I work for a major polling company that shall remain nameless (let's just say, they get a lot of flak from people around here). It seems that there are a lot of overly concerned voters in the blog community that are having a "sky is falling" attitude about Barack Obama's chances this fall. Let me shed some light on a dirty little secret about polling...
If you look at the horse race numbers right now, you'll see the mainstream media in a tizzy about the "tightening" race. It is indeed getting closer. There is no doubt about that. It remains to be seen whether McCain's gains (which are incredibly minor, by most standards) are a trend or simply the afterglow buzz of Sarah Palin's nomination. Regardless, none of it really makes any difference until the first debate.
But for those of you out there who live and die by the horserace numbers (because for better or worse, they do drive media narrative) I have some news that may calm your nerves a tad...
When you see the topline number for Barack Obama in some of these major polls, add 1-3 points. There are whispers going around that due to the fact that Obama has registered so many new people, specifically young voters, that the polls are way undersampling and underestimating his actual support. So for example, if you see a poll with Obama at 47%, in actuality it could up to 50%.
Now, in defense of the polling industry, there is no factual evidence that this "Invisible Bump" exists. A pollster must rely, ultimately, on the hard data that they get from the field. In this case, the respondents whom they contact. McCain's gain in support is almost exclusively from the Deep South, where he has no doubt rallied the evangelical base of the Republican party.
But there is talk of what that actually means. Sure, George Bush rallied the Deep South in 2004 to the chagrin of John Kerry...but Kerry didn't rally the African-American base like Barack Obama has. African-American turnout may very well help cancel out a lot of the gains that McCain is making in the Deep South. Now, nobody is arguing that Obama can actually carry any of these Deep South states. Sorry folks. Georgia isn't in play. But the thinking is that Obama's increase in votes will help make up a small difference whereas McCain isn't adding anybody new. Obama is basically taking the foundation of Kerry and adding to it, while McCain is simply consolidating what George Bush already had.
Which gets to the real heart of the matter: none of this really matters. Elections, for better or worse, are not won by the popular vote (i.e. horserace numbers). What matters is Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, and New Hampshire.
You're going to hear the media repeat and regurgitate Florida and Ohio ad nauseum because those states are far sexier than the mountain west. But what hurts John McCain is that those traditional battleground states aren't going to decide this election. I might be very unpopular in saying this but Barack Obama is not going to win Ohio or Florida. It's just not going to happen unless some sort of major event takes place that really shakes up the campaign (McCain saying something eye-poppingly dumb, for example). The good news for Barack Obama is this:
Iowa and New Mexico lean fairly heavily towards him. There is a little reported phenomena happening in Iowa where many people in the state feel a sense of duty and pride to go for Obama because they launched his candidacy. New Mexico, with its large hispanic population, is seen by many to be out of reach for McCain. Still, Obama must continue to contest these states and can't take them for granted.
That leaves Colorado and New Hampshire as the most important states for Obama. Win Colorado and he'll win the election. The state currently leans ever so slightly towards McCain. It's one of those states that is just on the precipice of becoming a solid blue victory each election cycle, but just hasn't reached that ultimate tipping point yet. In no state does Obama's ground game and GOTV efforts matter more than in Colorado.
The other vital state is New Hampshire. Much like Iowa, New Hampshire has a certain pride in calling John McCain one of their own. Obama has to find some way to hold New Hampshire. If on election night, Obama gets a NH victory, you can be pretty confident that he will be holding all of the other Kerry states. If he loses New Hampshire, things will get interesting and you'll suddenly see the importance of a place like Nevada be the topic of the evening.
The wildcard in all of this is Virginia. Much like Colorado, it sits ever so slightly towards the Republicans. This will be the defining state. If Virginia is called for Obama early on, he'll coast into the presidency. All of these other states you are hearing about (Montana, North Dakota, North Carolina, etc.) are just fluff. Obama won't win them and in the last month of the election he won't be spending his money in them.
So, with that, I must tell my fellow Obama supporters, in the immortal words of George W. Bush: "Stay the course".
Stop freaking out about the horserace numbers because more than likely, Obama is doing better than what they show. If McCain starts topping 50% consistently over the next month, then you can start worrying. But I must urge all of you to focus strongly on GOTV in Colorado and New Hampshire. That's where the election will be won or lost.
Don't worry about Sarah Palin. She's a flake and it would be nice if our "Big Evil Liberal Media" would point that out instead of slobbering all over her, but it isn't the end of the world if they don't.
In this election, it is states that matter, not the evangelical southern voting bloc. Put that anger towards McCain and Palin to good use by helping Obama in Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa, New Mexico, and Virgina.