Allure of the Poll Dance

We can't look away from the poll numbers, though maybe we should

Rick Noriega
Rick Noriega (Photo by Sandy Carson)

These damn polls are like porn: You know what you're seeing may not be real ... but you look anyway.

So here we are with another set of polls that may or may not tell us anything about what's actually going to happen on Election Day. Rasmussen Reports, hired by Fox Television Stations Inc., is now telling us that the U.S. Senate race in Texas is close again: As of Sept. 29, its sampling of 500 likely voters put incumbent Republican John Cornyn at 50% and his Democratic challenger, state Rep. Rick Noriega of Houston, at 43% (margin of error +/-4.5%). Yeah, we've heard that before. Since May, Rasmussen has put Noriega as close as 4 points and as far behind as 17, so we're not sure what to believe. If you still haven't made up your mind, tune in to KLRU-TV (Cable Channel 9, air Channel 18) at 8pm tonight (Thursday) for the first of two debates between the two. Tonight's debate is hosted by Houston public station KUHT; they'll meet again next week in Dallas for another hosted by KERA.

Trial lawyer Larry Joe Doherty also believes he's within spitting distance of GOP incumbent Michael McCaul in the race for Congressional District 10 (which stretches from North Austin all the way to Houston). Doherty paid Goodwin Simon Victoria Research to poll 400 registered, likely voters Sept. 28-30, and pollster Donna Victoria says McCaul drew 43% to Doherty's 38% (MOE +/-4.9%) – no gain for McCaul since GSVR's previous poll in May but a 4-point pickup for Doherty.

That clearly leaves Doherty with some work to do, but the Democrat found some wide-open windows of opportunity: Victoria says that 41% of those she polled did not recognize McCaul's name, despite his having been in office for nearly four years now, and his job rating was only 33% positive vs. 38% negative. (Libertarian Matt Finkel was not presented by name as an option in the poll, but 1% said they'd vote for "other.")

And how about that presidential race? Things look grim for John McCain, although a lot can always change in a month. Here's what the Republican is up against:

First off, forget about those polls that show overall national percentages. Because of the Electoral College, those are meaningless – as we learned in 2000, a candidate can lose the popular vote and still win the election. So the election comes down the battleground states, and that's McCain's problem – there are three states that were solid locks for Republicans four years ago that are now polling as even contests, and other states that were close in 2004 have shifted to Obama. In 2004, Bush took 60% of the vote in Indiana, 56% in North Carolina, and 54% in Virginia – now those three are anybody's guess. Bush barely won Iowa, but now McCain lags more than 10% behind there.

The way things look at the moment, Obama appears to have 264 of the needed 270 electoral votes already headed his way, and McCain has probably 174. That means that of the seven or eight battleground states that are left, McCain needs to run the table and pick up all of them. Obama, on the other hand, only needs to win one, maybe two.

Noriega vs. Cornyn

Dem challenger Rick Noriega goes head-to-head with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in two debates this week, on Thursday, Oct. 9, and Thursday, Oct. 16, both at 8pm. You can watch them on KLRU (Cable Channel 9, air Channel 18).

Upcoming Election Deadlines

Oct. 20 Early voting begins

Oct. 28 Last day to submit an application for a mail-in ballot

Oct. 31 Early voting ends

Nov. 4 Election Day

Favorite Sites for Tracking the Electoral College

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polling, election, Rick Noriega, John Cornyn, Larry Joe Doherty, Michael McCaul, Matt Finkel, John McCain, Barack Obama

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