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Today’s Polls, 8/4

Up until now, I have been urging caution in (over)interpreting the results of the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls, which had shown the presidential race tightening to a near-tie in recent days. Although the tracking numbers are important sources of information, this trend had not really been reflected in much of the state polling, nor in other, one-off national polls.

Today, however, we have a set of state polling out that does indicate some tightening in the race:

The most interesting results are in Florida and Massachusetts. In Florida, SurveyUSA shows John McCain ahead by 6 points. The only other time it had polled Florida, back in late February, McCain had been ahead by 2. This result is driven in part by SurveyUSA’s party identification figures; SurveyUSA does not adjust its results for partisan ID, and they drew a sample that gives the Republicans a 43-38 edge in party affiliation. The conventional wisdom is that party affiliation in Florida should be about evenly divided or somewhat tilted to the Democrats; nevertheless, there may be some softening in the Democrats’ party ID edge nationwide, perhaps because of the improved situation on the ground in Iraq.

The Massachusetts poll from Suffolk is interesting mostly for the trendline; Obama leads by 9 points now after having led by 23 points in June. He experienced a particular decline among men: perhaps McCain’s ‘Celebrity’ advertising campaign, which among other things seeks to emasculate Obama, has had more resonance with men than with women.

Apart from the state polls, there are now a couple of national polls that show McCain with a slight lead. One is the Rasmussen national tracker, which has McCain ahead 47-46, and the other is a new telephone survey from Zogby, which has McCain up 42-41.

Throwing everything together, we still see Obama with a national lead of about 2 points, but polling over the past 72 hours has indicated an even tighter race. Obama faces an interesting decision about whether to try and get out in front of the news cycle and create some drama of his own — perhaps with a VP selection or some aggressive lines of attack against John McCain — or to let the cycle play out organically, hoping that McCain’s negative advertising will begin to backfire on him.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.