There are breathless analyses by reporters and cable news anchors about the ebb and flow of the contest for President based on the latest polling.
Obama is ahead, McCain is catching up, Obama’s trip overseas was either a great boon or a great bust, McCain’s forceful ads have put Obama on the defensive.
Hold your horses. There is less movement than is portrayed. Perhaps none at all.
Let’s look as some of the polling.
A CBS News poll released August 6 shows Obama leading McCain 45% to 39%. After all the too’ing and fro’ing in the past month, the findings are unchanged since a CBS/New York Times poll released on July 15. Indeed, that six point spread was unchanged from June when the poll had Obama ahead 48% to 42%.
A Time Magazine poll also released August 6 shows Obama ahead 46% to 41%. As the story reported, “Obama’s margin in the Time poll is the same as in its June survey.”
And of course there was at least one poll showing that McCain has inched ahead and others showing that Obama has a wider or narrower lead.
What does all this mean?
Is Obama ahead? Probably so by a few points.
Has Obama locked up the race? Most certainly not.
Has McCain with his new aggressive tactics caught up? Probably not.
How much should you believe polls? With several grains of salt, unless you are on a low sodium diet.
As well-respected pollster Mark Mellman recently wrote, “beware of stories told about this or any other election based on poll changes.”
And one more reminder: there is not a presidential election in the United States but rather 51 state elections (counting Washington DC as a state for electoral purposes). Thus the more important polls are those in key states.
What do the state polls show?
John Isaacs Executive Director, Council for a Livable World & Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation