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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

For those of you who stayed up late for the presidential polling update — there are not a lot of numbers to look at today. The only state polling is from Washington, where the Elway Poll shows Barack Obama with a 12-point lead. This is consistent with other recent polling in Washington, but represents an improvement for Obama from the previous edition of the Elway poll, which had him ahead by 6.

The other point of interest tonight is the AP-Ipsos national poll, which shows Obama ahead by 6 points — closely matching the 7-point lead he had in the last Ipsos poll, which was conducted immediately after the Democratic primaries were concluded. The national tracking polls, meanwhile, have begun to diverge, with John McCain retaining a 1-point lead in the Rasmussen tracker, but Barack Obama inching up to a 4-point lead in Gallup.

Since the polls gave us a little bit of a breather today, Mark Blumenthal’s point at Pollster.com is worth reading:

These data paint a clear picture [...] Most Americans are paying far less attention to news about the campaign than most journalists, pundits and readers of this site. If we assume that all Americans are following the campaign as a jury follows a trial, we are in error.

Pundits — including yours truly — generally exaggerate the speed with which political news reaches a saturation depth in the American electorate. There are a few exceptions — debates, conventions, and major victories in the primaries can have measurable effects almost immediately, and certainly within the first 48-72 hours. So can DEFCON-2 level controversies like Jeremiah Wright. But most of the things we write about here, or the National Review talks about, or Keith Olbermann talks about, take a long time to penetrate the electorate if they do so at all. To attribute the current polling milieu, then, to something like McCain’s recent wave of negative advertising is probably irresponsible. It may take weeks to know whether the ads have been effective, or whether there is any sort of backlash.

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