Polls show Obama +14 all the way down to +1

Everyday we’re inundated with new polls for the current presidential election, however, some of them are all over the map. The RealClearPolitics average holds it at around a 5 to 7 point lead for Obama over the past few days. Still, in the middle of this we have polls giving Obama a 14 point lead and new polls out today showing the race to be a dead even tie in the margin of error.

So the question then becomes, who do we believe?

Take a look at the following, the latest poll from the Associated Press released today:

WASHINGTON – The presidential race tightened after the final debate, with John McCain gaining among whites and people earning less than $50,000, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that shows McCain and Barack Obama essentially running even among likely voters in the election homestretch.

The poll, which found Obama at 44 percent and McCain at 43 percent, supports what some Republicans and Democrats privately have said in recent days: that the race narrowed after the third debate as GOP-leaning voters drifted home to their party and McCain’s “Joe the plumber” analogy struck a chord.

Three weeks ago, an AP-GfK survey found that Obama had surged to a seven-point lead over McCain, lifted by voters who thought the Democrat was better suited to lead the nation through its sudden economic crisis.

The contest is still volatile, and the split among voters is apparent less than two weeks before Election Day.

“I trust McCain more, and I do feel that he has more experience in government than Obama. I don’t think Obama has been around long enough,” said Angela Decker, 44, of La Porte, Ind.

But Karen Judd, 58, of Middleton, Wis., said, “Obama certainly has sufficient qualifications.” She said any positive feelings about McCain evaporated with “the outright lying” in TV ads and his choice of running mate Sarah Palin, who “doesn’t have the correct skills.”

The new AP-GfK head-to-head result is a departure from some, but not all, recent national polls.

Then take a look at this report, also out today, from Fox News/Rasmussen:

Less than two weeks before Election Day, Barack Obama leads John McCain 49 percent to 40 percent among likely voters, according to a FOX News poll released Wednesday.

Obama’s advantage comes mainly from independents, and from the fact that more voters identify themselves as Democrats these days and almost all of them back their party’s nominee.

Eighty-eight percent of Democrats support Obama, and 83 percent of Republicans back McCain. Independents break 44 percent to 35 percent in Obama’s favor.

In addition to independents, white Catholics are another important swing voting group and they support Obama 50 percent to 39 percent. White Catholics have voted for the winner in each of the last four presidential elections.

New voters — people who have registered to vote in the last two years — back Obama by 51 percent to 40 percent.

According to a FOX News poll released Oct. 10, Obama was leading McCain by seven points (46 percent to 39 percent) among registered voters.

Next, you have John Zogby, who previously said Obama “hasn’t closed the deal,” now talking about an Obama landslide victory:

“Three big days for Obama. Anything can happen, but time is running short for McCain. These numbers, if they hold, are blowout numbers. They fit the 1980 model with Reagan’s victory over Carter — but they are happening 12 days before Reagan blasted ahead. If Obama wins like this we can be talking not only victory but realignment: he leads by 27 points among Independents, 27 points among those who have already voted, 16 among newly registered voters, 31 among Hispanics, 93%-2% among African Americans, 16 among women, 27 among those 18-29, 5 among 30-49 year olds, 8 among 50-64s, 4 among those over 65, 25 among Moderates, and 12 among Catholics (which is better than Bill Clinton’s 10-point victory among Catholics in 1996). He leads with men by 2 points, and is down among whites by only 6 points, down 2 in armed forces households, 3 among investors, and is tied among NASCAR fans.”

Take a look at the remarkable spread over the past few days:

From +14 down to +1, I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle around a 5-7 point lead for Obama, perhaps.

Michael Barone, from US News and World Report, wrote about the polling questions in the WSJ:

Can we trust the polls this year? That’s a question many people have been asking as we approach the end of this long, long presidential campaign. As a recovering pollster and continuing poll consumer, my answer is yes — with qualifications.

To start with, political polling is inherently imperfect. Academic pollsters say that to get a really random sample, you should go back to a designated respondent in a specific household time and again until you get a response. But political pollsters who must report results overnight have to take the respondents they can reach. So they weight the results of respondents in different groups to get a sample that approximates the whole population they’re sampling.

Another problem is the increasing number of cell phone-only households. Gallup and Pew have polled such households, and found their candidate preferences aren’t much different from those with landlines; and some pollsters have included cell-phone numbers in their samples. A third problem is that an increasing number of Americans refuse to be polled. We can’t know for sure if they’re different in some pertinent respects from those who are willing to answer questions.

Professional pollsters are seriously concerned about these issues. But this year especially, many who ask if we can trust the polls are usually concerned about something else: Can we trust the poll when one of the presidential candidates is black?

It is commonly said that the polls in the 1982 California and the 1989 Virginia gubernatorial races overstated the margin for the black Democrats who were running — Tom Bradley and Douglas Wilder. The theory to account for this is that some poll respondents in each case were unwilling to say they were voting for the white Republican.

It’s a very interesting piece, I suggest reading the rest here.

Barone’s basic conclusion seems to be that yes, for the most part, we can trust the polls if they’re taken with a grain of salt. With so many polls out, that all use a slightly different method, at least some of them have to be close to correct.

Still, the spread of +1 to +14 is pretty amazing. One of those two polls is way off, come November 4th, we’ll see which one.

The real bottom line here is that we won’t know until we all vote, so don’t let polls discourage you from voting either thinking your candidate is way ahead of too far behind for your vote to matter. The vote counts, the polls don’t.