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Weekend Poll Catchup

When my friend Geoff and I went to debate camp together (yes, there is something even dorkier than writing about polls), Geoff had a screensaver with an obnoxious lime green background and that pronounced in some very tacky, Windows 3.0 kind of font: “SLEEP IS THE ENEMY”. I don’t quite feel that way myself, but lately I’ve begun understand where Geoff was coming from. We were so busy rolling out methodological changes over the weekend that we didn’t bother to document the latest polls. So let’s see what we’ve got on the polling front.

In Arkansas, Rasmussen has Barack Obama closing to within 9 points. While this is hardly a fantastic result for a Democrat in Arkansas, it does represent an enormous improvement from Obama’s prior polling in the state, which had shown him down by as many as 29 points. This result is easier to understand in light of our analysis of Obama’s bounce, which seems to be concentrated in states with strong Democratic party identification but relatively few African-Americans — Clinton country, in other words. Can Obama actually close Arkansas to the point where it becomes competitive? If Hillary Clinton is his VP choice — Clinton still gets much more of a home-state effect in Arkansas than her adopted home of New York — the state is probably in play. Otherwise, it probably isn’t, although if the Clintons are particularly vigorous in their campaigning, it might get teasingly close.

In Oregon, Rasmussen has Obama ahead by 8. This poll has been cited by some McCain supporters a a sign that Obama’s bounce is waning, since Rasmussen’s last poll had him up 14 there. However, that May poll had been taken right as Obama had begun to campaign toward that state’s primary; Rasmussen’s March poll had shown him up by 6. No matter how you interpret the trend, Oregon looks pretty safe for Obama, but given Clinton’s paucity of support in the state, there was perhaps less room for Obama to gain further ground there.

The New York Times has decided to poll the Empire State, which shows Obama leading John McCain 51-32. Although this is the Times’ first poll in New York this year, Obama’s 19-point margin as large as in any New York poll conducted this year. So once again, the same pattern: big Clinton state, bigger bounce.

Finally, in Nevada, a Mason-Dixon poll shows John McCain ahead by 2 points, 44-42. Mason-Dixon had last polled Nevada way back in December, at which point McCain led by 6. Although you have to go back to March to find a survey where Obama led in Nevada (the state is notoriously hard to poll and hasn’t been polled much), the state’s demographics should be relatively friendly to him, and he should theoretically be on the right side of the Yucca Mountain issue. With that said, in most of the scenarios* where Obama wins by way of the Southwestern swing states, he only needs two out of three to win, so Colorado and New Mexico may remain his first targets.

* For example, Kerry states + Iowa + Colorado + New Mexico is a winning combination; if he wins those states but loses New Hampshire, the election ends in a 269-269 tie that would probably be resolved in Obama’s favor in the House.

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

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