Until the last couple days before the election, polls are essentially useless, except perhaps in determining very broad trends. They are an inexact science at best, and some would call it more of an art form. Allow me to demonstrate why you should pay no attention to polls. Based on current conditions and polls, we see all of these results:
All told Obama leads McCain by 54-43 percent [11 points] among likely voters in this latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll. Obama now has 50 percent support among men – a first for likely voters in ABC/Post polling – and an 8-point advantage among swing voting independents.
Democrat Barack Obama's lead over Republican rival John McCain has grown to 12 points in the U.S. presidential race, with crucial independent and women voters increasingly moving to his side, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Thursday.
The presidential race tightened after the final debate, with John McCain gaining among whites and people earning less than $50,000, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that shows McCain and Barack Obama essentially running even among likely voters in the election homestretch. The poll, which found Obama at 44 percent and McCain at 43 percent [1 point], supports what some Republicans and Democrats privately have said in recent days: that the race narrowed after the third debate as GOP-leaning voters drifted home to their party and McCain's “Joe the plumber” analogy struck a chord.
Investors Business Daily
Contrary to other polls, some of which show Obama ahead by double digits, the IBD/TIPP Poll shows a sudden tightening of Obama's lead to 3.7 [points] from 6.0. McCain has picked up 3 points in the West and with independents, married women and those with some college. He's also gaining momentum in the suburbs, where he's gone from dead even a week ago to a 20-point lead. Obama padded gains in urban areas and with lower-class households, but he slipped 4 points with parents.
How is it possible for one poll to show a lead of 12 points while another shows a lead of just 1 point? Well, as we've discussed before, the pollsters themselves have a lot to do with it, especially in terms of how they weight the party affiliation. Some just guess badly, some deliberately slant the data toward the candidate they want. You have to understand the organization conducting the poll, and you have to thoroughly understand how the poll was conducted, the weightings used, etc. in order to determine the true validity of the numbers. It's basically a great big guessing game, and pollsters often get it wrong. For example, Gateway Pundit reported this a couple days ago:
Here's something the Obamatrons to chew on for the next 15 days…
Polls this year have overestimated Obama's strength in 18 of 20 states by an average of 7%.
Ace of Spades and The Politico reported:
In theory, exit polls should match election results. But for all the care that goes into conducting accurate exit polls, errant results aren't completely uncommon. Respected polling analyst Mark Blumenthal found that during the Democratic primaries this year, preliminary exit polls overestimated Obama's strength in 18 of 20 states, by an average error of 7 percentage points, based on leaked early results.
The reason? Obama's supporters were younger, better educated and often more enthusiastic than Hillary Clinton's, meaning they were more likely to participate in exit polls.
Let's see…if you subtract 7% from all of Obama's poll averages, you'd have a contest within the margin of error in even the most lopsided current polls, and McCain would suddenly be ahead in many of them. That 7% makes quite a difference, does it not? This also happened in 2004, when exit polls showed Kerry way ahead in many states that Bush eventually ended up winning after the actual votes were counted.
William Tate offers this analysis of the effect polls have on people before they vote:
The New York Times and their comrades-in-harm, CBS, last week declared Barack Obama the winner of the 2008 presidential election.
Well, okay, not officially.
But in the hours leading up to the crucial, final presidential debate, they released a poll purporting that Obama had a 14-point lead over John McCain, a margin so wide that it was sure to encourage Democrats and demoralize Republicans. The CBS/NYT poll was such an outlier — other polls have averaged margins of 4-5% — that, intentionally or not, it was likely to create a bandwagon effect for their preferred candidate.
In case you doubt the impact that a media poll can have, consider this from an independent study following the 2004 presidential election:
“During presidential elections, poll results frequently are presented in the news. Reporters use these polls to tell the public what it thinks about the presidential candidates. We argue that polling results tell the public what it should think about the presidential candidates as well.”
– Bruce W. Hardy and Kathleen Hall Jamieson
In their 2005 article, Hardy and Jamieson detail how the Kerry campaign was able to change the public perception of President Bush by getting the Los Angeles Times to include a question in one of its, supposedly, independent polls. That query reframed Bush's steady leadership, a plus, as stubborness, a negative.
The Kerry campaign managed to get widespread coverage of that question's results from its friends in the media. According to the study, “By imposing the negative cultural meaning of stubborn on positive traits such as 'strong leader,' the Kerry camp was successful at creating not only a new character trait to assess George W. Bush but also a reassessment of Bush's trump positive trait.”
The authors concluded, “media coverage of the Los Angeles Times poll was the causal agent of the increase in the rating of Bush as stubborn.”
One question in a single poll, about something so seemingly inconsequential as a character trait, caused the public to change its opinion of a President who had been in office for almost four years.
He goes on with another reason to question current polls that show Obama having a wide lead:
Polls are manipulated in a number of ways, including question wording, the order in which questions are asked, and how respondents are chosen.Pollsters acknowledge that they are oversampling among three demographics that the Obama campaign is targeting: young people, minorities and Democrats. It's entirely possible that there will be high turnout among those groups, despite traditionally low turnout among the former two, but it's also possible — maybe even likely — that this higher turnout could be offset by the Bradley effect.
These are all variables that legitimate pollsters try to minimize as much as possible. Traditionally, at the last possible moment (right before the election), pollsters want to be the one who most closely predicted the outcome of the election, so the ones who were slanting will generally creep back toward accuracy. This year may be an exception, though. As we've seen so clearly the open support of the MSM for Barack Obama, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the MSM outlets (ABC News, New York Times, etc.) gave up all efforts at accuracy in favor of open attempts to influence the public in Obama's favor, even on election day. The pollsters who are only pollsters (Zogby, Gallup, Rasmussen, etc.) will likely be much more reliable.
The point is that you just can't give polls too much weight in terms of dictating your votes or your stress level. Even the best pollsters are still just guessing, and those guesses are not what dictates who wins elections. Your vote does. So, don't worry about the polls, don't worry about any lead or deficit in the polls, and don't worry about what the MSM is saying about the polls. Get informed on the candidates, get yourself to the voting booth on November 4th, and cast your vote. Don't let anyone or anything talk you out of it…certainly not a pollster who is just guessing!
There's my two cents.