Poll numbers and the fine print

One of the first things I do every morning after logging on is to check the Real Clear Politics polling page to read about the latest poll numbers that have been released, whether they be state polls or national. I rely more on state polls than national, because that’s where you get to see what the electoral college might look like if voters were voting today.

However, every once in a while I check the national polls just to see where McCain stands against Obama, and after the convention and for about a week after, McCain did really well – he had picked Gov. Palin as his running mate, which energized the base, and Obama was making a series of mistakes and gaffes that helped give Mc an edge in the national polls.

This morning, I logged in to see that a WaPo/ABC poll has Obama up by 9 points over Mc and a large part of Obama’s lead has to do with the economy. Considering what we know about where a lot of the blame goes for the current economic state we’re in, my first thought was, “How the hell can people trust Democrats to get us out of a mess they enabled?” Then I read AJ Strata’s post where he took a look at the party breakdown, and it became clear:

[Their] straight party sample breaks down 38% Dem, 28% Rep and 29% Ind. When Indies are asked which way they lean the sample goes 54% Dem, 38% Rep and 7% Ind.

Is anyone surprised with a 54(D) – 38(R) sample the result is 52(D) – 43(R) race? Not me.

Moral of the story? Always check the fine print of a poll before banging your head against a wall. Check for trends as well, because if you see poll numbers that show a consistent pattern for a candidate, I believe it’s a reliable indicator of how things might turn out for that candidate in the long run. Which is why looking at the numbers for Colorado and New Mexico are troubling to me. Both states went for Bush in 2004, and both of them are looking like a lock right now for Obama. Same same for Iowa. Both Iowa and NM I sort of expected to flip, because they barely went for Bush in 2004. Colorado is another matter altogether. The last three presidential elections have seen Colorado go Republican. This time around, things might be different.

And then, there’s North Carolina:-ss

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