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Alaska Polls Suggest Murkowski Has Upside as a Write-In

Two polls out Wednesday find that Senator Lisa Murkowski, who is running a write-in bid to keep her seat, is still an appealing figure to some Alaskans.

First, a CNN poll showed Ms. Murkowski running just 2 points behind the Republican nominee, Joe Miller, among likely voters. The Democratic candidate, Scott McAdams, was in third place with 22 percent of the vote.

In addition, a poll provided to The New York Times by Craciun Research shows Ms. Murkowski with an apparent lead. The poll gave Ms. Murkowski 41 percent of the vote, Mr. Miller 30 percent, and Mr. McAdams, 19 percent. It was conducted Sept. 24 and Sept. 25 among 300 Alaskans who have voted in three of the last four statewide elections.

The issue with each of these polls, however, is that they made no particular accommodation to account for the fact that Ms. Murkowski will be a write-in candidate, as her name was mentioned alongside Mr. Miller and Mr. McAdams. A Rasmussen Reports poll, by contrast, which had shown Ms. Murkowski running 15 points behind Mr. Miller, had tried to account for this by withholding Ms. Murkowski’s name when they initially read the names of the candidates, but then including her as an option when respondents were asked to press a button to designate which candidate they supported.

There are other differences between the Rasmussen poll and the two released Wednesday: Rasmussen uses an automated response system, for instance, whereas the CNN and Craciun polls used live callers. And the CNN and Craciun polls are more recent, during which time awareness of Ms. Murkowski’s write-in bid may have grown.

Still, given the unusual circumstances of the race, it is probably best to look at the CNN and Craciun polls as reflecting Ms. Murkowski’s upside, rather than necessarily being the numbers she is most likely to achieve. As we had noted earlier, it is probably the case that polls that treat write-in bids as though they are conventional ones overestimate their support — but it is very difficult to say how large the effect is.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 30, 2010

An earlier version of this post stated the Craciun Research poll was conducted on behalf of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. It was commissioned by Craciun Research alone.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.