The round of national surveys taken after the third presidential debate indicates that the polls are not going to give us a clear picture of who will win the election until the final days of the campaign, if then….It’s worth recalling that four years ago voters were similarly divided between the candidates. But the opinions about Al Gore and Mr. Bush did not bounce around, because there just wasn’t all that much enthusiasm for either man.
Andrew Kohut is correct that the polls probably will not give us a lear idea of who is going to win this year’s presidential election. However, the problem is not that voters’ preferences are more volatile than normal this year, as Kohut claims. The problem is that poll results are volatile due to the effects of sampling error, differences in weighting procedures, and different methods of identifying likely voters. As a result, even polls conducted at exactly the same time can produce divergent results. Nor is this situation unique to the 2004 election. The same volatility was evident prior to the 2000 election when, for example, the Gallup tracking poll released on October 26 showed George Bush leading Al Gore by 13 points while the Zogby tracking poll released the same day showed Gore leading Bush by 2 points.