Aug 20, 2008 11:33am

We’re looking today at the latest polls – there’s been a bunch out this week. Whether the race has tightened gets a “probably-a-little” from us. But while it is tight, it’s been tight. More important is why, and how the campaigns are attacking it.

I've previously explored the reasons Obama is not doing better despite his advantage on personal qualities, most domestic issues and the damaged GOP brand. In sum, his experience and readiness are in doubt; the "change" for which he stands is not well-enough defined; and this is more a center-right than a center-left country, with half again as many conservatives as liberals. McCain, despite other deficits, holds the experience and steady-hand-in-troubled-times cards. As noted yesterday, worry about a new cold war can only help him.

In parsing the polls one factor to keep in mind is whether results are given among registered voters or likely voters. Obama does best among young adults, but they're less likely to vote, so he tends to do less well among likely voters. This is not a change in attitudes, but simply a change in the group being evaluated.

Quinnipiac’s latest result among likely voters (+5 Obama) essentially matches ours among LVs back in mid-July (+3 Obama). On the other hand, Gallup’s +1, LA Times/Bloomberg’s +2 and Pew’s +3 among registered voters could move as far as a slight McCain edge were they reported among LVs. (LV polls can differ based on their assumption of who’s an LV.) LAT’s result is tighter than its Obama lead in June; Pew’s data have tightened incrementally since June; Gallup’s daily number has been winking anywhere between Obama +8 and an absolute dead heat for months, but has been quite close steadily the last week.

Some people advocate averaging polls. You can do that, but to us it's like mixing champagne, Coke and turpentine. Hardly palatable.

Not to predict the future, anyone not looking at a tight race this summer has been watching the wrong movie. Reiterating, our own last result among likely voters, in mid-July, was 49-46, Obama-McCain. That is tight. So is this.

We’ll see whether the conventions break it open, either way.

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