by Frank Schnittger
Thu Oct 23rd, 2008 at 04:57:26 PM EST
OK, its time to bring this baby home. I have resisted attempts at final prediction because I have been around long enough to see some extraordinary turn-arounds late in election campaigns. I have seen opinion polls get things spectacularly wrong. I have seen October surprises and apparent Bradley effects. I have seen elections stolen by voter suppression and outright vote counting fraud.
Too often it has just been the blind optimism of the partisans who presumed their apparently self-evident world-views were shared by the voters. I have always looked for hard data to support any prognostications made. I entitled my first Diary in this series Who is really going to win the US Election? in an attempt to focus on the data available rather than the wishes or political preferences of bloggers here. It was supposed to be about who would win the election, rather than who should.
That first diary, written in Dec. 2007, and based on the then available opinion poll data concluded: European Tribune - Who is really going to win the US Election?
CONCLUSION. The irony of the polarising bi-partisan system is that the most likely Democrat Nominee (Clinton) is the least certain to win the national election and the likely third place contender (Edwards) is the only one likely to beat all the Republican Contenders. And of all the main Republican contenders, the least likely to win the nomination (McCain) would be most likely to win the national election.
Its early days and all to play for, but my money (based on looking at the trends to date) is on a Clinton Huckabee contest with Clinton winning by a narrow majority. It's a bit like trying to predict the future by looking in the rear view mirror and we all know that big money and powerful vested interests are in the driving seat.
So what happened, and why did I get my own (admittedly very tentative and heavily qualified) prediction so badly wrong?
The first thing I got wrong was that I was not then aware of the extraordinary ground game that Obama was assembling - an organisation which made all previous ground games look like hopelessly amateur efforts (including Dean's, and one led by a certain Karl Rove). Whilst Clinton relied on the traditional Democratic Party machine, unmatched name recognition and the sense of inevitability that comes from 30 point leads in the polls, Obama was making sure he had the Iowa Caucuses tied up. His win in Iowa gave him the credibility as a candidate he needed heading into Super Tuesday and his ground game and the sense of presumption and entitlement surrounding Hillary's campaign did the rest.
The second thing I got wrong is that I bought into the "McCain has imploded" narrative and concluded that neither Romney nor Giulliani could attract the southern and fundamentalist Christian vote - which left Huckabee. I underestimated how much his populist economic message would alarm the business base of the GOP and he never recovered from not being competitive in the early northern Primaries. So McCain was resurrected as the lowest common denominator GOP candidate who also had some chance of success in the General Election because of his "maverick" image and support from independents.
However McCain also had one fatal flaw: he wasn't much loved by any wing of his party and so he felt he had to shore up his party base by picking a fundamentalist Christian and a women who might entice some Clinton loyalists from the Democratic party. To be fair, Obama had a similar problem, having only narrowly secured the nomination from Hilary Clinton - the darling of many women voters and more traditional Democrats.
I thought at the time his best move would be to offer her the VP slot (if she wanted it) to re-unite the party and present a more experienced "dream ticket" to the US electorate in the General. Sure she had high negatives (from both Democrats and Republican's) but the Democrats would get over it and the Republicans would oppose Obama anyway. As we approach November the VP candidates tends to fade into the background in any case.
In the event, Obama did the next best thing by appointing Biden who had the friendship of the Clintons, the acceptance of all Democrats, and the experience where Obama was weakest. It is reported that McCain wanted to appoint Lieberman as his VP candidate but was over-ruled by his campaign advisers who decided that McCain needed to consolidate his Republican base first. And for a while it worked, Palin was a media darling, and McCain surged ahead in the polls.
Two things then went wrong for McCain. First, Palin proved to be spectacularly inept at the job, and the Financial Melt-down brought it home to all American's that this election had to be more than just a beauty contest. It is also important to point out that Obama himself has run a superb campaign and barely put a foot wrong. There are a million ways a relatively inexperienced, liberal, black young Senator could have given his opponent and the media the opening to tear into the heart of his narrative of intelligence, judgment, steadiness and moderation. Had he given the slightest indication that he might fit the unspoken white fears of a vengeful black radical, his candidacy was toast.
And that is really all the McCain (and Clinton) campaigns have tried to do. The sometimes ludicrous attempts to link Obama to Rev. Wright, Ayres, Islamic terrorism and Acorn are supposed to conjure up the ghosts of Jessie Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, Malcolm X, and Al Sharpton. Instead, by his self-discipline and forbearance, Obama conjured up the ghosts of Martin Luther King and Colin Powell: figures safe enough to be included in the central American mythology of itself, of a nation coming to terms with its racist past.
Whereas McCain and Palin sought to divide America into real Americans and un-Americans (cf. Blacks, Latinos, liberals, and urban dwellers generally) Obama was inclusive and sought to identify himself with the economic concerns of the "middle class".
The foreign policy failures of the Bush era and the economic melt-down were always going to make this election an uphill task for any Republican. The emergence of a black candidate gave them one shot at overturning the odds. Obama - a bit like Muhammad Ali and his "rope-a-dope" strategy - took their best shots, and now is about to launch his knock-out blow.
So what makes me so confident that Obama can't now be beaten anymore?
Firstly, he has recovered from a "wobble" in the polls, where his lead in the Pollster.com poll averages declined from a peak of 9% 10 days ago to 5.7% three days ago. At that rate of decline (.5% per day) McCain could have re-taken the lead just before the Election. However Obama has since recovered in the national poll averages to an 8% lead and time is rapidly running out for McCain.
But worse than that for McCain, Obama has at least a 6.5% lead in all the states he needs to win the 270 Electoral votes and many other states where he is also in the lead.
