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Some pollsters have a gift for reading hundreds of pages of statistics and finding a nugget of truth. Others have a different talent: Flexibility. They can poll one day and say with absolute conviction the public is, for instance, adamantly against President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq. Then a month later, they poll again and say, lo and behold, people have changed their minds.

The problem, if you’re a candidate, is you’re never quite sure if people did suddenly change their minds, or if the pollster just woke up on the other side of the bed that morning.

Two polls in the Governor’s race are examples. Two different pollsters surveying North Carolina voters at roughly the same time came up with completely different answers.

The first poll (published in the newspapers) showed that, after he spent a million dollars on television, Republican candidate Bill Graham led in the primary.

Bill Graham 24%

Bob Orr 13%

Robert Pittenger 10%

Fred Smith 9%

It appeared Graham had leapt into the lead.

The second poll (by the respected Civitas Foundation) flatly contradicted that. It showed:

Bill Graham 8%

Bob Orr 3%

Sue Myrick 23%

Fred Smith 5%

In other words, Graham spent a million dollars and was statistically running dead even with State Senator Fred Smith – who had spent nothing.

So which poll is right? For the candidates for Governor the answer to that question makes a big difference. If the first poll is correct Graham, by spending another million on television, could widen his lead, making it difficult for his opponents to catch up.

On the other hand, if the second poll is right Graham just spent a million for 8% of the vote – and needs a course correction. Maybe TV is not his medium or maybe there was something wrong with the ads. Whatever the explanation he’s a million dollars poorer and no better off, statistically, than Senator Fred Smith or former Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr.

It would be unusual in a primary where the candidates aren’t well known, for Graham to spend a million dollars and only end up with 8% of the vote. But it has been known to happen.

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