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Poll: McCain Pulls Ahead Nationally « The Washington Independent

Usually, it’s wise to avoid putting too much stock in national polls. After all, the reality of American electoral politics is that the vast majority of states will predictably vote one way or the other, and every election is really decided in a handful of swing states. The only polls that matter, the conventional wisdom goes, are the ones focused on voters in those battleground states.

However, few would argue that the results of a new Reuters/Zogby survey of U.S. voters released today are insignificant. The poll found that Sen. John McCain has opened up a five percentage point lead nationally — a stunning reversal of Sen. Barack Obama’s 7-point lead in the same poll just last month. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. From Reuters:

"There is no doubt the campaign to discredit Obama is paying off for McCain right now," pollster John Zogby said. "This is a significant ebb for Obama."

McCain now has a 9-point edge, 49 percent to 40 percent, over Obama on the critical question of who would be the best manager of the economy — an issue nearly half of voters said was their top concern in the November 4 presidential election.

Politico reports this poll fits in with a growing trend that suggests McCain has closed the gap with Obama:

Only one major national survey, a USA Today/Gallup Poll in late July, has shown McCain ahead since the general election began in early June. But that 4-point McCain lead was the mirror opposite of other national surveys taken over the same period, leaving reasonable suspicion it was an outlier.

Today’s Reuters/Zogby poll, conducted Aug. 14-16, by contrast, seems to follow a recent trend.

A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll released Tuesday, and taken Aug. 15-18, found that Obama’s lead over McCain had fallen to within the margin of error, 45 percent to 43 percent. That same poll pegged Obama ahead by 12 points in mid-June.

A more tepid shift was measured in another national poll taken Aug. 12-17 by Quinnipiac University. That survey had Obama leading 47 percent to 42 percent. However, the same poll in mid-July had Obama leading McCain 50 percent to 41 percent.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found, in a poll taken July 31-Aug. 10, that Obama was besting McCain by narrow lead of only 46 percent to 43 percent. Pew’s mid-July polling had Obama ahead by 5 points. In late June, Pew had Obama ahead by 8 points, 48 percent to 40 percent.

And by one measure, on Tuesday, McCain for the first time also pulled ahead, though tenuously, in the Electoral College count, 274 to 264, according to the RealClearPolitics average of state polling that includes narrow leads in swing states. The shift occurred after Indiana — the home of Democratic vice presidential prospect Sen. Evan Bayh — switched to McCain’s electoral coffer.

Obama may have another reason to worry. The Reuters/Zogby poll was conducted by telephone last Thursday through Saturday — so it preceded the Saddleback Church forum hosted by Pastor Rick Warren. McCain received a lot of positive press in the wake of that event and any "bump" he may receive, particularly among Evangelical voters, is not represented in these results.

The poll seems to indicate that the campaign’s decision to severely restrict the national media’s access to the candidate has paid off. Because McCain rarely takes questions from the national press, he remains relentlessly on message — and that message is that Obama is not ready for the presidency. Coupled with ubiquitous negative advertising in key states — McCain is outspending Obama in many battlegrounds — the McCain camp appears to confirm that "going negative" works, particularly for an underdog. That’s why they do it

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