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How do you get from a 47-44 Obama lead among RVs to a 49-45 McCain lead among LVs?Whatever one thinks about likely voter models in general, the mathematics of this particular implementation defy credulity. Although, we should probably wait for USA Today to release its crosstabs so we can make sure there wasn't a typographical error of some kind in the write-up.
A few quick calculations shows how. You have 900 RVs and 791 LVs, so that means that among your 109 UVs (that's unlikely voters according to Gallup) Obama leads McCain by a whopping 61% to 7%.
Putting it another way, according to Gallup 16% of registered Obama supporters are unlikely to vote compared with only 2% of registered McCain supporters.
Also, this is a good time to mention Robert Erikson's critique of the extra volatility introduced by Gallup's likely voter model in past election cycles.
1. A Politico article which touts Tim Kaine's prospects and mentions three other candidates, published just moments ago.
2. A Wall Street Journal column from Saturday.
4. And finally, Chris Cillizza's most recent Veepstakes entry.
For good measure, we'll also throw in the most recent odds from Intrade.
So, the media CW pretty clearly seems to be centered around four choices -- Kaine, Bayh, Biden and Sebelius -- probably in that order. The betting markets, which really don't have any other information to traffic on but the media speculation, have largely followed suit.
My sense is that Obama is somewhat more likely than is implied in these articles to throw everyone a curveball. These lists are not truly independent from one another, as everyone is talking to the same sources. But that may just be my wishful thinking as a partisan, as this blog officially still has a crush on Brian Schweitzer.
UPDATE: Added two more sources: a fresh article from the Washington Post -- which unhelpfully lists all nine candidates that we had listed originally -- and this bit of tea-leaf reading from MSNBC.
As a rule, races for the Senate break late -- and so we should not expect too much organic movement between now and Labor Day. Indeed, our overall projection remains unchanged from last week. We still project the Democrats to control 55.3 seats after the November elections, not counting Sens. Sanders and Lieberman. However, there has been a bit of movement in individual races.
Colorado has moved from Likely Democrat to Lean Democrat on the basis of somewhat stronger polling for Bob Schaffer. Both Quinnipiac and Rasmussen show the race tightening -- Quinnipiac, in fact, had the race tightening all the way to a dead heat, although it appears that their sample might have undercounted Democrats. Our regression model had expected some tightening in this race. At the end of the day, however, Mark Udall is probably closer to the median of the Colorado electorate than is Bob Schaffer -- Mark Udall is far more of a moderate than his cousin Tom in New Mexico -- and remains the more compelling candidate.
We now characterize Alaska as 'Lean Democrat' rather than 'Toss-Up'/'Tilt Democrat', as new Rasmussen polling shows Mark Begich with an 8-point lead -- his largest-ever advantage in a public poll. Ted Stevens is probably the least popular incumbent up for reelection this year -- although John Sununu in New Hampshire makes it close -- and we will begin to place pressure on Begich through his cash-on-hand advantage, while Begich tries to run out the clock. But it does appear that Begich has the edge for now.
There is also some interesting polling in New Hampshire, but it is contradictory. Rasmussen and UNH show the race tightening toward John Sununu*, while ARG has Jeanne Shaheen expanding her lead. Likewise, in Minnesota, Rasmussen has now released two polls in a row that gave a slight edge to Al Franken, while Quinnipiac shows Norm Coleman ahead by a fairly comfortable margin.
Also keep an eye on Georgia, which holds its Democratic primary run-off next week between Vernon Jones and Jim Martin. We list Jones as our default candidate because he got the largest share of votes in the initial primary, but Martin probably ought to rate as the favorite in the run-off, as he is likely to consolidate support from among white voters who had initially voted for a candidate like Dale Cardwell**. Electorally speaking, it would be a good thing for Democrats if Martin won the seat. Jones would not make the race competitive, Martin has polled close enough that he may be able to put some pressure on Saxby Chambliss and hope for a mistake, or to benefit from Obama turnout coattails.
