Q&A Friday #5: Which Poll Do You Buy Into?

Question: “John, What is your take on the difference in the latest polls? Gallup showing a 13 point lead and another one very close?” — possum11

Answer: When it comes to polls, my philosophy is,

“You can trust the polls, but you can’t trust any one poll.”

By that I mean that some polls lean one way or the other (Zogby leans towards the left for example), sometimes pollsters oversample either Democrats, Republicans, or Independents and it causes the poll to skew, and you also have to remember that no matter what happens, there’s always a margin of error that means the poll may be off a few points in either direction.

So, when I see a poll, like the Gallup poll, that shows a large amount lead for one candidate or the other, I tend to be suspicious of it unless other polls show about the same margin.

In this case, if you take a look at all the latest polls at the invaluable Real Clear Politics, you’ll find that Bush is beating Kerry on average by 5.6 points in a three way race, and by an average of 5.8 points head to head.

My sense is that’s about right, that Bush is up nationally by about 6 points, which is bad news for Kerry since all the bounce that Bush got from the Republican National Convention has probably already faded about as much as it’s going to fade.

However, don’t get overconfident just because Bush has finally opened up a moderate lead and the Democrats are starting to act as if they think Kerry is doomed. There is still time for Kerry to pull it out (and I’m not just saying that), particularly given that we have debates coming up. Although the electoral count is leaning Bush’s way, Kerry is still well within striking distance, and is capable of winning this election….

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