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Washington Post poll reports sharp, sudden trend toward Kerry. Or does it?

ASK THIS | October 25, 2004

Tracking poll finds a 7- to 9-point swing in four days.

By Barry Sussman

To the Washington Post-ABC News pollsters, Gallup, Zogby and everyone else doing election polls:

Q. How about giving us a little information, in addition to the overall results, so that we can make some sense of the trends in your polls?

There has been a stunning turnaround in the Washington Post/ABC News poll in the last few days: According to The Post, among likely voters there was a 7-point swing in favor of Kerry in the four-day period ending Oct. 24th. And among registered voters there was a 9-point swing.

The problem is, a reader doesn't really know if there's any change at all to speak of. It could be that the earlier samples included too many Republicans, the later ones too many Democrats. Or the earlier ones had too many people in age groups that are overall more favorable to Bush, the later ones too many in age groups favorable to Kerry. Or too few blacks early on, too many later. Or a combination of such factors.

It's especially hard to figure out if something is going on because the Post simply issued the numbers on its Web site without commenting on them — didn't even mention that there had been 7- and 9-point swings — and because some of the other polls don't show a similar sharp trend toward Kerry at all.

If the Post's samples on Oct. 24th were pretty much the same as the samples on the 20th, then there has been very sharp movement. On Oct. 20th, Bush led Kerry 51-45 among likely voters and 51-46 among registered voters. On Oct. 24th, Bush trailed 48-49 among likely voters, 44-48 among registered voters.

Of course, the numbers could change back toward Bush tomorrow. If they do, it would be helpful to know if the change has more to do with the sample, or more to do with actual voter sentiment.

Sussman was co-founder of the Washington Post/ABC News poll in 1981, and was in charge of it for the Post until he left the paper in 1987.

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