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Berlin Bounce?

Topics: 2008 , ABC/Washington Post , Barack Obama , Frank Newport , Gallup , John McCain , Rasmussen , Sampling Error , USAToday Gallup , Washington Post

The polling question of the morning seems to be whether Barack Obama has experienced a "Berlin bump" in his poll numbers in the wake of the weeklong trip to Europe and the Middle East. Yesterday's Washington Post featured Barack Obama himself downplaying the possibility: "I don't think that we'll see a bump in the polls. I think we might even lose some points. People back home are worried about gas prices; they're worried about jobs."

But by mid-afternoon, however, the latest release of the Gallup Daily survey, conducted Thursday through Saturday, showed Obama's margin increasing to 9 percentage points (49% to 40%), "the largest," wrote Gallup's Frank Newport, "since Gallup began tracking the general election horserace in March." That news was enough to merit the full Drudge treatment yesterday and a screaming headline on the front page of the New York Daily News.

07-28 Daily News front page.png

The Rasmussen Daily tracking also showed Obama expanding his lead slightly, from dead even (46% to 46%) early in the week to an advantage that was five points on Saturday (49% to 43%) and three points today (48% to 45%).

But is this apparent "bump" real? Will it last? And is the vote preference question really the best place to look for the bump?

Put me down as in general agreement with our friends at First Read about the danger of over-analyzing one particular poll. Here are a few reasons for skepticism:

First, even Gallup's Newport hedged: "A key question remains as to whether this "bounce" is short-term (as happens to bounces in some instances following intense publicity surrounding a convention) or if his lead will persist."

It is true that some events produce a temporary "bounce" that rarely persists, especially if the coverage is uniformly good for one candidate and not so good for another (as seems to have been the case for the last few days). One possibility to consider is that surveys with short field periods might have some bias toward those who happened to be at home viewing that positive coverage.

Second, while Obama's lead on the Gallup Daily was bigger than they have shown previously, it is only slightly bigger. Since Hillary Clinton endorsed him in early June, but before last week, Obama had led on the Gallup Daily by 7 points (once) and 6 percent (five times). And Gallup's data continues to show Obama doing very slightly better on weekends (but perhaps not significantly -- more on this issue later this week).

Third, and most important, if the volatility is about voter preferences and not poll methodology, it reflects the fact that (as David Moore has been reminding us) as many as a third of registered voters are willing to say they are less than certain about their choice. This hesitance is not unusual. Contrary to what Robert Novak implies in his column today, candidates rarely "close the deal" with uncertain voters in July, especially when they are non-incumbents and relative newcomers.

First Read recommends that we "wait a bit until the next few national polls are released before declaring whether Obama got a bounce from his overseas trip." That's good advice.

And while we are at it, we might want to focus more closely on the sorts of internal measures that might have seen some improvement. Has Obama improved at all on probes of his readiness for the job, particularly on questions that ask for evaluations of Obama alone, rather than posing a choice between Obama and McCain? That is the best test of what sort of "bounce" Obama gets out of last week's trip.

Update: Today's Gallup Daily, released just minutes before I clicked "publish," shows Obama leading by eight points (48% to 40%).

Update 2: "And then," as Michael McDonald puts it below, "there's this." The latest USA Today/Gallup poll -- an entirely separate survey from the Gallup Daily -- puts Obama ahead by just three points (47% to 44%) among 900 registered voters, but behind McCain by four points (45% to 49%) among the 791 considered most likely to vote.

All of this should make us more cautious about reading too much into the fluctuations between these surveys and about assuming too much about the precision of these sorts of measurements when take over a July weekend.

There are really two stories here: The first is about why the Gallup Daily survey of registered voters conducted Friday through Sunday shows Obama leading McCain 48% to 40%, while the USA TodayGallup poll of registered voters conducted over the same three days shows Obama leading 47% to 43%. It could have something to do with the order of questions, with the special difficulty of interviewing over a weekend or, perhaps as Frank Newport suggests, random sampling error. The surveys are a point apart on Obama's vote and the three point difference in McCain's support is not quite large enough to be statistically significant, even with 2,674 respondents on the Gallup Daily (though it comes close).

