Opinion: Barack Obama & John McCain each lead a Gallup poll


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Pollsters and others who specialize in statistics will be unfazed by the different glimpses of the presidential race offered today by the Gallup polling organization. The rest of us will be left to scratch our heads -- and remember that the only result that counts comes on the first Tuesday in November.

On the one hand, the daily Gallup tracking poll -- a rolling average of three days’ worth of interviews with registered voters -- gave Barack Obama one of his more comfortable leads of late over John McCain, 48% to 40%.

But a separate survey based on interviews with different registered voters conducted over the same period -- Friday through Sunday -- and done in conjunction with USA Today found a smaller Obama lead: 47% to 44%.


And then there’s this, from this second sample but narrowed to those Gallup judged most likely to vote: McCain leads, 49% to 45%.

As the USA Today story on the poll notes, a similar survey in late June found McCain trailing among the likely voters group, 50% to 44%.

According to the article, Gallup editor Frank Newport advises against making too much of the differences in the various findings. He’s quoted as saying ‘statistical noise’ may explain the seeming discrepancies.

Others, upon learning of the results putting McCain ahead in the likely voter sample (though by an amount within the margin of error) reacted with somewhat less equanimity. Time magazine’s The Page blog headlined its brief posting on the numbers ‘Gallup-ing Shocker!!’

And Newport felt some need to explain; he posted on the Gallup Web site an article headlined: ‘Who Are Likely Voters and When Do They Matter?’

He contends that the surge in McCain’s standing in the likely voter group ‘could be a result of a short-term energizing of the GOP base as a reaction to the Obama foreign trip or some other cause. ... The degree to which this current shift toward the GOP candidate among likely voters remains in place remains to be seen.’


As does whether this poll picked up an early sign of a significant sea change in the presidential campaign or whether it caught a rogue wave.

-- Don Frederick