Almost all the penultimate tracking results for the national polls are in, and they provide a rosy picture for Obama, and a bleak one for McCain. For McCain diehards, however, there is still evidence that Obama has not yet clinched the deal.
First, the numbers (Obama first):
Gallup 53-42 Obama +11. 5% undecided (With undecideds allocated: 55-44.)
Hotline 50-45. Obama +5 5% undecided.
Rasmussen 52-46 Obama +6 2% not accounted for.
Battleground 50-44 Obama +6 6% undecided.
Reuters/Zogby 50.9-43.8 Obama +7.1. 5% undecided.
IBD/TPP 46.7-44.6 Obama +2.1 8.7% undecided
Average Tracking Poll Results: 50.4-44.2. Obama +6.2. 5.3% undecided.
There are several things to note here. First, there’s no evidence of a trend toward either candidate. Indeed, the race has remained remarkably stable since the end of the media fixation on the fiscal meltdown in early October. Most notably, Obama has hovered at about or slightly above the 50% barrier since then, but can’t seem to break that magic barrier decisively (beyond the margin of error in these polls) without some help from a decision to allocate the undecideds. By far the greater variation in the last month has been in McCain’s support, which today ranges from 42 to 46%.
Second, the number of undecideds is simply not dwindling; depending on the pollsters, it remains mostly between 4-6%. It may be that a significant portion of them will not vote. In my view, however, those who do will break in greater numbers for McCain. But note that even if he gets 5 out of every 6 undecideds (unlikely based on past history, although he’s doing that in the last week in Pennsylvania), it won’t put him over the top. Most pollsters who are allocating the undecideds are either splitting them evenly or giving McCain a slight plurality. This means to draw even in this race, McCain will have to sweep the undecideds and see some slippage in Obama’s support. And most of the polls are showing that Obama’s supporters are more committed than are McCain’s.
Now, could these polls be wrong? Obviously there will be some sampling error. The only factor that might lead these polls to be systematically wrong, however, would be if the Sally Field/Bradley effect is somehow in play here. And there’s no way to foresee that.
But barring systematic error of this type, they all tell the same story: Obama will win the popular vote. By how much depends on the undecideds. But at this point the forecast models from August look like they have hit Obama’s final popular vote total squarely on the nose. We will see if McCain closes the gap at all in the next 48 hours.
What about the state-level polling? Believe it or not, the picture is slightly less bleak for McCain. But it will take a closing surge of historic proportions for him to squeak out an electoral college victory. Because the situation is more complicated with state-level polling, I’ll need some time to put it in summary fashion. That comes next.
(PS – I’ll update these figues when the ABC tracker comes in later today, but I don’t expect it to change the basic picture.)