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Today’s Polls, 8/13

Our busiest polling day in several weeks:

Let’s get the easy ones out of the way first. Kansas and New Jersey were two states that the campaigns talked early on about being competitive, but they have since retreated into their respective red and blue corners. Each of these polls have moved slightly toward Obama from their previous edition, but otherwise there’s nothing to see here.

Wisconsin may have tightened some; McCain’s 5-point deficit in the Strategic Vision poll is the closest he’s been in any individual survey since April. Still, the race has consistently polled outside the margin of error, and Strategic Vision’s polls are notoriously Republican-leaning — their only prior poll of the state, taken at about the time of the Democratic primary in February, had Obama ahead by just one.

We’re listing a different result from the Franklin & Marshall poll of Pennsylvania than some other outlets, using Obama’s +8 among registered voters rather than his +5 among likely voters. A couple of weeks ago, in the brouhaha over the Gallup-USA Today poll that showed a huge likely/registered voter split, we established a policy of deferring to the registered voter version of a poll when given the choice, until the time of the first Presidential Debate on September 26, after which we will switch to the likely voter version. There is some evidence that likely voter models are more accurate near to the election — but very little that they work this far out, and in fact there is some evidence to the contrary.

Of course, it is relatively unusual for a pollster to list both registered voter and likely voter numbers — most just pick one or the other. But when in doubt, we’re going to defer to allowing voters to speak for themselves — which means using the registered voter version until there is a good empirical argument not to.

That notwithstanding, the difference between a +5 and a +8 hardly matters, considering that Pennsylvania has been polled extensively, and not really shown any daylight for John McCain in a couple of months now.

Nevada has been one of the most vexing states to us poll junkies, with only Rasmussen surveying the state on a regular basis. Their latest result has McCain up by 3 — a reversal from last month, when Obama had pulled into a 2-point lead. As I said last month, I think these numbers may be lowballing Obama somewhat, considering that the Democrats have made significant gains in party registration, something which might be hard to detect in a poll (like Rasmussen’s) that weights based on party ID.

Lastly, two polls out of Virginia show the race essentially tied: McCain leads by one point in the Rasmussen poll, the same margin he held last month, and by a fraction of a point in the first InsiderAdvantage survey of the state. The last six Virginia polls have all been in a tightly-banded range between McCain +1 and Obama +2, and it looks like the state may come down to turnout operations.

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