08/05/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's "Poll Position" Is Better Than The New York Times Is Telling You

**Updated Below**

In his latest, Adam Nagourney of The New York Times wonders why Barack Obama is not doing better in the "national opinion polls" [emphasis mine]:

Most surveys now show Mr. Obama with a lead of about 6 or 7 percentage points over Mr. McCain nationally,, and Mr. Obama rarely breaks the 50 percent threshold. Those are statistics that have given Republicans, who are not exactly feeling joyful these days, a line to grab, and they have fed some underlying anxiety among some Democrats.

Nagourney goes on to quote McCain pollster Bill McInturff, who argues [emphasis mine] that

had Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney been our nominee, they'd be 10 or 12 points behind right now....

The problem with all of this "analysis" is that it derives from polls that factor out two people --- Libertarian nominee Bob Barr and independent candidate Ralph Nader --- who are, well...factors. Factors, because they are running. Factors, because they likely are picking up --- and will keep --- many of the most dedicated supporters of Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel. Factors, because --- unlike those three --- they actually will be on the ballot in November.

Here's the thing: When Barr and Nader are factored in, McCain is "10 or 12 points behind right now." Or, to put it another way, Obama is 10 or 12 points ahead. Closer to 12.

According to, the current numbers --- based on the 17 national polls since March that have included Barr and Nader --- are as follows:

Obama 49.6%

McCain 38.1%

Barr 2.6%

Nader 2.3%

Obama's 49.6 percent to McCain's 38.1 percent is not "a lead of about 6 or 7 percentage points" --- it's a lead of 11.5 percent.

Chris Bowers of Open Left predicts that

[a]n 11.5 percent victory for Obama would put him over 400 electoral votes, and put a whole swatch of red states either in play, or in his column.

Granted, recent history has shown us third-party and independent candidates from John Anderson to Ross Perot to Ralph Nader that polled worse --- sometimes, decidedly worse --- on Election Day than they did during the preceding summer.

Still. If Nagourney's point is to tell us what the state of play is right now, then, surely, he has to conjure the whole scene, with all the players --- Barr and Nader included.

Curiously, Nagourney does acknowledge Barr and Nader toward the end of his piece --- albeit only to dismiss them, saying [emphasis mine] that

in a race with more than two candidates, as this one is (though so far, Bob Barr and Ralph Nader are having minimal effects), victory can be claimed with less than 50 percent of the vote.

"Minimal effects"? Really?!! There is a 77 percent difference between Obama's lead of 11.5 percent with Barr and Nader --- i.e., the race that actually exists --- and his lead of "6 or 7 percentage points" without them.

I wouldn't call that a "minimal effect."

The fact is, polls which pretend that Bob Barr and Ralph Nader aren't running --- which is to say, most polls --- currently are overestimating McCain's position and underestimating Obama's. If one is going to acknowledge Barr's and Nader's presence in this race, one can't be selective about it, as Nagourney is in his article. One has to acknowledge that presence in all of its aspects --- including the current polls.

Nagourney factors Barr and Nader out of the current polling, for the same reason that most reporters do --- and are. Blinders.

Time to take the blinders off.

**UPDATE: It's not only that Obama is performing better against McCain than Obama-McCain match-up polls suggest. Obama's lead itself is expanding. In "The Bounce That Shall Not Be Named," his follow-up to the piece I link above, Chris Bowers of Open Left looks at short- and long-term polling trends, and finds that -- although, for whatever reason, journalists and analysts can't seem to bring themselves to say so -- Obama is on the rise versus McCain.

A week ago, showed that Obama's lead, based on all polls, had dropped to 2.4 percent -- now, it's back up to 5.1 percent. The long-term trend is with Obama, too. Gallup's average for March had Obama down by 1.6 percent -- so far, Gallup's average for July has him up by 3.9 percent. As Bowers points out: "When it is spread out over five months, a shift of 5.5 percent might appear imperceptible, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening."

Looking at's long-term trend, Bowers sees more evidence that McCain is the one who's moving in the wrong direction: "While Obama's rise has not been consistent... McCain hasn't gone up at all, and has frequently gone down. McCain catches up occasionally only because Obama's numbers fall, not because his ever rise. That is an extremely damning five-month trend that is not being reported."

But even if all this weren't happening, it's not as though Obama's current 6-or-7-point lead is a bad thing. As Bowers reminds: "Democrats won the 2006 elections by 8.20 percent. Bill Clinton won his two elections by 5.56 percent and 8.51 percent. A 6-to-7-percent lead is in the same range as all these victories, especially once undecideds are factored in."

Which leads Bowers to wonder: What possible grounds could Nagourney have had for claiming that McCain's being down by 6 or 7 points gives Republicans "a line to grab"?

Good question.