Good news for John McCain in one key area – Pew finds his base support is firming up while Barack Obama’s continues to hold steady. Last month, the two candidates held an even share of the base at 83%. While Obama is holding steady after quickly consolidating most of Clinton’s support (69% in June, 72% since July), McCain has 88% support of his Republican field-mates’ former support, up to 87% overall of the Republican base from 83% in June.
Pew has an even more interesting chart measuring hard support compared with swing voters. While 35% support Obama with no chance of supporting McCain and 32% support McCain with no chance of supporting Obama, one in three remain swing voters. Of these, 36.4% lean Obama with a chance of McCain, 33.3% lean McCain with a chance of Obama, and 30.3% are truly undecided.
Each candidate’s supporters can find solace in the numbers. McCain supporters will be happiest knowing the "McCain, no-chance-Obama" supporters have upticked from 29% to 31% to 32% since June and that Obama’s support from the "no-chance-McCain" group dropped from 38% to 35% in July and stayed steady at that number in August. Among former Clinton supporters, the percent planning to support McCain in the fall upticked slightly from 17% to 18%.
Obama supporters will note that within the swing voters group, August’s 36.4% lean Obama - 33.3% lean McCain - 30.3% undecided pattern has reversed itself from June, when it was 36.4% undecided - 33.3% lean McCain - 30.3% lean Obama. Assuming an equal likelihood of Obama leaners flipping to McCain as McCain leaners flipping to Obama, McCain would have to win a hard break of better than 70% true undecideds to win the popular vote (often, but not exclusively, a proxy for an electoral win). Another bit of good news here for Obama's supporters is that among former Clinton supporters who weren’t sure who they’d choose in the fall, Obama has gained roughly 75% of the ones who’ve now made up their minds.
If the 3/4 pattern among the supported-Clinton-but-now-undecided continues to break at the same 3/4 rate for Obama, we can expect a roughly 80-20 split of former Clinton supporters overall (if we assume he does not eat into any of the Clinton-to-McCain voters between now and the election, an assumption to be tested after Clinton's performance at the convention and on the trail). This would mean that McCainocrats would out-percentage Obamacans as a percentage of each party’s respective base. However, a word of caution: many of those who consider themselves Obamacans may have switched party identification to Democratic or independent over the past four years and would thus not be counted in the percentage of Republican base McCain support.
The bottom line in the Pew findings is that McCain is steadily consolidating his base while Obama is treading water, so McCain's supporters should take more comfort. On the cusp of a VP pick that could impact McCain’s numbers with his base support, it’s useful to take a snapshot of where we are. For example, the floated idea of pro-choice Tom Ridge (who would “deliver” PA, per Chris Matthews) might be very unpopular with many members of McCain’s base and reverse this trend in the polling that is helping McCain stay very close behind Obama. Though there are rumblings from the Democratic blogosphere that Evan Bayh would represent an unacceptable choice because he supported the Iraq War, for example, I’m not sure I buy a hands-sitting affair by Dems over something relatively insignificant like a VP choice, particularly when we are told that picking Bayh would be an olive branch to Clinton Dems who Obama has not fully reeled in yet.
One key difference between base Democratic objection to Obama choosing someone like Bayh versus base Republican objection to McCain choosing someone like Ridge is that Dems do not mistrust Obama on ending the Iraq War and would not suddenly do so if Obama picks an Iraq War-supporter, whereas the Republican mistrust of McCain is about his commitment to social conservative issues that would be badly shaken by picking a pro-choice running mate.