The Boston Globe has the results of a new poll in the Sunday paper, which shows Tom Menino cruising to re-election: "Menino holds a lead of 52 percent to 32 percent over Councilor at Large Michael F. Flaherty Jr.," it says.
But a poll conducted at the same time (earlier this week) by Flaherty's campaign -- provided to me by their campaign just now, in response to my inquiry -- shows Menino leading by half that gap: 48% to 38%.
So what gives? It's hard to tell, because the Globe's story makes it hard to tell what their own (UNH)polling actually shows, and at this hour they have not made the data available.
What seems likely to me is that the lead narrows as you close in on the most likely voters. Flaherty's internal poll is of 500 "likely voters," using, I believe, voter files to find such people. The poll finds an even narrower 7-point lead (47%-40%) among "definite voters."
The Globe/UNH poll, however, used 553 "randomly selected Boston residents," which is frankly a ridiculously overbroad pool -- it would include a lot of folks who aren't even registered to vote. The article says that 438 of them "said they were likely voters," which shows why you don't want to use self-identification for that sort of question; if 80 percent of Boston residents are likely to vote on November 3rd then I'm Napolean Bonaparte. [Update: 66% of the poll's respondents said they will DEFINITELY vote, with another 9% saying that only an emergency would prevent them from doing so.]
The article, as it reads online, does not indicate whether the 52%-32% Menino lead comes from the full 553 people polled, or the 438 self-proclaimed likely voters. (That, and other details, may be much clearer in the morning paper.) Either way, it's from a far broader pool than the Flaherty poll's 500 "likely voters."
The Globe article says that 69 percent of respondents view Menino favorably, which is actually a tad below the 72% favorability found in the Flaherty internal. But Flaherty's own favorability number is just 50% in the Globe poll, but 61% in his own polling.
Bottom line? I think the race looks much more like Flaherty's poll than the Globe's. But the importance of the Globe poll is not in its accuracy, but in its effect.
If the Globe was reporting today that the gap had closed to within 10 points, that would have produced a major jolt to the final two weeks of the campaign. By reporting that the gap stands at 20, the Globe may have ensured that the city turns its attention elsewhere.
I'll have more thoughts, I'm sure, when I have details of the Globe/UNH poll.