The more difficult story, and one I will post on either later tonight or tomorrow, is about why McCain does so much better with "likely voters" than registered voters. Keep in mind that the ABC News/Washington Post survey conducted earlier this month showed a very similar effect. The editors at both organizations, who emphasized the registered voter numbers appear to agree with what Gallup's Frank Newport told Jill Lawrence of USA Today: "'[R]egistered voters are much more important at the moment,' because Election Day is still 100 days away."

 

Comments
Pete Kent:

Obama’s Overshot Trajectory

It cannot be denied that Barack Obama had a very successful trip abroad last week. More than anything he appeared Presidential and was able to more than hold his own on the world stage. This will go a long way towards allaying fears that his lack experience will make him a risky choice. More than ever before there is plausibility to his candidacy.

The polls will be watched closed this coming week to see what kind of permanent bounce Obama got from his trip. Already we see the beginnings of a decline in the Rasmussen Tracker, but still, I think we will see those “riskiness” numbers shown in the Fox news poll decline and there may even be a boost in his Commander in Chief numbers.

The overblown speech in Germany may have thrilled Obama’s base with his sensitivity to foreign aspirations and desires, but I doubt if it did much to convince those skeptical voters that he has been trying unsuccessfully to woo since the PA primary that he speaks to their more parochial concerns.

Obama faces challenges. And McCain must now work hard to not only highlight his policy distinctions with Obama, but to provide an independent rationale for his candidacy. It may not be enough to simply be Obama’s opposition.

The putative success of the Rainbow Tour notwithstanding, including the Maliki pronouncement on timetables for withdrawal, Obama still must explain his failed judgment on the Surge and overcome criticism that his position on the war was wrong and would have lead to disastrous conditions that would have permitted withdrawal only under the condition of defeat and dishonor for the US troops. He has not made that case, and it remains to be seen whether the people will excuse this latest error in judgment and instead credit him for supposedly being right on the war in the first place, although his opinion was of no political consequence given that he was a member of the Illinois State Senate at the time.

McCain can justly and proudly claim that it was his policy that has lead to the apparent victory in Iraq and Obama was merely a bystander and, worse and obstructionist, and without the Surge we could not even be discussing the kind of troop reductions we are discussing now.

More than talking about the past - -which we can call a draw -- McCain and Obama need to engage on the future of Iraq. America fought two world wars in the last century, its might and resolve winning them both, at times when all seemed lost. After the first, Woodrow Wilson decided enough was enough and took our troops and our diplomatic presence home, leaving the Europeans to their own devices. This seems to be the Obama model for Iraq.

The results were calamitous: within 20 years Europe was plunged back into hellfire and America needed to come back and save the world again.

But the second time the postwar reaction was different: successive administrations of Democrats and Republicans made the commitment to maintain not only a troop presence but a level of engagement that preserved the peace and eventually defeated the next insidious enemy to appear on the scene: Soviet Communism. This is the lesson that Obama seems not to understand.

McCain does get it. He sees Islamic extremism as the central challenge of our time and understands the pivotal role that Iraq due to its geography and its vast oil wealth will play in this struggle. Afghanistan is important only to the extent that we are focused on punishing Al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts for what they did to us on September 11th, but in truth, the Afghan war is the distraction from the crucial theatre that lies in the heart of the Mid-East.

That energy, especially, is what makes Iraq such a vital country is helpful to McCain making his case. The poppy fields of Afghanistan offer little competition to oil.

The argument concerning a continued American presence in Iraq needs to be made. It is a debate worth having. Maliki himself has internal disagreement within his own country about that presence. Curiously, we now find ourselves more aligned with Sadam’s former supporters among the Sunni’s and Bathists who fear the Shiite-dominated government of al-Maliki and the potential for an Iranian-Iraqi rapprochement.

Obama has clearly improved his credibility and people can now picture him as leader of the free world. This is no mean feat by someone who has come so far in so short a period of time and is a credit to both his intelligence and his sense of stagecraft.

Whether those gains will endure will depend on how the people side regarding the issues.

