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Monday, September 08, 2008

I'm seeing a lot of handwringing over the USAToday/Gallup poll that has McCain up 54%-44% over Obama, and I wanted to say just a little bit about it. First, it must be agreed that this is an ugly-looking poll. It makes me sick to see it. We should all be glad the election is 57 days away and not tomorrow.

But just keep in mind:

* it's one poll;
* it's a weekend poll, which are usually significantly less reliable;
* it's a poll taken immediately following the convention, likely to be McCain's high-water polling mark;
* it uses a "likely voter" screen, which means it alters the data according to a hypothesis about who Gallup thinks is likely to vote. These assumptions may undercount young voters and discount new registrations altogether—bad guesses, perhaps, in a year with a huge get-out-the-vote operation on the Dem side and in which it looks like young people might actually show up to vote for once;
* and it's a national poll, which means the numbers don't actually matter, at least not before a 5-4 Supreme Court decision abolishes the Electoral College (just this one time only) so whoever the Republican is can be president.

The raw numbers, the registered voter numbers, are a much more sanguine 50%-46%—and I'd guess that that's about where the race stands after the GOP had a very good week of press and Obama has been absent from anything but lies and smears, give or take a margin of error. It's higher than I'd hoped, but not worse than I'd feared.

The latest Rasmussen tracking poll has it at one point, the Gallup tracking at three.

Wait a few days, wait even until next week, to get a sense of where things stand post-convention-bumps. And ignore the polls altogether, if you can; all this poll means—all it could ever mean, even if the 54-44 number really does turn out to be an accurate snapshot of the race at this time—is that we still have a lot of work to do. So: let's get to work.

UPDATE: Or wait just a few hours. CNN has the race dead even, 48-48.

LATE UPDATE: Lots of polls have come out since this one, and it looks more and more like an outlier...