Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The most important poll, part II

Until today, the electoral map I had been using for the Presidential election was very nearly the one we saw in 2000, except that Obama was making inroads with Virginian and Carolinian voters while picking up a few northwest or Midwest states. However, McCain was solidly in control of three big southern states: Georgia, Texas and Florida.

Now something has changed. McCain still has solid (read: insurmountable) leads in Texas and the rest of the "confederate" South. However, a new poll has Obama leading by four points in Florida. This is the first poll in nearly a month in this state, and the first since Clinton's candidacy was truly put to rest. Florida has 27 electoral votes, the fourth-largest total after California, Texas and New York.

Now what does this mean? There's been a lot of pundit-driven speculation that elderly Florida Jews won't vote for someone named 'Hussein'. But this group does not necessarily decide each Florida election. Obama has been strong recently in supporting Israel, and McCain continues to not convince people his foreign policy is different from Bush's. Maybe this contributes to the swing, or maybe other factors are responsible. It's also possible that this poll could be in error. Four points isn't massive, and with a three-point margin of error, it's possible that Obama's lead is really nothing of the kind. Yet the most recent previous poll (conducted by the same service with the same methods) showed McCain leading by four. This is an eight point swing which cannot be dismissed as an error.

The poll before that, conducted by the reputable Rasmussen service, had McCain up by ten. That's a fourteen-point swing towards Obama since May 19th. What used to be a safe state for McCain now becomes a heated contest for both candidates.

But unlike previous days, it's not all good news for the Obama campaign. A new Minnesota poll shows Obama winning by only one point. Previous polls had Obama up by thirteen and fifteen points. The most recent previous poll had Obama up by thirteen just two days before this newest poll started. This appears to be a twelve-point shift to McCain in just five days. A solid Obama state is now totally up for grabs. I personally think this new poll is an abberation - McCain's probably not that close. But it does notify McCain that the state can be won, and scares Obama into thinking the state can be lost.

Still, things appear in Obama's favor right now, as most poll movement is going his way. I'm not obessing about tiny deviations in polls but rather comparing old and new polls so that the swing becomes significant. For example, the reason McCain closed the Minnesota gap so quickly is not that he took votes from Obama but rather he firmed up his own support. His numbers went from 39 to 46 between polls, meaning a whole slew of previously undecided voters (probably leaning Republican the whole time) decided to tell pollsters that McCain was their man. This leaves about ten percent of voters as 'real' undecideds who can be picked up by either candidate. Plus, good manuevering could steal supporters from a candidate's pool. This race isn't anywhere over, but McCain does start with a disadvantage.


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