It is wise to remember that popular perception is still shifting on Iraq with large numbers not even aware – thanks to a biased media – that the Surge strategy worked and produced the conditions where stability in that country is now at hand. There is much potential in that ignorance for McCain, as people see that he was right all along and that Obama failed to understand the strategic and tactical importance of strengthening the US presence as opposed to pulling out. That Iraq can be tied to oil and then to drilling represents the next great peril that Obama must deal with in this campaign. McCain has grabbed the high ground. Now it remains to be seen who will be King of the Hill come November.

Game on!

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And then there is this...a 4 point lead for McCain among likely voters in today's USAToday/Gallup poll.

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1magine:

That poll is a joke. McCain trails in Registered voters, but gains in Likely voters? With EVERYONE agreeing that there is more excitement about BO than JM and the most active young electorate in this nation's proud history. But their internals led them to conclude more Dems would stay home than Reps.

Sure. And this is why I have recommended that McCain campaign hard in CA. Resources and time is all that is necessary. He should pull out of OH immediately and focus on the BIG prize of CA.

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K Bill:

Given sample size of the USA Today poll, the likely vs. registered difference (+5 McCain vs. + 3 Obama) is the result of dropping a not very large number of Obama registered voters who didn't make the 'likely' cut. As Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight dot com has posted recently, the likely/registered and cell phone problems could make this a very difficult election to predict with any accuracy.

I'd be particularly interested in Mark Blumenthal's reaction to the Frank Newport statement in USA Today that the discrepancy between the USA Today/Gallup and Gallup tracking polls, taken over the same 25-27 July period, can be attributed to 'statistical noise.' Huh?

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Louis:

On July 25th Mark Blumenthal wrote an article about whether the race was narrowing. On July2 8 we get an artice about the Berlin bounce. I understand that this is a pollsters job. But the two pieces within 3 days of each other show how daily polls just turn stistical noise into news.
There were over 121 million voters in 2004. A change of just 1% is 1.2 million people. does anyone out there really believe 1.2 million people change their mind about who they will vote for president every day.
I would be instrested in variances when a selected group of voters are chosen and followed through an entire election. My guess is that the change is very small. Does anyone have any data on such groups.

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I don't have a major objection to this, and don't mean to nit-pick, but I note that pollster.com uses the LV version of ABC/WaPo, for example, in their aggregate rather than RV, which we all agree is "the one to watch". You chose the RV for Gallup.

Why not the RV for all the polls, where available, until the conventions?

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sherriot:

Newly registered voters and those who did not vote in the last election are not considered to be "likely" voters.

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Mainer:

Mark,

I agree with DemfromCT that since LV is not reliable at this point, the site should use RV.

As I recall from previous years, the Gallup tracking poll is RV only until the last ten days or so.

Will you please consider this and discuss it in a blog post?

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Obama was counting delegates - and since March it was impossible for
Hillary to catch up - she spent 30 million in a hopeless cause. Now its
electoral votes not national polls - see Pollster.com for the map - The
media can't add - unless something impossible happens the republican
can't win - the brand is gone - JFK lost the bible belt on a anti-
catholic vote but won the cities with Catholics - Obama will not do
well in the bible belt but minority votes will carry him where it
matters - (WASP are also a minority) BUT the media has to keep talking
until someone says "it's over" the fat lady has sung - like in
Vietnam, and TIM with Hillary - the numbers and facts are hard things
was counting delegates - and since March it was impossible for Hillary
to catch up - she spent 30 million in a hopeless cause. Now its
electoral votes not national polls - see Pollster.com for the map - The
media can't add - unless something impossible happens the repulican
can't win - the brand is gone - JFK lost the bible belt on a anti-
catholic vote but won the cities with Catholics - Obama will not do
well in the bible belt but minority votes will carry him where it
matters - (WASP are also a minority) BUT the media has to keep talking
until someone says "it's over" the fat lady has sung - like in
Vietnam, and TIM with Hillary - the numbers and facts are hard things

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Undecided:

What makes this election "difficult to predict" is the historical trends that the youth vote is very unreliable. Ask McGovern (and this was during the Vietnam War) or Kerry who had great success in signing up and wooing youth voters. On election day they have not to date come through. Obama is more optimistic... but one should instead be more pragmatic when planning a winning strategy.

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