Day By Day

Thursday, September 04, 2008


I don't usually pay much attention to the polls [disclosure: years ago I used to design and conduct social surveys in the Philadelphia area, and unless I can check the crosstabs I'm not very interested] but sometimes they can add some understanding to what we see played out on our TV screens.

So what's the situation now?

Two tracking polls have Obama ahead by a substantial amount.

Gallup, tracking after the Republican convention started, but before "The speech", has Obama ahead by a whopping seven points, 49% to 42%. This is essentially unchanged since the Democrats got their election bounce. On the 26th of last month Obama jumped out to a six-point advantage and has since then held a 6-8 point advantage in every subsequent poll. Tomorrow we will see the first small indications of how much difference Palin's speech has made.

Rasmussen has Obama ahead by a smaller, but still comfortable, five point margin, 50% to 45%. Here the breakout date was the the 29th of last month when Obama broke a tie and jumped out to a four-point margin. Since then he (and this is the important point) his numbers have hovered around 50%. If he holds that level of popularity he will not lose.

Now you can see why McCain felt that he had to shake up the race. He and Obama seem to have settled into a rut that would lead to a Democratic victory in November.

Has picking Sarah made any difference? It's too soon to tell.

A Democracy Corps poll, released today, showed Obama beating McCain by six points, 49% to 43%. [This is a Democrat campaign poll and therefore suspect. It was probably released to counter the effect of the CBS News poll discussed below.]

There is also a CBS News poll released today that has the race in a dead heat; both candidates at 42%. Like the Democracy Corps poll it was taken after Sarah Palin's choice was announced, but before her speech.

These two national polls pretty much illustrate the current situation -- either the choice of Palin has not changed the race or it has strongly benefited the McCain campaign. We don't know yet which and won't for two to three more days.

Preliminary results, however, suggest that Palin's choice has firmed up support among Republican women, has had little effect on male voters, and has caused independent and moderate women to move toward Obama. These results, however are very preliminary, are tainted to some extent by advocacy group participation, and have yet to be analyzed in detail [What effect, for instance did Gustav and Labor Day have on the polls?].

For a detailed numerical description of the polls and commentary on them go to

Keep your eyes on the polls for the next few days -- they'll give you some idea of how things are shaping up. The danger of the Palin pick is that she will be more of a cult figure than a plausible national candidate. Women I have talked to here in Baltimore are divided. Some like her, but most tell me that they are worried about her open religiosity. Three times today I heard the word "theocon" muttered. If that image takes root, Sarah will command an adoring following comprising about 1/4 to 1/3 of the electorate, but that is all.

Things are starting to get interesting.

Stay tuned.


Today's Rasmussen poll, one third of whose respondents were contacted after "the speech" shows a remarkable shift in opinion. Obama now leads McCain by only one percentage point, 46% to 45% [two if leaners are included] . If there is a real shift, McCain's percentages should improve over the next two days as pre-speech respondents drop out of the poll and post-speech ones are added.

The Gallup tracking poll is also out. It, too sees the race narrowing with Obama's lead slipping from seven to four percentage points. This too should continue to narrow over the next two days.

Looks like this race is once again tied.