* While we give UNH a pretty good rating, Laura Clawson at Blue Hampshire says there's good reason to be skeptical.
** Frankly, this precise scenario is why a lot of Southern states tend to use the run-off system.
But Romney also comes with several liabilities which, when combined with his strengths, would tend to produce a very interesting electoral map.
One of the more reliable indicators we have identified for electoral strength is a candidate's fundraising numbers. Mitt Romney raised quite a bit of money -- about $60 million from individual contributors, of which $48 million came in large enough chunks to require disclosure to the FEC. Thus, we can look at Romney's fundraising totals in each state.
As a basis for comparison, we will use George W. Bush's fundraising haul in 2004, which included about $190 million in individual contributions that were large enough to be tallied by the FEC. Overall, Romney raised about 25 percent as much as Bush (again, counting only those contributions that the FEC itemized). But the ratio varied significantly from state to state. Romney raised just 2 percent as much as Bush in Arkansas, but 972 percent as much in Utah. A complete accounting of the Romney v. Bush numbers is below; states where we presently project the McCain-Obama matchup to finish within 6 percentage points are highlighted in yellow.
Let's look at this as a map as well. States where Romney underperformed his weighted average of 25 percent of Bush's fundraising total are tinted red; states where he overperformed the total are tinted green.
From these figures, we can make some pretty good inferences about where Romney's strengths might lie:
-- The Mormon Belt. Romney, unsurprisingly, does exceptionally well in states with with large concentrations of Mormons. Unfortunately for him, some of these states -- like Utah and Idaho -- are utterly irrelevant electorally. But he might also be of some assistance in Nevada, Colorado, and possibly Oregon, though the latter may not be close enough for it to matter. He is not of much help in New Mexico, which has distinctly different demographics from the rest of the region and where Romney's lack of popularity among Hispanic voters might be a liability.
-- Michigan. Romney's fundraising numbers in Michigan were strong, and he would probably be an asset there. Although, his impact seems to stop at the Michigan border; Romney did not do especially well in any of the states surrounding the Wolverine State.
-- New England. Romney's fundraising was also relatively strong in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Of these, probably only New Hampshire is competitive, but those are four fairly important electoral votes. I am not sure, by the way, how much of this really has to do with Romney's tenure as governor of Massachusetts, where his approval ratings had been marginal. Instead, there are a fair number of fiscal conservatives in New England, among whom Romney's business background might have some appeal.
In contrast, Romney might be a liability in some other regions:
-- The South. Romney's fundraising numbers were quite bad in the South, where he generally matched no more than 10 percent of George W. Bush's fundraising total. He would probably be a modest liability in Virginia, and might put states like North Carolina, West Virginia, and possibly Georgia and even Arkansas further into play. The problem, simply put, is that Romney's Mormonism is anything but an asset to Evangelical Protestants. In 14 states that SurveyUSA polled in January and February, before Romney dropped out of the race, John McCain beat Barack Obama by an average of 33 points among evangelical voters. Romney, by contrast, led Obama by just 18 points. Although it is unclear just how many of these evangelicals would defect to Obama in the end, the Republicans would have significant concerns over those voters not turning out, or voting for Bob Barr.
- The Upper Midwest, Sans Michigan. Romney's fundraising totals were very marginal in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Indiana -- though Iowa, where Romney spent the better part of a year campaigning, was a modest exception. These states tend to place a heavy value on authenticity, and Romney's polish is a poor match for the Midwestern aesthetic. Wisconsin and Minnesota, already difficult states for McCain, might be placed further out of reach if Romney were on the ticket, and Indiana and North Dakota might present more substantial opportunities for Barack Obama.
