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What is Obama’s Ceiling?

This post is going to seem slightly less relevant now that Gallup has come in showing an 11-point lead for Obama. But the other five daily tracking polls (yes, there are now that many trackers) all showed movement toward John McCain.

Between the Gallup result and Obama’s very strong state polling, I am inclined to think that this particular ebb in the tracking polls is mostly statistical noise. That notwithstanding, it’s worth considering Chris Bowers’ point at Open Left. What, realistically, is Obama’s ceiling in this election?

The better a candidate’s standing in the polls, the harder it ought to be pick up additional support. In part, this is simply because the more voters that you have in your column, the fewer there are available to convert. But this is still a highly partisan country, we tend to have close elections, and things certainly aren’t going to be any easier for a black candidate.

If Obama is ahead by something like 7-8 points ahead nationally, that means that he has persuaded just about all of the persuadables, and he’s left looking to covert people like those in Ben Smith’s anecdote.

An Obama supporter, who canvassed for the candidate in the working-class, white Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown recently, sends over an account that, in various forms, I’ve heard a lot in recent weeks.

“What’s crazy is this,” he writes. “I was blown away by the outright racism, but these folks are f***ing undecided. They would call him a n—-r and mention how they don’t know what to do because of the economy.”

If those sorts of people are the undecideds — and when Obama is winning Pennsylvania by 12 points or something, that’s probably what we’re looking at — then Obama really is scraping the bottom of the barrel. Further gains are going to be difficult to come by, which means that his polls are more likely to go down than to continue going up. (Indeed, our model assumes that the race will tighten some).

Then again, when six out of ten Americans thinks we’re headed for a depression, perhaps the ordinary rules go out the window.

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