Tuesday, October 14, 2008


You have to love this, from the latest New York Times/CBS poll:

The McCain campaign’s recent angry tone and sharply personal attacks on Senator Barack Obama appear to have backfired and tarnished Senator John McCain more than their intended target, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll has found.

After several weeks in which the McCain campaign unleashed a series
of strong political attacks on Mr. Obama, trying to tie him to a former 1960s
radical, among other things, the poll found that more voters see Mr. McCain as
waging a negative campaign than Mr. Obama. Six in 10 voters surveyed said that
Mr. McCain had spent more time attacking Mr. Obama than explaining what he would
do as president; by about the same number, voters said Mr. Obama was spending more of his time explaining than attacking.

Over all, the poll found that if the election were held today, 53 percent of those determined to be probable voters said that they would vote for Mr. Obama and 39 percent said they would vote for Mr. McCain. …

Voters who said that their opinions of Mr. Obama had changed recently were twice as likely to say that they had gotten better as to say they had gotten worse. And voters who said that their views of Mr. McCain had changed were three times more likely to say that they had gotten worse than to say they had improved.

The top reasons cited by those who said that thought less of Mr. McCain were his recent attacks and his choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate.

Get that: Obama 53, McCain 39. (Only 24% approved of Bush’s job performance and only 7% thought the country was headed in the right direction.)

These poll findings are consistent with a Washington Post/ABC poll released yesterday:

The new Washington Post/ABC News national poll puts John McCain behind Barack Obama by 10 points -- his biggest deficit in the survey since the general election began in June.

But, that's not the worst news in the poll for McCain. A detailed look inside the poll shows just how toxic the national political environment has become for Republicans and suggests that McCain's attempts to deprecate Obama and portray him as a risky pick have, to date, backfired.

To wit:

* Just eight percent of the national sample believe the country is headed in the right direction while a stunning 90 percent believe it is off in the wrong direction. EIGHT PERCENT!

* Twenty-three percent of voters approve of the job that President Bush is doing -- his lowest rating ever in the Post poll and an approval score that rivals the lowly showing by President Harry Truman in a 1952 Gallup poll.

* Obama's favorable rating are rising (!) while McCain's are faltering. Nearly two-thirds of voters (64 percent) view Obama favorably in the latest poll while 33 percent view him unfavorably. In a September Post poll, Obama's fav/unfav was at 58/36. Compare that to McCain's favorable ratings, which slipped from 59 percent in September to 52 percent now, and his unfavorable ratings, which rose from 36 percent last month to 45 percent now.

* Obama has substantial edges over McCain when voters are asked which candidate is better equipped to handle the issues of the day. That includes a 16-point edge on the economy and a 29-point margin on health care -- the two issues nearly six in ten voters cite as most critical in the fall election. McCain's lone advantage over Obama comes on the issue of terrorism. Forty-nine percent of Americans believe the Arizona senator is better equipped to handle that issue while 43 percent name Obama.

* Nearly seven in ten voters believe Obama is "mainly" addressing the issues while just 26 percent say he is attacking his opponent. McCain, on the other hand, is seen as "mainly" attacking his rival by six in ten voters while just 35 percent said he is focused on issues.

* Fifty-five percent of the voters believe Obama is a "safe" choice for president while 45 percent said he would be a "risky" choice. On McCain, the sample split right down the middle; 50 percent said he was a "safe" and 50 percent said he would be a "risky" pick for the White House.

That laundry list of data is a stark showcase of the tough odds that McCain faces as he seeks to turn the race around over the next 22 days.

Not only is every leading indicator pointing to this being a change election focused
on economic uncertainties but the data in the Post/ABC poll also suggests that McCain's recent tactic of questioning Obama's judgment via his past associations with former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers is not working.

At the risk of redundancy, a few key points to emphasize:

People want change. If Obama is deemed “acceptable” by the American people, he wins. His challenge has been to reassure the American people that he is not too “risky”. That is why the McCain campaign has been hammering the “risky” theme for months – but it’s not working. The Washington Post/ABC poll found that Obama is now “safer” than the erratic McCain: Obama: 55% safe/45% risky; McCain 50% safe/50% risky. This tells me Obama has made the sale to the American people. His no longer the “risky” choice. That is HUGE.

Voters also tend to vote for the candidate they like best and who share their values – hence, the McCain attempt to portray Obama as some kind of untrustworthy “other” – or “that one” as McCain said in the last debate. According to the Washington Post/ABC poll, Obama’s “favorability” rating has gone up by six points in the last month, to 64% vs. 33% unfavorable (+31 net positive). McCain has dropped seven points, to 52% vs. 45% unfavorable (+ 7 net positive). HUGE difference. People believe Obama understands their economic problems better than McCain (58% to 28%), would bring needed change to DC (61% to 29%) and is more honest and trustworthy (44% to 40%). The New York Times/CBS poll found similar results: Obama + 18 net positive vs. McCain – 5 net negative. (The difference between the VP candidates is even more extreme: Biden + 22 net positive vs. Palin – 9 net negative.) Obama “understand the needs of people like you”: 64% yes/ 29% no. McCain: 43% yes/ 53% no. 69% of voters think Obama has the right temperament to be president vs. only 53% for McCain.

Finally, it’s clear voters are seeing through the McCain/Palin attacks on Obama: By 59% to 35%, people believe McCain is spending more time attacking Obama than focusing on the issues. By contrast, by 68% to 29% people believe Obama is focusing on the issues instead of attacking.

I could go on: The internals on both polls (New York Times/CBS, Washington Post/ABC) look GREAT for Obama.

If that’s not enough and you want some REALLY good news, Obama’s win probability at Fivethirtyeight.com is now at 95.8% with an electoral vote projection of 361:

It's fairly unusual for a candidate to have such a sustained run of momentum so deep into the campaign cycle. And it does appear to be real momentum, with some real feedback loops: the worse McCain's poll numbers become, the more desperate his campaign looks, and the more desperate his campaign looks, the worse his poll numbers become.

McCain now has to go on a run of his own, a large enough run to wipe at least 8 points off of Obama's lead, and perhaps more like 9 or 10 to cover his inferior position in the Electoral College and the votes that Obama is banking in early and absentee balloting. It is imperative that McCain does not just draw tomorrow night's debate, does not just win a victory on points, but emerges with a resounding victory, the sort
that leaves the spin room gasping for air. Failing that, we are getting into dead girl, live boy territory.

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