Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Epic Obama Victory Unlikely, Trends Suggest

David Paul Kuhn, at the Politico, reports that a runaway landslide victory for Barack Obama in November is highly unlikely, based on presidential election history:

From the fever swamps of the blogosphere to the halls of academia, there is a chorus of voices who have come to the same conclusion about the presidential election: Barack Obama is going to win in November, by something resembling a landslide.

Yet for all the breathless analysis and number-crunching that has convinced observers Obama is en route to an epic victory, there is one key historic fact that is often overlooked—most popular vote landslides were clearly visible by the end of summer. And by that indicator, 2008 doesn’t measure up.

In five of the six post-war landslides (defined as a victory of 10 percentage points or more) the eventual winner was ahead by at least 10 percentage points in the polls at the close of August, according to a Politico analysis of historical Gallup polls. Over the past week, however, Gallup’s daily tracking poll pegs Obama ahead of John McCain by a margin of 2 to 5 percentage points.

The one exception to the August rule was 1980. Ronald Reagan was trailing slightly in the August polls before surging forward to win by roughly a 10-point margin.

By comparison, the biggest post-war landslides—1964, 1972 and 1984—were signaled by a large, double-digit advantage held by the eventual winner at the close of August.

Lyndon Johnson was trouncing Barry Goldwater in one late August 1964 Gallup poll, 67 percent to 26 percent, taken on the opening day of the Democratic convention. A July poll showed Johnson also winning by a two to one ratio. Johnson went on to win the race 61 percent to 38 percent.

While Richard Nixon in the summer of 1972 was not faring as well as Johnson in late summer 1964, it was nevertheless clear in Gallup’s polling that the incumbent was on his way to a rout that would have been hardly imaginable just four years before.

In mid-July, Nixon was only ahead by about 10 percentage points. But by early August Gallup tracked that his lead had grown to twice that. He went on to win by 23 percentage points, nearly his exact margin in August.

Reagan, in his 1984 re-election campaign, also was ahead by a modest 10 points in August. But he won in the fall by nearly twice that margin.

In the past two months, Obama’s polling has held steady, remaining in a narrow single-digit band.

“There certainly was a definite cockiness that Democrats felt once they regained control of Congress, and I’ve also felt it was a misplaced cockiness,” pollster John Zogby said.

Still, he acknowledged why there was such optimism. “You’ve got a lot of conditions that are similar to 1932 and similar to 1980, a very unpopular president and the party brand badly hurt.”

Only two post-war popular vote landslides have occurred without an incumbent finishing on top—1952 and 1980. They offer conflicting lessons.

In the case of Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, two late August Gallup polls showed him with at least 53 percent of the vote and ahead by at least 15 percentage points. But the race narrowed in polling to a dead heat before Eisenhower pulled off his 11-point win. In his 1956 rematch with Adlai Stevenson, he expanded his margin to a 15-point blowout.
Read the rest of the article, here.

The essay cites additional polling experts and political scientists who see the Democrats by far the odds-on favorite. Pollster Brad Coker sees the makings of a landslide, but suggests that race may play a factor:

“This may sound kind of harsh, but if the Democratic nominee were a white male from a red or purple state, the theory would be dead on that this would be set up, there would be a very, very high probability for a Democratic landslide,” said Brad Coker, the managing partner of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. Coker said that, in his view, two factors along with race are anchoring down Obama. He cites Obama’s political inexperience and that “you’ve never had a young guy win by such a large margin, post-war.” Coker added that Obama’s ideology and geography were also factors, though of lesser importance in his view.
I had been one of those Republicans who was becoming resigned to a Democratic victory this fall.

But last month's Wall Street Journal poll, finding John McCain holding an 11-point lead over Obama on the values divide, along with Obama's huge campaign missteps this last couple of weeks - starting with the Illinois Senator's celebrity world tour - has convinced me that the GOP has a huge opportunity to snag the White House in November.

The best analysis on this last point is Steven Warshawsky's "
Why Barack Obama Will Not Win." Warshawsky touches on all the vulnerabilities mentioned by Coker, but his discussion of Obama's inexperience is the best:

One of Obama's most striking characteristics is how "green" he is compared to previous presidential candidates. Obama was born on August 4, 1961. He just turned 47 years old. The average age of elected presidents since 1952 (the era of televised politics) is 56.

If elected president, Obama would be the fifth youngest president in U.S. history. The only younger presidents would be Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Ulysses S. Grant, all of whom were much more accomplished than Obama. Grant, Roosevelt, and Kennedy were war heroes. (Not Clinton, notoriously.) Roosevelt and Clinton had served as state governors. Grant had been the general-in-chief of the Union Army during the Civil War. The least experienced of the four, Kennedy, had served twelve years in Congress, six in the House of Representatives and six in the Senate, and had been a serious candidate for vice-president in 1956.
What has Obama accomplished to date? In truth, not very much -- except to master the art of self-promotion.

Obama has written two best-selling autobiographies: Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995) and The Audacity of Hope (2006). Yet he has never served in an important leadership position in government, business, or the military. His ability to perform as a chief executive officer is completely untested.

Obama has prestigious degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, but no significant professional achievements to his name. No businesses or organizations he has founded or managed. No law firm partnerships. No important cases he has tried. Not a single work of legal scholarship he has authored, despite having been Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Law Review and a part-time law professor at the University of Chicago for twelve years. (This is unheard of in the elite ranks of the legal profession, and calls into question the bona fides of Obama's professorship.)

Obama's principal occupation before entering politics was as a "community organizer" in Chicago. By his own admission, these efforts achieved only "some success," and none worthy of highlighting on his campaign website. Obama then served eight unexceptional years in the Illinois Senate, and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, where he is not even considered one of the Democratic Party's legislative leaders.

And this man believes he is "the one we have been waiting for"?

Obama may be considered a "rock star" by his supporters, but the kind of superficial glamour and excitement that this terminology suggests is not what most voters are looking for in a president. Heartland values, not Hollywood values, still define what most voters want in a president. Most voters want a president whom they perceive as loyal, courageous, hardworking, and fair. Someone who commands the respect of others through the strength of his character and the wisdom of his actions. Someone who is prepared to fight to protect his home and country from invaders. In other words, someone who appeals to voters, on a psychological or emotional level, as the kind of person they would want for a father, husband, boss, or comrade-in-arms.

Rock stars may be fun, but they do not fit this image. Neither does Obama. His life story, while unique and interesting, bespeaks little more than an ambitious and opportunistic young man, still wet behind the ears, with an unhealthy fascination with his own ego - and potentially unreliable when the chips are down.

The American people are not going to entrust the security and prosperity of the country to such an immature and unproven man.
Warshawsky predicts Obama winning about 45 percent of the national popular vote.

I think the final results will be closer (the third party factor is insignificant this year), but I'm confident the Republican John McCain can win a majority of the electorate based on his experience, bipartisan appeal to independents, his traditional American values, and his national security credentials.