LOS ANGELES (AP) -- One poll shows a close presidential race. Another shows a 16-point difference. Responses are coming from Democrats, Republicans, independents and registered and likely voters. What's a confused political spectator to do?
Two suggestions: Wait for the dust from the political conventions to settle a bit and try to understand the difference between registered and likely voters.
"I strongly advise waiting until a week or so after the Democratic convention," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. "Right now, you have polls with a short shelf life."
As voters begin to tune into the campaign, Kohut and other pollsters will begin measuring the opinions of "likely voters," those most likely to go to the polls. The opinions of non-voters, including those who are just "registered" to vote, are irrelevant.
Many pollsters don't begin surveying likely voters until the final months of a campaign, but the Gallup Poll has been measuring their opinions all year.
"We're attempting to say what would happen if the election were held today," said Frank Newport, the poll's executive editor. "That's the most accurate way to answer that question."
Others disagree, saying people don't know their intentions until late in a campaign.
Meanwhile, the detailed questions asked of "likely voters" about their voting behavior and intentions tend to inflate the influence of Republicans among the group, they say.
That could explain why Republican George W. Bush was 16 points ahead of Democrat Al Gore in a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll last week, when he was just 10 points ahead in others and the two were even in a few more.
The most recent polls were done in the midst of blanket coverage of two political conventions, involving different types of voters, which accounts for the differing outcomes.
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