Mar 31, 2008 2:02pm

Despite the intense interest, we’re urging our shop not to put too much weight on general election polling just yet; November is a long way off, and the continued bloodletting in the Democratic race makes it a less-than-ideal time to ask Democrats, or independents for that matter, their preference in the fall contest.

As it is, overall data don’t seem to show significant movement. Averaging airworthy national polls in each of the last three months points to a continued dead heat between John McCain and Hillary Clinton, and a dead heat between McCain and Obama in January and March, after a slight advantage for Obama during his successful February. (Table below.) Looking just at the second half of March doesn’t change the story.

          Average of airworthy national polls         Obama vs. McCain   Clinton vs. McCainMarch         45-45              46-46February      48-43              45-47January       44-45              46-47

Gallup’s latest five-day tracking poll, completed Saturday (it’s been tracking daily since March 11), is a little better for McCain,- +4 vs. Clinton and +3 vs. Obama. Both are significant given the large sample sizes, but all the same it seems way too soon to mark this down as a trend.

Some airworthy state polls show close races in some states that are usually Democratic, or strategically important – Clinton just +3 vs. McCain in California and Connecticut, McCain +4 vs. Clinton and just -1 vs. Obama in Ohio, both Democrats +2 vs. McCain in Pennsylvania (all these are effectively dead heats, given sampling tolerances). The latest in Florida (not terribly recent – from late February) had McCain +9 vs. Clinton and +10 vs. Obama.

The Democratic contest, again, is the one in which the fight is still raging. It’s not a great time to ask Obama and Clinton supporters whether they’ll kiss and make up after it’s all over. And some independents, generally chary of partisanship, may be turned off by the ongoing battle.

But partisans on both sides usually bind their wounds once their nominating contests are over, and independents make their choice on the candidates’ merits, not on what they endured to get there. All this suggests general election polling will mean a lot more down the road – once we have nominees.

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