Feeling jittery? Don't be.
The main danger for Dems at this point is that they'll get knocked off their stride in their ground operation by sundry Rovely shenanigans and razzmatazz. In particular, I'm thinking of various hijinks meant to sap Dem morale.
Here's my brief for very cautious optimism for Kerry supporters.
In the last 24 hours 6 independent national polls have been released. (For the moment, I'm excluding tracking polls; but as of today they're basically a wash.)
Here they are, with readings for likely voters, not registered voters or final projections. (I've included a seventh poll, ARG, because their poll covers the same time period even though it was released more quickly) ...
Marist ... Kerry +1
Fox ... Kerry +2
NBC ... Bush +1
Gallup ... Bush +2
ARG ... Tied
CBS/NYT ... Bush +3
Pew ... Bush +3
The best thing these numbers show for President Bush is that 4 of 7 show him in the lead. And his leads are a tad more sizeable than Kerry's.
But look more closely and you see things more favorable to Kerry. The first is that not one of these polls has the president over 49%. And still more telling, if you look at how I've ordered the numbers, it looks like I've arranged them from most Kerry-friendly to most Bush-friendly. But I haven't. I've ordered them by how recently they were taken.
All the Marist poll calls were made Sunday. Half the Fox calls were made Sunday. On the other hand, Pew and CBS stopped calling on Saturday. NBC and Gallup both ran Friday through Sunday.
With the obligatory caveat that the margins are small and within the MoE, the pattern is hard to miss. The more recent the poll, the better margin for Kerry. And in the two most recent ones, he's ahead.
So, on balance there's a movement in Kerry's direction, albeit one which is quite small because so few voters are any longer up for grabs.
Then there's the other issue -- turnout and the ground operation.
That is really the whole issue, as far as I'm concerned.
It's a general rule of thumb that the higher the turnout in an election, the better it is for the Democrats. That's true for a number of reasons, but largely because Democrats do better among 'peripheral constituencies', demographic groups that don't vote consistently.
If you look at the polls above, most of the ones I was able to find 'registered voter' numbers for actually had Kerry beating Bush, by equally narrow margins. That cleavage between likely voter and registered voter tallies means that the president's tiny leads rest on the pollsters' likely voter 'screens'. And that's where turnout and the ground game come into play.
Most of these pollsters have models based on a conventional election, not one in which turnout patterns move in one marked direction. (Folks like Ruy Teixeira argue that they don't even reflect the turnout patterns of recent elections, let along one with a spike in turn-out.)
Democrats and Dem-leaning groups have a massive get-out-the-vote operation this season. The Republicans have a big one too. But Democrats believe that their operation is light-years ahead of what they had in 2000. And it was the ground operation that won the popular vote in 2000.
After talking to friends whose opinions I trust, I *think* it really is that good. And the sizeable Kerry margins among early voters in Iowa and Florida lend support to that judgment. (See this too from Ed Kilgore, re: early voting.) But who knows? I don't know. And they don't either. No one really does. But if the Dems' ground operation is really as good as their people say it is, I think Kerry will win tomorrow. If he doesn't, we'll know they seriously over-estimated it's strength.
Finally, I've spoken to maybe a half dozen Dems whose opinions I trust at a gut level. And each of them has what I'd call a feeling of cautious optimism. For them too, I'd say it comes down to whether that ground operation is really as good as we've heard.
So am I confident, sure Kerry's going to win? Not at all. This is way closer than I would have liked. And I've always tried to be honest with myself about Kerry's stubborn inability to open up any statistically significant lead against the president.
But what I see right now is a incumbent president who can't get past 49% and a dead-even race that seems to be trending ever-so-slightly in Kerry's favor. And on top of all that I think -- for the reasons I noted above -- that the Democrats will win this one on the ground with a mix of better organization and greater determination.
As I said a couple days ago, if you're part of the ground operation, this is in your hands.