In the immortal words of Sheila Broflovsky, "What, what, what?!?!?"
Well, it depends on who you're listening to. Two new national polls show the race is statistically a dead heat. But new state-by-state polls are showing something completely different. And to make things as confusing as possible, the polls are all coming out at around the same time.
Signs of life
We'll first look at the polls that show the McCain campaign has a pulse.
The Associated Press/GfK survey released yesterday gives Obama a one-point lead at 44 - 43 percent. While a George Washington University Battleground poll put out today shows Obama at 44 percent and McCain at 42 percent.
The Associated Press says its poll shows that McCain's stronger showing in the third debate and using Joe the Plumber to carry his less taxes message are working.
"Since McCain has seized on that line of argument, he has picked up support among white married people and non-college educated whites, the poll shows, while widening his advantage among white men," AP reporter Liz Sidoti writes.
"The Republican also has improved his rating for handling the economy and the financial crisis. Nearly half of likely voters think their taxes will rise under an Obama administration compared with a third who say McCain would raise their taxes."
Criteria for surveying voters vary from pollster to pollster. As for the George Washington University Battleground Poll, Bloomberg reports the directors of this poll purposely did not interview people on Friday and Saturday.
"I think there are a lot of the harder core Republicans that are family adults that just will not engage in polling over the weekend,'' Goeas said.
In addition, some pollsters have an "unrealistic'' expectation that the youth vote will dramatically increase this year, he said. Younger voters tend to be Obama voters by large margins.
If these polls are legitimate and not outliers, then in the true spirit of this late October season, the Republican candidate's campaign -- just like a pack of wild zombies -- has come back from the dead.
We could even apply the line of the cult classic "Return of the Living Dead," to Team McCain.
It is easy, however, to jump to conclusions when looking at polls. A national poll is one thing, but presidents are not elected by popular vote. It's all about the Electoral College -- the road to 270.
The results are tough for the McCain campaign -- especially in key states like Ohio where Obama has a 12 point lead and Pennsylvania where McCain is down by 11 points. Even Indiana, which hasn't voted Republican since 1964, is in Obama's camp with a 10-point lead.
It's the economy
Not surprisingly, the directors of the poll credit the economy for Obama's dominance.
“McCain was gaining until the financial crisis hit,” said Charles Franklin, co-director of the poll. “Once the crisis hit, support moved from McCain to Obama.”
Here's how they break it down.
- Illinois: Obama 61, McCain 32.
- Indiana: Obama 51, McCain 41.
- Iowa: Obama 52, McCain 39.
- Michigan: Obama 58, McCain 36.
- Minnesota: Obama 57, McCain 38
- Ohio: Obama 53, McCain 41.
- Pennsylvania: Obama 52, McCain 41.
- Wisconsin: Obama 53, McCain 40.
Another poll, same result
Another state-by-state poll echoes the Big Ten results. The Quinnipiac University Swing State poll gives Obama a five-point edge in Florida, a 14 point lead in Ohio and a 13 point lead in Pennsylvania.
Obama is doing some big damage said the directors of this poll. Historic damage.
"As we enter the home stretch, Sen. Obama is winning voter groups that no Democrat has carried in more than four decades, and he holds very solid leads in the big swing states. If these numbers hold up, he could win the biggest Democratic landslide since Lyndon Johnson in 1964," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Just like the Big Ten poll, it's all about the economy.
"Voters are scared about their economic futures and have decided that Sen. Obama is Mr. Fix-it," Brown said.
So with 11 days to go before the election, which polls do you believe? Pollsters say take the average. The Associated Press explains it this way:
Every poll has a margin of sampling error, usually around 3 percentage points for 1,000 people. That means the results of a poll of 1,000 people should fall within 3 points of the results you would expect had the pollster instead interviewed the entire population of the U.S.
But — and this is important — the results are expected to be that accurate only 95 percent of the time. That means that one time in 20, pollsters expect to interview a group whose views are not that close to the overall population's views.
UPDATE: Just to make things even more confusing, a new national poll arrives on the scene. A new CBS/New York Times poll just came out and it shows Obama up by 13 by a 52 - 39 margin. These were similar to the numbers recorded last week.
If there's any hope for McCain from looking at this poll, it's movement from Independents.