- New Mexico and other Hispanic-heavy states. Romney performed quite poorly among Latino voters in the Republican primaries. He won just 23 percent of their votes in Arizona (versus 35 percent of the white vote), 14 percent in Florida (versus 34 percent of whites) and 27 percent in California (versus 38 percent of whites). Although Romney's tough stance on illegal immigration is part of the reason he might be helpful to McCain in states Colorado, he might do more harm than good in states where the Hispanic population is a little larger, such as New Mexico and possibly Florida.
Overall, placing Mitt Romney on the ticket would tend to produce a very broad map. Several "Lean Democratic" states -- Michigan, Colorado, New Hampshire -- would tend to be pushed closer toward toss-up status. But likewise, there are areas where Romney might be harmful, and some "Lean Republican" states -- North Carolina, Indiana, North Dakota -- could also become toss-ups. We might also have to give more consideration to scenarios in which Barack Obama loses both Michigan and Ohio (although, there is no reason to think Romney will be especially helpful in Ohio) but comes up with a winning electoral combination, most likely through gains in the South. For example, Obama could lose both Michigan and Ohio (and still reach 270 electoral votes) if he won both Virginia and Florida. He could also lose both Michigan and Ohio if he won Virginia, North Carolina and Iowa.
Obama could also try and counterprogram Romney by means of his own Vice Presidential selection. However, it is not clear whether such a strategy would involve playing offense or defense. Obama could conceivably pick a Westerner like Brian Schweitzer in an effort to offset Romney's gains in the West; this would be a defensive strategy. Or, he could pick a Southerner to try and exploit his opportunity in that region; this would be the more aggressive maneuver. There might be some utility in his avoiding a Catholic candidate in an effort to expand his reach to evangelicals, however, a disproportionate number of the Democratic VP contenders are Catholic (including Biden, Kaine, Sebelius, Clark, Schweitzer and Reed). There might also be some utility in picking a candidate who performs strongly among working class voters, as Romney's background and personality make him more appealing to the country club set. Hillary Clinton, frankly, would be a pretty interesting choice on paper (John Edwards would be even better if his alleged scandal does not prove to be a problem) as might a darkhorse choice like Sherrod Brown. Evan Bayh, who has a +29 approval rating among evangelicals in Indiana, might also be a fairly good fit.
As for the McCain team, they have ample reason to select Romney, but they need to understand that his strengths don't necessarily match the conventional wisdom. Romney's base tends neither to be evangelicals nor Reagan Democrats, but instead, middle- and upper-class fiscal conservatives who value lower taxes and stricter immigration policies and who are probably relatively satisfied with the status quo. This describes a significant number of independent voters in states like Colorado. However, if the Republicans throw Romney out there and try to turn him into a populist, they'll be in for a long campaign.
A few miscellaneous items:
- Perhaps the most comprehensive study I have seen on the Bradley/Wilder effect so far in this cycle was conducted by Harvard political scientist Dan Hopkins and is available for your perusal here (PDF). Hopkins' conclusion: the Bradley Effect may have been real in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but does not not appear to exist any more, and in fact there is some (weak) evidence of a reverse Bradley effect. This finding is broadly consistent with the (far less rigorous) studies I have done on the issue.
- I will be on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC Radio tomorrow morning at approximately 10 AM Eastern.
- Karl Rove is an occasional reader.
- Speaking of conservatives, I saw Reihan Salam on David Gregory's show the other day. He is perhaps the right's best answer to Rachel Maddow -- someone who has a strong point of view without being predictable about it -- and is deserving of more airtime.
Indeed, the longer that the Presidential campaign drags on -- and it has dragged on for a very long time now -- the less resonance there is to the critique of Obama as being too inexperienced to occupy the White House. There is a core truth to this criticism that remains as valid as it ever has -- Obama has spent relatively few years in elected office. But 'inexperience' has also been employed by Obama's opponents as a less literal, politically correct stand-in for other sorts of arguments: Obama is young, black, has a foreign-sounding name -- he's unfamiliar. Obama may still be inexperienced, but familiarity is no longer a problem.
