How The Press Manufactures Drama in the Polls

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Today in the Wall Street Journal we have the headline “Gap Narrows in Florida and Ohio, Not Pennsylvania.” The article has a lot of graphs and looks pretty impressive. But taking a wider view shows that this is a red herring. I don’t know if the writer knows this or just didn’t bother to look past one poll, but let’s look at how the false drama works. According to the WSJ,

Sen. McCain now is within striking distance in Florida, where Sen. Barack Obama leads 47% to 45%, a new poll by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute finds. Less than a week ago, Sen. Obama led by five percentage points there.

One is led to think that Senator McCain has closed the gap by 5% points. But, take a look below at this screen cap from WSJ’s own superb “At the Polls” interactive graph. The green line shows the trajectory of the Quinnipiac poll.

WSJ Graph of all Florida Polls
WSJ Graph of all Florida Polls

You can easily see that the Quinnipiac Poll, which used to show the most extreme Obama lead, has switched to now barely show the narrowest Obama lead. But the average of polls hasn’t really changed. In other words, there is no reason for Obama to be worried.

So, what about Ohio? The situation is even more–that is , less–dramatic. The WSJ article says,

In Ohio, considered a Republican must-win, Sen. Obama still has a comfortable lead of 51% to 42%, Quinnipiac found. The good news for Sen. McCain is he appears to be closing the gap there; last week, Sen. Obama led by 14 points.And here is the chart of all polls:

And here is the graphic of other polls. The green line shows the trajectory of the Quinnipiac poll:

WSJ Compilation of Polls for Ohio
WSJ Compilation of Polls for Ohio

Clearly, the Qinnipiac poll has only gone from being way extreme to mildly extreme. This is hardly a gain for McCain in the polls.

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