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Today’s Polls, 9/30

It is difficult to gauge the immediate reaction to yesterday’s financial meltdown in the polling, particularly as several other aspects of the campaign, such as last Friday’s debate, are also still echoing onto the numbers. Barack Obama lost 2 points in the Gallup Tracker, bringing his lead back to a +6, while gaining ground in the other national trackers.

Either way, Barack Obama remains in a commanding position nationally — but it is less clear how much of his advantage is translating into particular swing states.

Firstly, we have a trio polls from ARG, each of which show Obama a couple of points behind in some critical swing states. Oddly, ARG’s national poll has Obama doing just fine, moving into a 4-point advantage nationally. The thing about ARG polls is not necessarily that they’re “bad”, but that their behavior tends to be erratic, jutting around in ways that aren’t particularly correlated with one another or with other polling firms. So, while I’m happy to include ARG’s numbers in our model, I’m not going to invest a particular amount of time in trying to decode them.

On the other hand, the SurveyUSA polls in Indiana and Ohio may well mean something, as they show Obama gaining ground, but remaining slightly behind in those states. The reason the model still projects Obama with a slight advantage in Ohio, when the two most recent polls (SurveyUSA and Rasmussen) gave McCain a 1-point lead, is because those polls (especially Rasmussen; less so SurveyUSA) have tended to be toward the lower end of Obama’s projected performance in Ohio. And those polls have shown gains for him — just not enough to give him a lead. The model assumes that when pollsters like Quinnipiac or CNN or National Journal, which had been friendlier to Obama before (shown him tied or ahead in Ohio), refresh their data, they too will show gains for Obama, and will probably show him several points ahead.

If the model’s guess is wrong, it is wrong, and it will quickly correct itself. But a lot of times, people think they are seeing “movement” in the polls when all that they’re really seeing is the mix of pollsters in a particular state change. Obama has been gaining ground everywhere lately; there is no particular reason to conclude that he isn’t gaining ground in Ohio, when his numbers have been improving in neighboring states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and even Kentucky. The model does not assume, by the way, that the movement across different states is uniform; instead, it searches for demographic patterns that might explain it. For the time being, none of those demographic clues would exclude Ohio from the fun. With all that said, Florida, where PPP today shows Obama ahead by 3 points, may well be on the verge of surpassing Ohio as a potential tipping point state.

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