Scott Brown Gets a Romney Bounce

A new WBUR poll finds Scott Brown ahead of Elizabeth Warren 47 percent to 43 percent. It’s already capturing national headlines, most likely because it fits nicely with the national narrative of a race that’s moving toward Mitt Romney and his party. So the question is: Did Barack Obama do so badly, that he lost his debate last week not just to Mitt Romney but to Scott Brown?

Here are a couple things to note about the poll:

It’s still within the margin of error: The poll finds Brown ahead by four points and when you include those who say they are leaning toward one candidate, he’s winning by three points. The poll’s margin of error is 4.4 percentage points, so that’s basically a statistical tie. Still it’s a big shift from previous WBUR polls which have consistently found Warren ahead, though also within the margin of error.

The Romney bounce: Mitt Romney is seeing big gains in the polls after his whiz-bang debate performance last week. The Globe notes that Brown could be hitching a ride on the Romney train with this poll. (Ironic given his last debate performance in which he refused to say whether he’d be a dependable vote for President Romney’s agenda.) The Globe writes, “This was the first poll taken after the Oct. 3 presidential debate between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney … Obama lead Romney by 16 points on the newest WBUR poll. It’s a sizeable advantage, but down from the 28 point lead he held in the previous WBUR poll.”

Look closer at those presidential numbers though, and you’ll find that Romney’s number haven’t actually improved that much from WBUR’s last poll. Thirty-six percent of voters said they’d pick Romney versus 32 percent last time around. Meanwhile, Obama’s numbers went from 60 percent to 52 percent, a much greater jump. Basically what we’re trying to say is, this is less of a Romney bounce and more of an Obama see-saw. As the enthusiasm for the president declines in Massachusetts, people feel better about voting for Brown.

Polls are volatile: Given the state of the presidential race, poll numbers are on the move, so it’s not helpful to put too much faith in one. The New York Times‘s Nate Silver preaches caution in the wake of big poll movements. “It’s one thing to give a poll a lot of weight, and another to become so enthralled with it that you dismiss all other evidence. If you can trust yourself to take the polls in stride, then I would encourage you to do so.” Polls have shown a very close race between Brown and Warren with, if anything, a slight lead for Warren. We’ll need to see a more sustained batch of polls with Brown moving ahead before we rethink the fundamentals of the race too seriously.