Chat Transcript: Polling Unit Director Gary Langer

I am a student at Centre College in Danville, KY, where the VP Debate has been scheduled for October 5th. George Bush has announced that his campaign will not participate. Will this apparent fear of debates affect his chances enough for him to lose the race?

Gary Langer at 2:28pm ET

I doubt it very much, Ashley. First of all, I imagine these guys will work out their differences and have a couple of debates, and this mini-controversy will melt away. Moreover, past experience indicates that debates usually don't change many minds — rather they reinforce pre-existing opinions. And vice-presidential candidates don't drive much vote.

You'd have to say Bush and Gore are so similar you can't decide between them before you got to the VPs, and not many people say that. Let me apply my usual caveat, though: In a close race, everything matters.

June Le Fevre at 2:29pm ET

How many people are in the sampling for polls, and how are they chosen? Neither I nor my friends have ever been asked.

Gary Langer at 2:31pm ET

June, we start with a computer program that produces a random sample of telephone numbers, listed and unlisted, across the country. Every residential telephone in the country has the same probability of being selected. That's what makes polls work — random selection. That's also why you haven't gotten a call — the odds are very, very slim. Stay by the phone, though. We'll get you one of these days!

Curtis at 2:32pm ET

Has Mr Bush's electoral vote count diminished as has his popular vote?

Gary Langer at 2:36pm ET

Sure, Curtis. There are a few states in which Bush had an significant lead where the race is now even, or where Gore now leads. Missouri is now roughly even in the latest poll there. A poll out of Pennsylvania gives Gore the lead there now. And we're watching for more state polls to see the post-Labor Day standings elsewhere.

Sean at 2:36pm ET

Gore leads on most issues, yet the race is more or less even. Does personality matter that much?

Gary Langer at 2:40pm ET

Gore actually also leads on several personal qualities as well, Sean. Of those we tested, Gore leads in six: compassion, knowledge, experience, clear stand on issues, empathy and "unites rather than divides" people. Bush leads in four others: strong leader, good commander-in-chief, would bring needed change and has an appealing personality. And in four more, they're tied.

The underlying issues and qualities are almost all looking better for Gore than they'd been before the conventions. The horse race is a dead heat, I think, because undecided and lightly-committed voters are still coming to their final decisions. These folks tend to be independents, tend to be moderates; I call them the "white stripe" voters — the middle of the middle of the road. Neither candidate has closed the sale with them. The one who does, wins.

Chris Bowers from cas.temple.edu at 2:41pm ET

On what basis do pollsters determine if you are a "likely" voter? Do all polls use the same methodology?

Gary Langer at 2:45pm ET

Every poll uses its own methodology, Chris. Basically they're all variations on a theme — ask people their interest in the race, their vote intention, their level of commitment to a candidate, their vote history, some demographic questions, and assemble your best estimate of who's most likely to vote.

A worthwhile bit of information is the turnout that any poll's "likely voter" scenario produces. If it projects to 65 percent of the electorate, obviously that's too many, because nowhere near that many people vote. Our own is around 50 percent.

Moderator at 2:47pm ET

Thank you Gary for chatting with us today.

Gary Langer at 2:47pm ET

Thank you all for looking in. I'm off to crank out a little data analysis... got to run!

Moderator at 2:48pm ET

Read some of our recent chats available in our Chat Archive. Thank you for joining us.

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