Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Election Is Closer Than It Appears

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Election Is Closer Than It Appears

Article excerpt

THE polls in September suggest two views of the presidential contest between George Bush and Bill Clinton. They could be read as indicating that the Democrat is well ahead. Not one reputable national survey shows Clinton trailing. His lead is about 10 points.

But the polls also show a high level of voter indecision, with large segments of the electorate tugged in opposite directions. Bush suffers from a general dissatisfaction with the status quo, but he gets good marks for important elements in his handling of the presidency, especially his management of American foreign policy. Clinton, meanwhile, has failed to dispel doubts about his suitability for the nation's highest office.

The data make me feel that the 1992 contest is far from over. It's the toughest call I can remember. New tracking data for September confirm that feeling.

Election surveys are normally conducted in a span of two to five days. A "tracking poll," by contrast, is in the field more or less continuously. This year we have only one publicly available tracking poll, conducted by the Tarrance Group with analysis by Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster, and Celinda Lake, a Democrat. It's known as the "Battleground '92" tracking poll, and it's paid for and carried by a number of news media around the country. "Battleground '92" began collecting data on Sept. 1, conducting 250 interviews a night, five days a week.

To reduce the day-to-day bounce, much of which might result from nothing more substantial than the small daily samples, the poll's directors follow the generally sound practice of releasing findings only for "rolling averages." The polling done Sept. 20 through 23 was combined and released as though it was a single survey of 1,000 registered voters. Hence, it's always a four-day "rolling" average that the reader sees.

At first glance, the tracking poll's findings over this past month don't appear to differ much from those of other surveys. For example, the results last week showed 49 percent saying they would vote for Clinton, 40 percent for Bush, the rest saying they were wholly unsure or for Ross Perot. That's the same picture that one gets from the composite of all national surveys this past month. …

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