Friday, September 19, 2008

GOP Image Improves as Race Tightens to Dead-Heat

The new Pew Research Organization survey finds a significant increase in public perceptions of John McCain and the Republican Party:

The overall image of the Republican Party has improved substantially over the past few months. Half of all registered voters say they have a favorable view of the Republican Party, up from 40% in May. Unfavorable ratings of the Republican Party are down from 55% in May to 46% in the current poll. This is the first time since July 2005 that more voters have rated the Republican Party favorably than unfavorably.

By comparison, ratings of the Democratic Party have remained relatively stable. A majority of voters (55%) offers a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party while 41% have an unfavorable view. In May, 57% had a favorable view and 39% an unfavorable opinion.
As a result, while the Democratic Party's image remains more positive than that of the Republican Party, the gap in favorable ratings has shrunk to only 5 points from a 17-point gap in May.

The turnaround in ratings is particularly significant among independents, and the shift in independent views occurred over the course of the convention period. Independent voters now have equally favorable opinions of both parties (50% for the Republican Party, 49% for the Democratic Party). GOP favorability is up 12 points among independents from 38% in August. In contrast, ratings of the Democratic Party are down seven points among independents from 56%. The 18-point advantage in favorability that Democrats had among independents going into the conventions has now disappeared.

The GOP also does well on the poll's findings for the vice-presidential candidates: "Six-in-ten independent voters say they have a favorable opinion of Palin compared with 47% who express a positive view of Biden.

Pew's numbers on the presidential horse race find Barack Obama holding a 2 percentage-point lead over McCain (46 to 44 percent). But Republican voters edge the Democrats in support for the party nominee (90 to 87 percent), and McCain holds a substantial edge among independents in the head-to-head matchup (45 to 38 percent).

The major caveat with this poll is that interviews were completed on Sunday, just before this week's intense economic turmoil beginning on Monday.

Nevertheless, while
Gallup's daily tracking numbers find Obama leading McCain 49 to 44 percent, the new Rusmussen tracking poll finds the race tied at 48 percent for both candidates.

There's a couple of other important points worth mentioning: While voters are leaning toward Obama on the questions of
change and economic crisis management, 50 percent in this week's New York Times poll said that the troop surge in Iraq had "made things better," a finding validating McCain's consistent support for the increased deployment.

The overall picture on the post-Labor Day stage of the election is that the dynamics of the race have settled back to a similar point prior to the Democratic convention.
Jay Cost suggests McCain's consolidated the GOP base and Obama is currently benefitting from the market upheavals:

Contrary to what one might think if one's only source for information was the political class - there has not been a lot of movement. The movement we have seen seems to have been pretty orderly - with McCain solidifying his Republican base.

We also see a group of undecided voters who have not yet made a choice. They will probably be decisive. In a race with only two salient candidates - the goal is to hit 50%-plus-one. Both McCain and Obama can still do that via the undecided voters, who are becoming the critical voting block.

Nevertheless, the election's basically a dead heat at this point, and it's going to be increasingly important to look at polling trends in the key battleground states. The numbers on the improved GOP brand, therefore, provide a little more optimism for the Republican side.