This phenomenon has actually been noticable for some time. I performed a search of the archives for four major newspapers: the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and USA Today. In January, Obama's name was mentioned a combined 1,065 times between those four sources. In 271 of those 1,065 articles (25.4%), the word "experience" or "inexperienced" appeared in conjunction with Obama's name. This month, by contrast, Obama's name has appeared 1,431 times. But the terms "experience" and "inexperienced" have been associated with his name only about half as often -- in 180 of 1,431 instances, or 12.6 percent.
Part of this certainly is that John McCain has not been nearly so aggressive about pushing the experience argument as Hillary Clinton was. Whether this is to his campaign's credit or not, I don't know. On the one hand, the experience theme largely fell flat for Clinton, with the possible exception of the '3 AM' ad that aired around the time of the Texas and Ohio primaries. On the other hand, McCain is on much firmer ground to actually argue that he has an advantage in experience. But if McCain was going to win the election on the experience argument, he probably ought to have begun emphasizing it before Obama's trip abroad.
The objections aren't just a matter of patriotic pride over Anheuser-Busch's flagship Budweiser brand, which might be the most recognizably American brand in the world. Rather, the issue is that it is a near-certainty that InBev will cut jobs. If InBev is smart, it will delay or limit the number of job cuts in St. Louis itself. But consolidation and cost-savings are how money is made in mergers between mature companies, and that means a certain number of 'redundant' positions are going to be eliminated. Indeed, Anheuser-Busch had already announced job cuts of 10-15 percent in June in an effort to trim its fat and make itself a less meaty target for InBev, whose takeover bid it initially considered hostile.
Ordinarily, it would be hard to tie the takeover to the political campaign. Like it or not, this is capitalism at work, and it is not clear that the merger had anything to do with the recession. Alcohol stocks are notoriously recession-proof, and BUD had remained basically flat over the past two years before ticking upward on rumors of the InBev bid, which paid its shareholders a substantial premium.
However, Cindy McCain is the chairwoman of Phoenix-based beer distributor Hensley & Co, which has substantial holdings in Anheuser-Busch. The Wall Street Journal reports that Hensley & Co stands to make around $1 million on the transaction.
This is still an issue involving a candidate's wife, rather than the candidate himself, and so the Obama campaign might need to handle it fairly delicately; it might be territory better suited for a 527 group, for instance. The other issue is that it is not immediately clear what policies might have been implemented to prevent the transaction, as Obama himself said in a trip to St. Louis earlier this month.
There is, however, one potential remedy. The deal arguably runs afoul of antitrust laws, as it increases the amount of consolidation in the domestic macrobrew industry, which SmartMoney.com describes as "basically an oligopoly of Anheuser, SABMiller and Molson Coors. Though InBev does not own any domestic labels, it does owns three of the ten best-selling brands of imported beers: Heineken, Beck's and Amstel Light.
Obama, therefore, could pressure the Federal Trade Commission on the matter, or request oversight hearings from the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition and Consumer Rights.
The ranking member of the Antitrust Committee is Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl; Russ Feingold is also one of its 11 members. The Wisconsin Senators can speak to the the likely job cuts in Milwaukee brought about by the recent Miller-Coors merger, which bypassed both Milwaukee and Denver to place its new headquarters in Chicago. One can imagine Obama and Feingold holding a "Save our Jobs" rally outside Anheuser-Busch headquarters in St. Louis, with Feingold promising to hold hearings on the InBev merger and Obama pledging to appoint FTC commissioners who will aggressively defend American interests. John McCain, because of his wife's interests in the transaction, would be in no position to rebut their proposals.
That's meat-and-potatoes politics at its best, and nothing goes better with meat and potatoes than a little beer.
In California, Obama leads John McCain by 10 points according to Rasmussen. This is quite a step down from Rasmussen's result in June, when Obama had led McCain by 28 points. Their other California polling, however, had been closer, showing Obama in the lead by margins ranging from 7 points to 15. Regardless, California polling is mostly an academic endeavor in this year's election. The state is not competitive, and so far as I can tell, the Obama campaign does not even have a field office open there.
