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Zogby's Wild Swings

Here is Nate Silver, yesterday:

It is hard to find any trend at all at the national level, although Barack Obama's position improved has incrementally in a couple of the national trackers. Indeed, our model now perceives that the popular vote has been flat for roughly the past two weeks. It seems almost as though voters made their collective decision after the second presidential debate on October 7 -- perhaps Obama's clearest win of the series -- and decided on behalf of the Democrat.

Given the fact that the race has been remarkably stable over the past ten days or so, you might expect some skepticism from pollster John Zogby when his daily samples jump wildly around from night to night. But no: Not only does Zogby seem to have total confidence in his numbers, but he also interprets each wild swing as if it shows meaningful progress for one candidate or another. Just three days ago, Zogby showed Obama with a huge 12-point lead, and had this to say:

In the absence of news, McCain is not connecting. He seemed to be connecting during and immediately after the last debate, but got lost in issues that are not on people's minds.

Now it is 72 hours later. As far as anyone can tell, nothing has really happened in the campaign, but Zogby's numbers have dramatically tightened, and show Obama only leading by 5 points. How does Zogby explain the new data

“There is no question that this race continues to tighten and that McCain is finding his message again. It is after all about the economy and that is how McCain tightened it up the last time."

This verges on the absurd. Listening to Zogby discuss his numbers is akin to hearing basketball announcers search for a reason why some particular team is having a bad shooting night. It can never be that, er, if you play an 82-game season, occasionally your shots will not fall. Anyway, I am inclined to agree with Nate, who recently said this about the daily tracking polls

In summation, none of these tracking polls are perfect, although Rasmussen -- with its large sample size and high pollster rating -- would probably be the one I'd want with me on a desert island. Conversely, the only one of the trackers that I consider obviously dubious is Zogby.

--Isaac Chotiner