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A reader emailed this week: “These conflicting polls are making me psycho.”

Take Thursday’s N&O. One poll had Obama up six nationally and another, up 16. (Hint: He won’t win by 16.)

The North Carolina polls are especially confusing. But one way to look at them is through the lens of race.

Take WRAL’s poll by Mason-Dixon. It showed Obama and McCain tied at 47.

There are two key internal numbers in the poll: what black turnout will be, and how whites vote.

The poll assumes African-Americans will be 20 percent of the electorate. And it shows Obama getting 36 percent of white voters. If those two numbers hold, he loses. Of the 6 percent undecided, 80 percent are white, and he’s losing whites by more than 3-2.

If black turnout remains 20 percent of the total, he needs 39 percent of white votes. And other polls have shown him getting 38 percent. Close.

If Obama can’t get more than 36 percent of white votes, black turnout has to go up to 25 percent for him to win. Possible, but a stretch.

What skews the polls is the uncertainty about black turnout. Pollsters have no historical model that predicts Obama’s impact this year.

That’s why nobody knows – or can predict – what North Carolina will do Tuesday.

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