Why I still think McCain will win
So why are the polls saying otherwise? Here's what I think is really going on behind the numbers.
1. The more reliable polls have the race closer. Gallup's three-day rolling-average poll ("traditional" weighting) has it at 50%-45% today, a gap of only 5 points. It's the polls associated with media groups that have shown the really huge Obama leads. I suspect they're weighting their samples to match the narratives they are pushing (huge youth turnout that won't actually materialize on Nov. 4, etc.). During the period of Oct. 12-15, Obama's lead (per Gallup) shrank from 51%-44% to 49%-47%; the current lead of 50%-45% is surmountable. And the IBD/TIPP poll, which turned out to be the most accurate predictor of the actual result in 2004, now has Obama ahead only 44.8%-43.7% -- a mere 1.1 points.
2. Remember the "Bradley effect": individuals who for perfectly-legitimate non-racist reasons intend to vote against a candidate who happens to be black, are often reluctant to tell pollsters that fact due to fear of being thought racist. You have probably seen articles claiming that recent elections show the Bradley effect no longer exists. What those elections really show, in my opinion, is that the degree to which the Bradley effect manifests itself mainly depends on how likely people feel they are to be accused of being racist if they vote the "wrong" way. In recent years there has often not been much of that fear, but with today's relentless campaign of insinuation that any opposition to Obama is racist in essence, I think the incentive to lie to pollsters has increased. Remember that most polls are done by calling people's home phones. If you're a typical voter who's worried about being thought racist, you're going to be particularly nervous expressing the "wrong" opinion to somebody who has just called you on your home phone and is gathering a bunch of other data about you. So I think the Bradley effect will be a significant factor.
3. McCain's numbers really started looking bad after the financial-crisis story broke. I think this largely reflected broad anger and disgust at Republicans in general (the Bush administration being perceived as responsible for the problem). But what people say in the first flush of initial anger is often not what they end up actually doing. When it comes time to vote, many will decide they want the experienced leader in charge for the crisis more than they want to vent anger at the Republicans with their actual votes (especially since the Republicans are going to be trounced in Congress and thus "punished" anyway). That is, the shift against McCain due to the financial crisis is a "soft" shift, not a solid change in voter intentions.
4. I think most undecideds and some weak Obama-leaners will end up voting McCain -- when they get into the voting booth, their gut will tell them that Obama's lack of experience is just too much of a gamble. Most people are now answering poll questions with the economy uppermost in their minds, but foreign policy (which guy do we want going face-to-face with Putin and Ahmadinejad?) will count for more when the actual decision day arrives than it does in people's thinking now.
5. Republicans who now talk unenthusiastically about McCain will still vote for him in the end. Remember, they're going to get blown out of the water across the board -- House, Senate, everything -- and they know it. McCain is their only chance to win something important.
Mind you, I'm a lot less confident now about McCain winning than I was a couple of weeks ago. But I still think he's the more likely to win of the two.