Polls and Bounces

September 12, 2008

Prompted by a doomsday scenario post by a good friend of mine, I’d like to offer a brief word about the dangers of panic.  I’ve noticed a lot of my Democratic friends falling into despair the past couple of weeks since Palin-Mania has swept the country. (Remember when the McCain Campaign made fun of Obama for being a “celebrity”?  Next thing you know they’ll be claiming that McCain is the candidate of change….  Oh, wait.  They’re already doing that….)  The new polls that have come out this week have been a bit scary for us on the Blue Team.  Obama’s lead is gone.  McCain is up by a point or two in several national polls (that Gallup poll showing him up 10 among “likely voters” is clearly an outlier and not worth worrying about) and has tipped the electoral map in his favor by 10 or 15 electoral votes.  Yes, things do indeed look bleak.

Except for a few salient points:  First, every poll we’re seeing right now reflects McCain’s post-convention, post-Palin bounce.  Obama’s bounce was fleeting because it was followed so quickly by the announcement of Palin as McCain’s VP and then the Republican National Convention.  The McCain campaign deserves praise for their strategic planning.  They minimized the length of Obama’s bounce and maximized their own.  Well done.  But that doesn’t change the fact that we’re still in bounce mode.  There was a new poll in my paper this morning that showed McCain up one point nationally.  Here we are a full week after the RNC ended.  Shouldn’t the bounce be over by now?  Maybe.  But the poll was conducted Sept. 5-9:  RIGHT after the RNC ended.  It just took them a few days to compile the results and release, making it seem that McCain’s bounce is lasting longer than it actually is.  Remember:  none of the polls we’re seeing now tell us anything about the effect of the new Troopergate stories still coming out of Alaska.  None of them reflect the fact that Palin’s lies about the Bridge to Nowhere funding were beginning to wear thin during this week’s rallies.  None of them tell us anything about the effect of the Palin per diem story reported in the Washington Post and reprinted in many local papers.  None of them take into account her shaky performance last night with Charlie Gibson (Come on, Governor!  Even I know what the Bush Doctrine is!).
Second, McCain’s bounce has brought him to a virtual tie with Obama.  Maybe he’s up slightly.  Obama’s bounce, though it lasted only a few days, put him up by six to eight points in most polls and gave him a HUGE electoral advantage.  I used to work for a political consulting firm way back when (mid 1980s) and part of what I did was polling analysis.  Consultants often speak to their clients of polling ceilings and floors — levels that they’re not going to exceed and levels below which they probably won’t fall.  I believe that Barack Obama’s polling ceiling was revealed in those days after the DNC, when he was reaching 51% and 340 electoral votes.  I believe John McCain’s polling ceiling is right now, and it’s about 48% and 280 electoral votes.  That’s enough for him to win, particularly with Bob Barr and Ralph Nader appearing on most state ballots, but it gives him precious little margin to work with.  All things considered, I’d still rather be in Obama’s position than McCain’s.  The polls will balance out.

Third, polls do not take into account new voter registration, which has been favoring Democrats overwhelmingly, or the effect of the Obama ground organization, which could produce one of the great Get-Out-The-Vote campaigns in our nation’s history, or the fact that most young voters, who favor Obama by huge numbers, tend to have cell phones but no land lines.

Fourth, another truism from my consulting days:  In elections, a week is a long time, two weeks is a lifetime, three weeks is an eternity.  We’re still 7+ weeks out.  The dynamics of this race can and will change many times between now and November 4.  We are nowhere near the endgame.

Finally, no one ever said this was going to be easy.  We’re trying to elect an African-American man with a strange name President of the United States.  A lot of Americans simply aren’t ready for that.  This doesn’t mean we can’t win; it just means we’re going to have to work extra hard TO win.  The Rovian attack machine is in full battle mode already, spreading disgusting lies and innuendo, playing on racial and religious prejudices that many people don’t even know they harbor. 

So no, I don’t think we ought to be panicking.  But anyone who thought this was going to be a cakewalk was pretty much deluding him- or herself.


2 Responses to “Polls and Bounces”

  1. Alex Pendergrass said

    I don’t know if you saw the interview on one of the news stations with my governor (Granholm), but apparently in a neighboring county, they are running ads showing when Obama talked about his friend, the Detroit ex-mayor. They play the clip, then say something along the lines of “I wonder who else he’s friends with” or “these are his kinds of friends” while showing the things the ex-mayor has been convicted of. Playing this in a predominantly white county with history of less than friendly racial relations, all while declining to mention the clip is something like 18 months old, before all this happened with our mayor.

    Basically, McCain’s campaign has no regard for decency and truth-telling. Pretty sad, and the ad appears to be effective as well. :/

  2. davidbcoe said

    Guilt by association and race politics. Yeah, those can be effective. So much for McCain being a “different kind of politician…”

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