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Political Polling by the Numbers: Is McCain Really Leading?

DrudgeMcCainahead_01.jpgSo today Drudge linked to a Zogby poll that shows John McCain leading Barack Obama by five points. Regular Fishbowl readers will know that we are not so good with numbers — all things being equal we are more than happy when someone else does the math for us, so obviously we jumped on Peter Feld’s piece over at Gawker that breaks the “scary” numbers down for us.

It’s more reliable to examine each candidate’s numbers separately, rather than focusing on the gap between them, as the media always does (“McCain up by 5!” “Obama up 2!”). The press never points out that a poll’s margin of error applies to each candidate’s number — e.g., McCain’s 46% and Obama’s 41%, not the 5-point gap between them, and that that margin of error has to be doubled if looking at those gaps, which are twice as volatile.
So, it’s all meaningless? Not so fast!
Even so, this Zogby poll probably isn’t deeply flawed. Most likely, it just didn’t press the undecided voters very hard…If it is correct, the poll most likely means that while McCain has now consolidated his Republicans…with strong performances like last Saturday’s at the Saddleback evangelical forum, it’s Obama’s supporters who are now shaky, for reasons having everything to do with McCain’s attacks.
Point being? Go vote!

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