Bush up by 8, or is he?

By Tim Grieve
Published October 17, 2004 7:23PM (EDT)

A new CNN/USAToday/Gallup Poll has sobering news for Kerry supporters -- if its results are to be believed. Today's poll has Bush ahead by three points among registered voters and by eight points among likely voters. Bush's lead among Gallup's likely voters is a huge swing from just a week ago, when Kerry led Bush by a point.

While no other poll is reporting a surge the size of Gallup's, most of the national polls do show movement in Bush's direction. Newsweek now has Bush up by one among registered voters and up by five among likely voters. The Washington Post's daily tracking poll has Bush up by one among registered voters and by three among likely voters. Time has the race essentially tied.

On a conference call with reporters today, the Kerry campaign accentuated the positive. First, there's a new Democracy Corps Poll out today that has Kerry up by three among likely voters -- an improvement over the tie Democracy Corps saw just before the last debate. Pollster Stan Greenberg said the gains for Kerry come from shoring up support among Democrats -- an improvement that's "not likely" to go away in the days ahead. Second, Kerry spokesman Joe Lockhart said internal Kerry campaign polls show movement toward Kerry that started just before the first debate and continues today. Third, Greenberg said that both the Democracy Corps poll and internal Kerry campaign polls have Kerry with solid leads among voters in battleground states.

Greenberg and Lockhart both questioned the reliability of the Gallup poll, pointing to its volatility and its use of a suspect likely voter model as reasons to doubt is results. "With all due respect," Lockhart told a USAToday reporter on the call, "Your poll has shown 20-point swings in very short periods of time, and it's just not credible."

Greenberg suggested that the Democracy Corps poll is more accurate because it does not use the same likely voter screen that Gallup applies; in particular, he said, Democracy Corps' likely voters include new registrants -- who may be highly motivated to vote -- while other polls exclude such respondents because they didn't vote the last time they were eligible. And Democracy Corps' track record is good; in 2000, Democracy Corps came a lot closer than Gallup to getting the race right.

Greenberg said he will be more confident about all the polling once he sees responses that will come in the next few days. Democracy Corps seldom polls over the weekend but was forced to do so this time because of the schedule of the debates. The timing can make a difference. In the South, for example, Greenberg said polls taken on a Saturday turn up a "very odd" sample of male voters because so many men are out hunting or watching football.

Lockhart argued that the registered voter numbers are more important than the likely voter ones -- and that the polling in the battleground states is more important than either. "This election is not going to take place nationally, it's going to take place in the battleground states," Lockhart said. "While numbers that come out can make interesting headlines, I don't think it's that interesting. We know where we need to be strong to win. It's in a series of battleground states, and we're very comfortable with where we are. We're not particularly concerned about these numbers flying around except that we have to spend a lot of time answering questions about them."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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