By October first, presidential tracking polls begin to predict the winner in November accurately. Since 1960, Gallup’s tracking poll registered the winner in the popular vote (including Al Gore in 2000), eleven of twelve times. The one exception is 1980, when Jimmy Carter still led Ronald Reagan by 44 to 40 percent. The late September-early October polls have not necessarily predicted the final margin. Third party candidates usually screw up the total, because their support usually drops by the final election, and generally the race narrows somewhat by the end. In 1996, for instance, Bill Clinton led Bob Dole by 14 percentage points on October first. Clinton’s final margin would be 8.5 percentage points. In 2004, George W. Bush led John Kerry by 8 percentage points. His final margin would be only 2.4 points. But in six of these elections--1960, 1964, 1976, 1984, 1988 and 2000--the final margin was different from the October first polling results by less than three percentage points. Given these results, supporters of Barack Obama can take heart from the fact that he is leading 50 to 42 percent in the latest Gallup tracking poll.
--John B. Judis