent and a front-runner who was looked upon suspiciously earlier in the race.

Whatever's going on, it doesn't mean McCain will win. It may mean he'll do as well as Dukakis did. And remember that all the polls -- including Zogby's -- still say Obama will win (and some are looking better every day).


UPDATE, SUNDAY: Oh, give me a break -- the front page of today's New York Post shows a Photoshopped McCain pulling a rabbit out of a hat, a link to this story:


For the first time in two months, John McCain led a national poll yesterday....

A Zogby tracking poll, taken Friday, shows McCain with a 1-point lead over Barack Obama, 48 to 47 percent....

Meanwhile, if you go to Zogby's own site, you get this:

Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby Poll: One Day Is Not A Trend: Obama Holds His Lead

Obama 49.5%, McCain 43.8%

UTICA, New York -- After a strong day of polling for Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Friday, Democrat Barack Obama experienced a strong single day of polling on Saturday, retaining a 5.7 point advantage....

Pollster John Zogby: "Obama has consolidated his lead over McCain. His single day lead today was back to 52%-42%. He leads by 10 among independents and has solidified his base. He leads among Hispanics by38 points, African Americans by 88, 18-24 year olds by 36, 18-29 year olds by 25, 25-34 year olds by 16, women by 8, and men by 3. He has a 17 point lead among those who have already voted, 22 by those who have registered to vote in the past 6 months, Moderates by 34, Catholics by 10. He even receives 21% support among Conservatives.

"So what happened to give McCain a one-point lead in the one-day polling on Friday? It was a day of consolidation for him, too. He had been losing support among key groups and began to regain some of his own base. He now leads by 21 points among NASCAR fans, 9 among investors, 6 among voters in armed forces households, and 2 among voters over 65 years old.

"Remember, as I said yesterday, one day does not make a trend. This is a three-day rolling average and no changes have been tectonic. A special note to blogger friends: calm it down. Lay off the cable television noise and look at your baseball cards in your spare time. It is better for your (and everyone else's) health." ...

So even Zogby isn't endorsing this B.S.

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