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Could the polls be wrong?
What the numbers really say about how Obama and McCain will fare on election day
 

If you believe the polls, said Nate Silver in The New Republic online, the question isn’t whether Barack Obama will beat John McCain, but whether he will win by a “shock and awe” margin. Quinnipiac University surveys showed a 1 to 2 point Democratic lean until recently, but now put Obama up by 14 points in Ohio, 13 in Wisconsin, and 5 in Florida—and all three are must-win swing states for McCain.

Poll numbers say more about the pollsters’ leanings than about the facts, said Thomas Sowell in The Washington Times. “The general media bias is more blatant than usual this year,” and the pollsters seem to be trying to create the impression that the Republicans have already lost. But it will take more than “media spin” to put Obama in the White House, so the results on election day could be a big surprise.

There’s one recent poll that certainly appears to be wrong, said Steve Benen in Washington Monthly online. An AP/GFK survey put Obama and McCain neck and neck, while NBC/WSJ and ABC/WaPo showed Obama with a double-digit lead. But the AP voter sample had an oddly high concentration of evangelical Christians, who lean conservative, so “anyone getting too excited (or too depressed)” about its results is probably making a mistake.

Polling has always been more art than science, said Michael Barone in The Wall Street Journal, and reading the numbers is getting trickier all the time. The increasing number of cell phones has made it harder to pick a representative group of households, and more and more Americans simply refuse to be polled. So the question is, "Can we trust the polls this year?"

The race may be tighter than pollsters think, said the Singapore Business Times in an editorial. "A large number of older white voters may be lying" when they say they are undecided or that they will vote for Obama. It wouldn't be the first time that polls overestimated support for a black candidate.

It would be wrong to "discount" the so-called Bradley effect, said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. Like Tom Bradley—who lost the 1982 California governor's race after leading against his white opponent in the polls—Obama has to contend with "anti-black" bias, although this time it has morphed into "anti-foreigner and anti-Muslim" mudslinging. But there are enough "discreet conservatives" voting against the McCain campaign's ugliness that Obama could benefit from a "Reverse-Bradley" effect.

 

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