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Several national election polls released yesterday and today have revealed a rapidly narrowing race, with Obama’s lead evaporating, and some polls even placing Romney ahead.The results follow last week’s presidential debate, which was almost universally deemed a victory for Romney. A Gallup poll found that 72 percent of debate-watchers felt the Republican candidate did the better job during the debate, setting a “record-high margin” for debate-reaction polls.Numbers from a Pew poll released yesterday appeared to reflect Romney’s debate victory, showing him with a 49–45-percent lead over Obama among likely voters, reversing Obama’s 51–43 lead in the company’s September 19 poll. The result shatters the large gains Obama had made in recent weeks, including a large bounce after the party conventions. Pro-Obama blogger Andrew Sullivan lamented the debate and poll results, writing yesterday:
The Pew poll is devastating, just devastating… Look: I’m trying to rally some morale, but I’ve never seen a candidate this late in the game, so far ahead, just throw in the towel in the way Obama did last week — throw away almost every single advantage he had with voters and manage to enable his opponent to seem as if he cares about the middle class as much as Obama does. How do you erase that imprinted first image from public consciousness: a president incapable of making a single argument or even a halfway decent closing statement? And after Romney’s convincing Etch-A-Sketch, convincing because Obama was incapable of exposing it, Romney is now the centrist candidate, even as he is running to head up the most radical party in the modern era.
But some commentators are warning against making too much of a single poll. Nate Silver, whose FiveThirtyEight blog aggregates and analyzes election polls, writes:
[L]et’s first consider the day’s worth of polling without it, which was pretty mixed for Mr. Romney.
The most unfavorable numbers for Mr. Romney came in the national tracking polls published by Gallup and Rasmussen Reports. Both showed the race trending slightly toward President Obama, who increased his lead from 3 points to 5 points in the Gallup poll, and pulled into a tie after having trailed by 2 points in the Rasmussen survey.
In both cases, the numbers looked more like pre-debate data than the stronger numbers that Mr. Romney has been receiving since then. On average between the Democratic convention and the debate, the Rasmussen poll showed Mr. Obama with a 0.7‑point lead (the Rasmussen poll is Republican-leaning relative to the consensus), while the Gallup poll had Mr. Obama ahead by an average of 3.4 points.
A third national tracking poll, an online tracking poll published by the RAND Corporation, showed essentially no change from Sunday. All of this seemed to be consistent with a story in which Mr. Romney’s debate bounce was receding some.Silver concludes that “that the whole of the data is still consistent with a very narrow lead for Mr. Obama, albeit one that is considerably diminished since Denver.” Several other polls (here and here, for example) confirm this, showing that support for the candidates has drawn even rather than tipped conclusively towards Romney. Additionally, Gallup has just released a report indicating that Romney’s post-debate lead is fading. The New Republic’s Nate Cohn calls for more careful interpretations of poll results, noting:
Over the next few days, more surveys will weigh-in on the size of Romney’s post-debate bounce. But it’s important to keep an eye on whether the polls are measuring the peak of Romney’s bounce, which looks like it was around 4 points before the polls with Sunday interviews pointed toward a smaller one, or whether they’re measuring the weekend and later, when there are signs that Romney’s bounce began to fade. Resolving the size of Romney’s bounce and whether it lasted are two important, but separate questions. We’ll need to be careful to track both.Regardless of the exact dip, the polls make it obvious that Obama’s lead was far from unshakable, and that future debates will carry heavy weight.