Sunday, August 24, 2008

New Poll Confirms Obama Dangers as Convention Begins

As I argued this afternoon, Michael Dukakis held a seven-point lead over George H.W. Bush in public opinion polling on the eve of the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Governor Dukakis went on to enjoy a 17 percentage-point bounce after being nominated by his party for the general election campaign.


But this year, Barack Obama's campaign is floundering in the polls in an election that has all the makings and excitement of a Democratic blowout in November. Indeed, at an identical point in the campaign compared to 20 years ago (with the Democrats then, like now, seeking the White House after nearly eight years of GOP rule), Gallup finds the 2008 race in a perfect tie, with 45 percent of voters nationwide supporting each candidate for president.

This should not be happening to the Democrats.

John McCain's campaign
was criticized in March for campaign drift, for missing a golden opportunity to seize the initiative while the Democratic campaign sludged along. Just six-weeks ago McCain was considered still adrift, in need of a dramatic shakeup, a "dose of discipline." Throughout the year, the GOP's suffered from an "enthusiasm gap" that has promised to swamp the party in turnout come November. And the GOP has trailed the Democrats badly in the money race, with the uptick in McCain's July reporting seen as a lifeline after months of underperformance in campaign receipts.

Well, something has happened along the roads to Denver and Minneapolis. In the first public opinion survey conducted since news of Joe Biden's selection as the Democratic running mate,
CNN is reporting that McCain and Obama are tied dead-even in the presidential horse race:

It’s a dead heat in the race for the White House. The first national poll conducted entirely after Barack Obama publicly named Joe Biden as his running mate suggests that battle for the presidency between the Illinois senator and Republican rival John McCain is all tied up.

In a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll out Sunday night, 47 percent of those questioned are backing Obama with an equal amount supporting the Arizona senator.

“This looks like a step backward for Obama, who had a 51 to 44 percent advantage last month,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

“Even last week, just before his choice of Joe Biden as his running mate became known, most polls tended to show Obama with a single-digit advantage over McCain,” adds Holland.

So what’s the difference now?

It may be supporters of Hillary Clinton, who still would prefer the Senator from New York as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.

Sixty-six percent of Clinton supporters, registered Democrats who want Clinton as the nominee, are now backing Obama. That’s down from 75 percent in the end of June. Twenty-seven percent of them now say they’ll support McCain, up from 16 percent in late June.

“The number of Clinton Democrats who say they would vote for McCain has gone up 11 points since June, enough to account for most although not all of the support McCain has gained in that time,” says Holland.

Clinton and Obama battled throughout the primary season, with Clinton winning more than 40 percent of the delegates. She suspended her bid for the White House and backed Obama in early June, after the end of the primary season.
A majority of those surveyed said the selection of Biden was a good pick, although Clinton supporters were significantly less enthusiastic as registered Democrats as a whole.

Note though, Obama's weaknesses are also found beyond the CNN survey: The Western States poll now reports McCain holding a nine-point regional spread over Obama "If the 2008 presidential election were held today..."

This week should go a long way toward settling questions surrounding the inability of the Democrats to take advantage of the permissive environment helping the party this year.

There have been suggestions that a "wave of buyer’s remorse has swept the Democratic Party." While that sounds like a premature hypothesis, Obama's tepid support in public opinion - particularly coming on the heels of his veep selection - is certainly starting to flesh out the thesis a bit.