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So, about that nine-point spread...

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
The McCain campaign took issue with the ABC/Washington Post poll which shows Obama up by 9. The reasoning, delivered by McCain pollster Bill McInturff (formerly the Republican half of the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll), was one of Party ID.

Those identifying as Democrats in the ABC/Washington Post poll outweighed Republican by 16 points, a wider-than-usual number, McInturff said.

"It's way different than what other pollsters are showing," McInturff said, citing many polls showing about a four-to-nine point Democratic Party ID advantage.

In the last NBC/WSJ survey (Sept. 6-8), there was an eight-point spread, 44% Democratic, 36% Republican. In August, the difference was nine points, 43% Dem, 34% Republican.

"I don't think these results are indicative of what's happening in the campaign," McInturff said, calling the ABC/Washington Post poll an "outlier" and "unusual."  

"I think that despite this very unusual week given the financial crisis, the data is remarkably stable," McInturff said. "Where I think this race is, it's a margin of error nationally and in most of the competitive states."

Even though McInturff said there hasn't been a Party ID split of more than five points (even in 1992), he conceded that McCain needs a spread better than four to eight points in Election Day exit polls.

"If it's better than that, then I feel really good," he said, "and if some historic accident happens where it turns worse than that, that's not a good day for Sen. McCain."

He cited the numbers average of public polls nationally and in 12 key states -- Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

"With good regard and respect for my fellow pollsters," McInturff said, "this race is a margin of error race."

*** UPDATE *** ABC Polling Director Gary Langer offers his explanation: "The reality is that partisan affiliation in our poll is just about where it's been all year -- and just about where McInturff himself said it might end up on Election Day. What matters is whether you're looking at 'unleaned' or 'leaned' party identification, and whether that's among registered or likely voters. The most relevant number for this discussion is unleaned party ID among likely voters -- 37-30 percent Democratic to Republican in our poll. As it happens that's precisely where McInturff said the election could turn out: the Republicans, he said, 'could be down 6 to 8.'

"McInturff's focus was on a different number -- leaned party ID, not unleaned, and among registered voters, not likely voters. We have a 16-point, 54-38 percent Democratic advantage there, which he said was "an unusual outlier." In fact, rather than an outlier, that almost exactly matches our average for this number all year, 52-38 percent."