Friday, September 12, 2008

Questions About the Current State of the Presidential Race

Yeah, FHQ has been rather devoted to the electoral college this week. [Well, that and the classes I'm teaching this semester, but that's a different story.] As I've looked at things more and more, I've had a couple of questions about the direction things are actually moving in this race. We have had 46 polls released this week (47 counting the Rasmussen poll of Washington released this morning.) and the overall trend seems to favor McCain -- on both the national and state level. But as I discussed in the map post I put up for today, the biggest shifts are among these states -- traditionally Republican states -- that that have been surprisingly competitive until this post-convention period. There has also been some augmentation of McCain's leads in even some of the ruby red states and some subtle, yet less clear movement in the battleground states.

What does this leave us with, then? Well, even if you hold out the electoral votes from Nevada and Ohio -- two states that are basically tied -- Obama still, even in the midst of this McCain bounce, maintains an advantage over the Arizona senator in the electoral college. Granted, at 273-240, it is a smaller edge and even smaller if we assume that McCain wins both Nevada and Ohio (273-265 EVs). But Obama surpasses 270 in both situations and that's the point. At what point do we (or should we) begin thinking of this current race as similar to the primary race for the Democratic nomination? Similar to the delegate lead he held over Clinton after his February string of victories and subsequently sat on until primary season ended, does Obama simply sit back and play defense in these toss up states that have been favoring him? If we begin thinking of the electoral vote advantages as similar to the delegate advantage, can Obama just simply play defense, leaning on his advantages in the ground game in most of these states (Michigan being the possible exception.) and still win.

Now, this asks us to some extent to suspend our belief that the campaign matters. At the same time, though, we are taking a step back from the micro-level view of the race -- lipstick comments and ABC interviews, etc. -- to take on a more macro- view of where this race is. And with history in the primary campaign as our guide, does Obama reign things in and play defense to ensure a win, however small?

Another question that I've had as more and more polling has emerged this week reverses course from above, focusing on micro-level trends. We have had, as I said above, 46 state polls released this week. Two-thirds of those polls have been conducted in states that are or were toss up states according to our averages at the time the polls were released. But one thing that has stood out is the lack of polling in those "strong" Obama states. Yes, we've had polls from Maine, Maryland and Washington, but there have been twice as many polls released from "strong" McCain states. How much do the large margins in those states feed into the narrative that McCain is surging? Alternatively, are things timed in a way that polling in those "strong" Obama states begins emerging as a potentially stale Palin narrative fades out to be replaced by the next big thing -- an Obama rebound? Or do tighter margins in those states continue to feed the current media narrative?

Now, I've asked more questions here than I've answered, but that's kind of by design. The daily electoral college updates have quashed the variety we've had lately (but so too has the void left by the conventions) and in the process the discussions we've had in the comments section. So what do you think? Is the current state of the general election campaign similar to the primary campaign? Are the states where polling has been released driving the stories in the media? The comments section awaits!

Also, what were everyone's impressions/thoughts on the Palin interview last night?

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (9/12/08)

The Electoral College Map (9/11/08)

The Electoral College Map (9/10/08)


Unknown said...

This installment of the Palin interview is the really interesting one.

I don't agree with her on ANWR, but I think politically it was pretty effective. She managed to give a view of herself and McCain that make them both look strong but able to work well together.

The climate change part, on the other hand, was the opposite. The body language was brutally bad. She was literally back on her heels, taking a step backward when asked the question, and then continuing to lean away. The response was full of wishy-washy qualifiers. Check out this quote: "That is why I'm attributing some of man's activities to potentially causing some of the changes in the climate right now." That's Kerry-esque in its inclusion of qualifiers like some, potentially, some (again), right now. It was completely at odds with her "hockey mom" persona.

Aside from looking evasive, it was evasive. She tried to argue that you could take action about climate change without knowing whether or not people were causing it.

And it's at odds with a McCain in a more fundamental way than ANWR.

And, according to an ABC poll Nate cited, in July 54% of Americans think global warming is real and manmade.

I'll be curious to see if that segment has an effect on the broader Palin narrative, or if it just serves to continue to fire up the Obama base.

Robert said...

I think Obama is in trouble. He was sliding downward before the conventions. He got a bounce out of his convention. Ever since the Palin nomination, he has not been able to get traction. Unless he can find something to rally his supporters and independents around, I think he will lose.

The Palin nomination has gotten into Obama's head and he can't let it go. The situation is like that around the PA primary when Clinton got into his head. He was able to turn it around in NC to win the nomination. He has 52 days to turn it around in the general election and close the deal. Most campaigns have little to do with governing as it takes different skills to govern than it does to campaign. In this case, however, I think the challenges are similar. The Republicans like to talk about Obama's lack of executive experience. He counters with his executive expereince in managing his campaign. Now is the time to put up or shut up. If he can demonstrate he has the executive ability to win the election, he will deserve it. If not, we'll have four more years of Republican rule.

The race is still to close for either side to let up. There will be events out of the candidate's control that could play a role. For example:

--If Ike causes an oil spill it hurts McCain and "Drill, baby, drill", but if it gets the refineries without an oil slick sending prices up it hurts Obama because he isn't pushing drilling.

--If the Iraqi (Shia) government's push to lay off the Sons of Iraq (Sunni) in Anbar process reignites the civil war, McCain probably suffers, but a terrorist attack on American soil favors him.

Unknown said...

Robert--I totally agree with you on the external event question. A major external event could easily swing the election either way.

But on the "gotten into Obama's head" paragraph, I don't really agree. Gotten into the media's head, yes. This goes back to Josh's post. Obama likes to ride stuff out when campaigns hit quiet periods. His opponents use that time to launch a flurry of attacks.

It sure looks weird while it's happening. Obama looks ineffective and aloof, driving some of his supporters crazy. This has happened at least four times, by my count:

Summer-Fall of 2007. Obama seemed content to bide his time while Clinton tried to look inevitable. In the mean time, he was building up his ground game, and trounced Clinton in Iowa.

March-May 2008. Obama's math showed he would win the primaries. Rev. Wright happened, and Clinton was spirited and relentless. But somehow after the Texas/Ohio results demonstrated that Clinton was still formidable, Obama never lost much more in the polls, even as he seemed to lose control of the narrative.

July-August. McCain pounded on Obama. This helped consolidate McCain's base and drove McCain's favorables and unfavorables up, but didn't seem to affect Obama's side of the ledger much.

Now. Palin's a game-changer, alright. The question is, has she hit her high-water mark? While Rasmussen tracking had a weird blip toward McCain tonight, Gallup and Hotline are showing a little move back toward parity.

Just like in the other three cases, I think the Obama campaign is content to let Palin have the spotlight for a while. The point is to win Nov. 4, not next week. This is a very unusual attitude for political campaigns, but it's worked three times already. Well, OK, maybe the July-August wasn't quite a case of it "working," but it doesn't appear to have been a bad strategy.

That's why Obama is vulnerable to an external event. If something bad happens geopolitically in late October, he could be in trouble, because his campaign's strength is long-range planning.

The one piece of advice I'd give the Obama campaign is this: release a terrorism/disaster response plan. Coordination between military, the White House, state and local, NGO's, that kind of thing. That way if something, God forbid, does happen, people will be primed to think what a response under an Obama administration would have looked like.

Robert said...


Count me down as one of those crazy supporters. I hope you are right, but I am the most pessimistic I have been since the announcement in January, 2007.

I think he needs to give voters a reason to vote for him.


We missed you today. I hope that all is OK with you.