And the table above does not factor in the latest slew of polls for today all of which show double digit leads for Obama in the states he needs to win, and even in some like Indiana which he does not need to win: RealClearPolitics - Election 2008 - Latest Polls
Race (Click to Sort)PollResultsSpread
|California||PPIC||Obama 56, McCain 33||Obama +23|
|Florida||Quinnipiac||Obama 49, McCain 44||Obama +5|
|Illinois||Big10 Battleground||Obama 61, McCain 32||Obama +29|
|Indiana||Big10 Battleground||McCain 41, Obama 51||Obama +10|
|Iowa||Big10 Battleground||Obama 52, McCain 39||Obama +13|
|Kansas||SurveyUSA||McCain 53, Obama 41||McCain +12|
|Michigan||Big10 Battleground||Obama 58, McCain 36||Obama +22|
|Minnesota||Big10 Battleground||Obama 57, McCain 38||Obama +19|
|Minnesota||National Journal/FD||Obama 50, McCain 40||Obama +10|
|Montana||Montana State U.||McCain 40, Obama 44||Obama +4|
|National||Rasmussen Reports||Obama 52, McCain 45||Obama +7|
|National||Gallup (Traditional)||Obama 50, McCain 46||Obama +4|
|National||Gallup (Expanded)||Obama 51, McCain 45||Obama +6|
|National||Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby||Obama 52, McCain 40||Obama +12|
|National||Hotline/FD||Obama 48, McCain 43||Obama +5|
|National||IBD/TIPP||Obama 45, McCain 44||Obama +1|
|National||GWU/Battleground||Obama 49, McCain 45||Obama +4|
|Ohio||Big10 Battleground||Obama 53, McCain 41||Obama +12|
|Ohio||Quinnipiac||Obama 52, McCain 38||Obama +14|
|Pennsylvania||SurveyUSA||Obama 53, McCain 41||Obama +12|
|Pennsylvania||Big10 Battleground||Obama 52, McCain 41||Obama +11|
|Pennsylvania||Morning Call||Obama 52, McCain 42||Obama +10|
|Pennsylvania||Quinnipiac||Obama 53, McCain 40||Obama +13|
|Pennsylvania||National Journal/FD||Obama 51, McCain 41||Obama +10|
|Texas||Rasmussen||McCain 54, Obama 44||McCain +10|
|West Virginia||Orion Strategies (D)||McCain 49, Obama 44||McCain +5|
|Wisconsin||Big10 Battleground||Obama 53, McCain 40||Obama +13|
|Wisconsin||National Journal/FD||Obama 53, McCain 40||Obama +13|
Please note that Real Clear Politics does not even list polls like Research 2000 national polls (because it is sponsored by DKOS) and excludes what it considers to be Democratic leaning polls from its averages. Completely inconsistently, it includes Research 2000 state-wide polls even though they too are sponsored by DKOS. It can also be very selective in the time period over which its averages its polls and in any case they only employs simple arithmetic averages. I therefore use the much more statistically sophisticated Pollster.com or fivethirtyeight.com figures in any trend analysis of all polls.
McCain is reduced to abandoning Colorado and targeting Pennsylvania in an attempt to maintain a viable strategy for achieving 270 electoral votes. However as the above table shows, no less than 5 polls today all show Obama ahead there by double digits. Not even Ohio is within double digits of a McCain win. McCain is down to the Republican rump states like Kansas and Texas, and even here his lead has been eroding rapidly.
So what has led to the McCain implosion in the last few days?
Firstly there is disagreement amongst pollsters as to whether McCain's recovery around the last debate was anything more than statistical noise and the "coincidence" of a slew of Republican leaning pollsters all releasing polls at around the same time.
Secondly, Obama's strong showing in the last debate took a few days to be reflected in the national and state-wide polls.
Thirdly, the Powell endorsement may have closed the deal for many independent and moderate Republicans voters worried about Obama's military inexperience.
Fourthly, the extraordinary success of Obama's ground game in bring voters to the polls early is rapidly converting "likely voters" in actual voters. (One third of the electorate may have voted before Nov. 4th.)
Fifthly, the McCain/Palin campaign seems to have fallen apart: witness Palin public disagreement with McCain over robocalls accusing Obama of "palling around with terrorists", spectacularly inept Palin comments re: real and unAmerican parts of America (read almost pure white and multi-racial), and mounting numbers of Republicans and conservatives endorsing Obama.
Sixthly, Obama raised a record $150 Million in September, and is outspending McCain by 3 to 1 in critical media markets.
Seventhly, and this may seem trivial, but we should not underestimate the damage the revelation that Palin spent $150,000 of Republican donor money on clothes does to her hockey mom and his "Joe the Plumber" attempts to identify the ticket with ordinary (even "real") Americans.
Allied to the apparent incoherence of public unscripted comments, increased worries about his age as her credibility collapses, and a campaign sending out many contradictory messages all at once; this gives the popular impression of a campaign in disarray, a party demoralised, and a pair of candidates who seem at odds with themselves and each other. And the even the MSM narrative is beginning to reflect this.
Everywhere the imagery is of Obama advancing into "red states" whilst McCain clings onto forlorn hopes of clinging on to Pennsylvania and Ohio. If current trends continue, not even Republican bastions like Georgia, West Virginia, Montana, and North Dakota will be safe, and the Democratic dream of a 60 member Senate Caucus comes ever closer to reality. The likely size of a Democratic victory may still be in doubt, but unless we construct a really paranoid conspiracy theory, it is no longer possible to construct an evidence based argument that Obama will not win.