On Saturday morning, Drudge trumpeted the latest one-day finding in John Zogby's latest three-day tracking poll on the presidential race. While Zogby's three-day average still shows a 5-point lead for Barack Obama over John McCain, the pollster notes on his site today that McCain led Obama by one point, 48 to 47, in the last day of surveys.
More cautious than Drudge, however, Zogby says that it's too early to declare that McCain has made decisive gains over Obama. "If McCain has a good day tomorrow, we will eliminate Obama's good day three days ago, and we could really see some tightening in this rolling average. But for now, hold on," Zogby writes.
But as the Huffington Post reported on Thursday when discussing the latest Fox News poll, Zogby has a unique methodology in his polling. He fixes -- or "weights" -- the partisan balance of his respondents, unlike most pollsters. While his admirably transparent and stable practice guarantees a certain methodological sameness from day to day, therefore making any new lead for McCain worth reporting, Zogby's partisan weighting can also raise other questions.
Asked earlier this week what the partisan weighting of their poll currently is, a Zogby aide told the Huffington Post: "Party ID remains at 38 Democratic - 36 Republican - 26 Independent. We have added a point for 18-29 [year old voters], 1.5 for African Americans, and 2 for Hispanics."
Earlier this year, Zogby told me that "party ID is a lead variable, and a major determinant in how people vote. I apply a weight to party ID, and if I see a reason for it to change, I will."
Still, Zogby's two point party ID advantage for Democrats is the smallest of any polling firm. The last four days of the Hotline/Diageo poll show anywhere from a four- to six-point advantage for Democrats -- and a simultaneous seven-point lead for Obama. Gallup's latest surveys indicate that Democrats have an 11-point advantage over Republicans in party ID (including what the firm describes as partisan "leaners").
Zogby's partisan makeup gives even less of a partisan advantage to Democrats than Fox's latest poll, which earned some skepticism, as well.
As for the day-to-day fluctuations in tracking polls, Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz says they are "almost entirely due" to random statistical error, or "noise."
"The trackers don't move in sync with each other -- one goes up, another goes down," he tells the Huffington Post. "This is what we are seeing today in fact. Already we see that Obama is down in Zogby but up in DailyKos and Rasmussen. No doubt we'll see more of the same in the next three days. There is no evidence here of any real trend toward McCain in either the national polls or the state polling as smart analysts like Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com and Mark Blumenthal and Charles Franklin of Pollster.com have shown."
For what it's worth, McCain lead pollster Bill McInturff sees things Zogby's way. In a Friday conference call with reporters, McInturff said "I don't see how you have party ID at negative 8 [percent for Republicans]. That's not America ... anywhere in the last generation and a half."
Aside from determining the next president, Tuesday's election might be used to settle a few scores in the polling profession, as well.