Tuesday, October 21, 2008

McCain's Long Odds

Pew's got some pretty spectacular numbers for Barack Obama:

Barack Obama’s lead over John McCain has steadily increased since mid-September, when the race was essentially even. Shortly after the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, Obama moved to a 49% to 42% lead; that margin inched up to 50% to 40% in a poll taken just after the second debate. Currently, Obama enjoys his widest margin yet over McCain among registered voters, at 52% to 38%. When the sample of voters is narrowed to those most likely to vote, Obama leads by 53% to 39%.

Obama’s strong showing in the current poll reflects greater confidence in the Democratic candidate personally. More voters see him as “well-qualified” and “down-to-earth” than did so a month ago. Obama also is inspiring more confidence on several key issues, including Iraq and terrorism, than he did before the debates. Most important, Obama now leads McCain as the candidate best able to improve economic conditions by a wider margin (53% to 32%).

Obama’s gains notwithstanding, a widespread loss of confidence in McCain appears to be the most significant factor in the race at this point. Many more voters express doubts about McCain’s judgment than about Obama’s: 41% see McCain as “having poor judgment,” while just 29% say that this trait describes Obama. Fewer voters also view McCain as inspiring than did so in mid-September (37% now, 43% then). By contrast, 71% of voters continue to think of Obama as inspiring.
If there's a bright spot here for McCain, it's on the question of patriotic values:

Most voters continue to view McCain as patriotic (89%), well-qualified (72%) and honest (61%), and just more than half (54%) see him as down-to-earth....

Obama continues to be described as inspiring by seven-in-ten voters (71%) and the share who say he is down-to-earth rose from 65% a month ago to 71% now. More people now say he is well-qualified (53%) than said so in mid-September (47%), though he still trails McCain by 19 points on this measure.

While two-thirds (67%) say that Obama is patriotic, roughly a quarter (26%) say he is not. Still, views of Obama’s patriotism have improved slightly – last April, 61% said they thought of him as patriotic while 32% said he was not. A slim majority of Republicans (51%) and McCain supporters (52%) say they think Obama is not patriotic.
So, if voters find Barack Obama as less patriotic AND less qualified, what's going on?

Mostly, it's the economy, but also
the public's mediocre perception that McCain's run a strong campaign (these stand out for me, but see Pew's survey for more information).

Today's Gallup numbers are also favorable to the Democrats, and Gallup's separate review of more than 40,000 interviews from the last month shows the economy as the driving factor in voter support for Obama. Gallup concludes:

These data suggest that one of McCain's best hopes of improving his positioning against Obama in the remaining two weeks of the presidential campaign would be for a sharp drop to take place in the percentage of Americans holding negative views of the U.S. economy. Although McCain has been roundly castigated by his opponent for his September comment that the "fundamentals" of the U.S. economy are strong, these data would suggest that the statement was not necessarily an illogical effort on McCain's part, for it appears that if Americans come to believe things are not as bleak as they may seem, he gains.
With exactly two weeks left it seems improbable that the McCain campaign will be able to turn around public perceptions on the economy.

Other than that, there's some hope for McCain in the battleground states. The good news is that
some polls show the GOP ticket coming back in Florida and Ohio, two states vital to GOP hopes at retaining the White House.

The odds are long. McCain can't afford to lose other key states, like Missouri, that went for George W. Bush in 2004. Open Left, of all places, has
a nice run-down of the top battlegrounds to watch for the remainder of the contest.