Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Despite being ahead of John McCain in most polls, Obama still faces an uphill climb to the White House. Al Gore was ahead of George W. Bush in several polls before the November 2000 (s)election, yet he also faced an uphill climb, failing to win enough of a majority to prevent the fiasco in Florida. But the reasons for Obama’s struggle are more unique to this election, largely due to issues of Race, and America’s general unease with the unfamiliar and the Country’s tendency to be resistant to change, despite the need and the hunger for it. Ironic indeed. This resistance to change was also an issue for John Kerry in 2004, another candidate who polled well against George W. Bush leading up to the General Election, with numbers that were similar to what we are seeing now with Obama.
The numbers for Obama seem troubling to me. Although good across the board - winning support from women, winning young voters, winning large numbers of Black voters, and so on - he has been unable to hold a lead that reflects the nations "Change" sentiment. In National Polls, Obama is so far, averaging a lead of 5 points or so, with some polls showing a lead of less than 5 points, within or very near the MOE. Why is this troubling? Because according to just about every measure that I have seen/heard over the past 6 months, this election should be a transformative one, with very strong numbers in favor of the Democratic Party brand. When voters have been asked which Party they prefer (just generically) without the mention of specific candidates, Democrats have been chosen by margins in the range of 10-15 points. When asked about specific issues, Democrats have in some cases led by an even higher margin. But when John McCain was placed into the role of the GOP Candidate, the Republicans have typically polled better than the generic polls have suggested. This has a lot to do with the fact that McCain is a familiar name, a familiar face and (some) Americans feel comfortable with him.
Obama should be leading by 10 points or more at this stage. The length of the Democratic Primary and all of the negative Obama press it created, has probably had some impact on the current polling numbers. A 5 or 6 point lead may not be enough, considering the fact that the Republican media machine has yet to kick into high gear. Obama’s slim lead could be easily and quickly erased with the next gaffe or smear effort. Keep in mind that Obama had a 10-15 point lead in the State of Indiana, approximately 6 weeks before the Primary vote there, but ended up losing by a few thousand votes. There was a swing in polling numbers of more than 15 points in Indiana in just a few weeks. I watched the numbers every few days and saw them drop like a rock. The culprit? The corporate media’s smearing of Obama with xenophobic propaganda campaigns and the relentless looping of Rev. Wright stories, 24 hours a day, providing no context to the situation at all.
The same problem could happen again in the General Election contest and could make Obama's poll numbers sink. Although we should not place too much trust in National Polls, because what we actually have is 50 separate State-by-State elections for President. The National Polls only provide observers with an idea of which candidate Americans are leaning towards. In the State-by-State races, Obama is doing o.k. at the moment. Not great, but o.k. The most troubling area appears to be Michigan. McCain has managed to put Michigan in play, when it has usually been a more safe State for Democrats in recent elections. I don’t anticipate Democrats losing Michigan- there are tens of thousands of Democratic votes in the Detroit Metro area that are probably hard for Polls to accurately measure. But the situation is worth watching. Obama is putting more Republican States in play than John McCain is with Democratic States.
Obama will also have to do more to reach out to working class white voters. This will continue to be a problem for Obama in the coming weeks and months. There are significant numbers of these voters who will not vote for Barack Obama no matter how much he reaches out. The reasons for this have to do with issues xenophobia & Race. Racism will be an issue in this General Election campaign. In some States, such as Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia for example, as many as 20% of voters indicated that Race had an impact on their vote in the Democratic Primary election. If those were the numbers for the Democratic Primary, it seems to me that the General Election could, in some cases, be worse. This is probably an issue in other States as well, although to a much smaller degree. But in an election where several of the State-by-State races may be extremely close, having Race impact voters by just a few percentage points, could have a big impact on the outcomes. I am especially concerned about States such as Ohio, Virginia, Michigan, Missouri, and Colorado.
Obama will have to run a much smoother election campaign this time as compared to the Primary. His staff will have to be on a shorter leash. And he will have to respond to questions and attacks much quicker than before. The anti-smear website was definitely a good move overall, but it could also have pitfalls if not used effectively. There are issues with the site that the campaign may want to address...simply tweaking the design a little may help.
There are a few issues that should play in Obama’s favor. Two of the biggest issues are:
#1. The War on Terrorism/the attractiveness of a Ronald Reagan or John Wayne gunslinger President may not be as big of an issue among voters in this election as compared to 4 years ago. (Unless Republicans employ a heavy dose of fear, as they did in 2004).
#2. The economy. If the economy continues down its current path and if gas prices remain sky high, winning the election may prove to be very difficult for John McCain. If the Obama campaign plays smart, they will loop commercials 24 hours a day with video footage of McCain stating that he didn’t understand the economy during one of his campaign events a few months ago. The statement was made in response to a voters question. McCain handed his microphone to one of his economic advisors so that she could answer what seemed to be a very simple question that any Business student should have been able to answer.