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Numbers and Real Numbers in the Presidential Race


Amid the media fiesta over the latest Presidential poll, we’ve seen McCainites and Obamans alike push to drive the narrative about the polls. In this case, we all should have learned by now to ignore the story that follows the phrase “According to a poll released by Zogby….” The firm has a lackluster record of polling predictions in recent history, including a famed proclamation that the 2004 election was “Kerry’s to lose.”

Meanwhile, every other national poll still has Obama ahead and, on the state level, a recent University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll has Obama up in Iowa by five or six points. But, behind all these numbers lies the fact that McCain’s recent attack ads have narrowed the gap. The question is, will it be a momentary tightening? All the national polls that have asked (even Zogby) have found that Americans perceive McCain’s campaign creeping further into negative attack mode. Long-term pain for short-term gain?

But, the real reason I write this post is to help you decipher all these wide-ranging numbers. There are a number of websites which take the average, or a weighted average, of these various polls. Two of these are pollster.com and fivethirtyeight.com. And not only will you find a better national barometer of the race, but you can actually see the state-by-state breakdowns and lots of other juicy numbers.

Like checking snopes.com when you receive that latest email forward (you do do this don’t you? you don’t just forward them do you?), when you hear the latest poll numbers do the responsible thing and check the closest thing we have to real numbers in this information age.

But oh, remember that nobody has figured out how to accurately poll the nation’s cell-phone-only youth yet.


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