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MIAMI - Survey says: The 2008 presidential race will go down as the most polled and attitude-checked presidential election ever, further evidence that the White House race has become a spectator sport - replete with a daily box score.


The number of presidential surveys taken in states around the nation this year - 935 and counting - has soared 70 percent compared with 2000, when Florida’s White House-deciding election underscored the need for battleground state surveys, according to a pollster.com survey.


Florida occupies a unique place in the polling: It’s the largest swing state in the nation and carries 27 Electoral College votes - 10 percent of the total needed to win the presidency. It’s a must-win for Republican John McCain because Democrat Barack Obama likely has California and New York.


With The Miami Herald’s poll predicting a neck-and-neck race, the numbers add to the buzz heading into the candidates’ first real debate on Friday.


“Everybody loves a horse race. And we’ve got one,” said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin political science professor and co-founder of pollster.com, a website devoted to polling.


There are so many polls that it can be tough for a voter to sort them out. In addition to the increase in state-based presidential polls since 2000, Franklin calculated that the number of state and national polls together has increased from 846 eight years ago to 1,291 now.


Although that’s just a slight rise since 2004, there’s also the sheer volume of discussion to take into account on TV, blogs and websites like pollster.com, realclearpolitics.com and fivethirtyeight.com.


Fueling the temperature-taking: the tickets’ historic nature. The Democrats nominated the first black person for president. The Republicans nominated the oldest candidate ever. And he chose his party’s first female vice presidential candidate.


Frank Newsome, the Gallup Poll’s chief editor, said aspects of the race look like a repeat of 2004, with white evangelicals flocking to the Republican candidate and the young to the Democrat. He and other pollsters say the explosion of polling also can be attributed to a rise in new computerized robotic phone polling machines as well as the 24-hour news cycle that offers what people yearn to know: Is my team winning, and how do I match up with others?


“You don’t serve up news to people they find boring,” he said. “People are interested in what other people think . . . We have a drive to compare ourselves with others.”


The campaigns themselves are obsessed with polling, spending vast sums to determine if their message is moving the crowds.


Pollsters say it’s especially tricky this year to predict who will show up on Election Day. And in Florida, a surge of new Democratic voter registrations could alter the race. Since the 2006 elections, Democrats have added more than 176,000 voters and now have a 468,209 edge in voter registrations. If the polls aren’t scaled - or “weighted” - properly to predict the turnout of different groups, an upset could be in the offing.


“I wouldn’t be surprised if, after the election, people are shaking their heads, wondering: How could we get it so wrong? But we might get it right on as well,” said polling expert Paul J. Lavrakas, author of the Voter’s Guide to Election Polls.


Some polling challenges:


Race: If African Americans turn out in disproportionately high numbers, the polls will likely be off if they account for only a traditional black turnout. On the other hand, some past elections and surveys suggest that polls could misjudge white support for Obama if some white voters feel embarrassed to admit in a poll interview that they won’t vote for a black man.


Gender: Obama’s bruising primary against Hillary Clinton, coupled with McCain’s pick of Republican Sarah Palin as a running mate, could make it tougher to gauge the depth of female support for the Democrat. The Miami Herald’s Florida poll shows Palin appeals strongly to moms, while Obama clings to a narrow lead among women voters.


Age: McCain, 72, is favored by older voters who normally would lean Democratic and who have a history of reliably turning out. Obama has the youth vote, far less reliable on Election Day.


Cellphones: More and more adults - about a third - are becoming cellphone-only users, and many aren’t polled. The Pew Research Center has pioneered the polling of cellphone voters and found that they tend to be younger and more liberal.


Mark Levenson, a 52-year-old Broward, Fla., voter, is sick of the polling because politicians “are afraid to have an original idea. And it’s all of them, top to bottom, from presidential candidates to county commissioners.”


Tom Eldon, the pollster who helped conduct the Miami Herald poll, fretted: “It’s like people and the news media aren’t interested in discussing real issues. The coverage becomes nothing but process, and the polls are just part of a scoreboard.”

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