In South Carolina, it's McCain by 13 in a new Research 2000 poll for DailyKos.com. This is Research 2000's first poll in South Carolina, and so there are no trendlines for comparison. Nevertheless, this is the first South Carolina poll to show McCain with a lead in the double digits.
Obama is just about at his high water marks in the national tracking polls, however. Gallup shows him ahead by 7 points, tying his best-ever margin in that poll, while Rasmussen has him ahead by 6. What Obama's foreign policy trip may have done, and particularly his speech in Berlin, is to refresh enthusiasm among his core supporters. Fully 60 percent of Democrats now have a very favorable opinion of Obama, according to Rasmussen's latest numbers. That number is improved from 53 percent a week ago. During that time frame, Obama has gained 6 points of support among Democrats, capturing 82 percent of their votes rather than 76. Half of that gain comes from undecided voters, while the other half comes from McCain.
July 25 (Bloomberg) -- Political strategists and pollsters are on the hunt for the ``soccer moms'' and ``Nascar dads'' of 2008, the blocs of swing voters with enough clout to turn the tide in the presidential race.
Pollsters haven't yet popularized catchy labels for key demographic groups, like the minivan-driving suburban ``soccer moms'' deemed crucial in 1996.
Yes, the outcome of this election will be entirely determined by non- college educated white women between the ages of 50 and 69. In fact, political strategists have determined even more specifically that it will be 57-year-old women named Cynthia who skipped their high school reunion and live within three miles of a Pottery Barn.
In addition to these state-level results, Obama also gained ground in the Gallup and Rasmussen national tracking polls, which have him ahead by 6 and 5 points respectively.
Scott Rasmussen's polling suggests that the Berlin speech played fairly well, but then again, you might have thought the same about Obama hanging out with the troops and sinking three-pointers, or the imagery of his flying in a helicopter above Baghdad with General Petraeus and Chuck Hagel, and those didn't seem to move the numbers much. There is, I suppose, a distinction in that there is no real policy issue on the table in Germany in the way there is in Iraq -- and Obama's speech was notably light on specifics.
In any event, people seem to like these sort of big, cinematic moments, and that's something to keep in mind as we head into the conventions. When I saw Howard Dean speak in Austin, he seemed to be dropping hints at some of the themes the Democrats will emphasize in Denver: they were all fairly high-minded, with one of the big ones being the face that Obama presents to the world. I'd expect the Democratic Convention to be a big-budget, high-production, optimistic, patriotic, and somewhat nebulously saccharine affair. In other words, I'd expect it to be the sort of convention you'd normally expect from the Republicans. I've been critical of Obama in recent days for his inability to channel his Inner Bubba, but perhaps the Reagan model is the one he was cut out for all along.
Mind you, none of this has much to do with any of today's polling results in particular. I think we're at one of those points where we need to wait a few days for the news cycle to settle down before we determine who, if anyone, has emerged with momentum.
From a hot-off-the-presses interview between McCain and the Columbus Dispatch:
This is not wholly different from what McCain told voters in New Hampshire, or told Katie Couric. But after taking some heat for his remarks, McCain is not backing down. In fact, he has broadened his criticsm: now anybody who fails to acknowledge the success of the surge -- and probably anyone who opposed it in the first place -- is apparently branded as something just short of a traitor.
Q: Does that mean it's the same as putting politics ahead of country?
A: It means ... I said, I will repeat my statement again, that he would rather lose a war than lose a campaign. Because anyone who fails to acknowledge that the surge has worked, who has consistently opposed it, consistently never sat down and had a briefing with General Petraeus, our commander there, would rather lose a war than a political campaign.
The McCain campaign has taken a couple of cheap shots at the Obama campaign while he has been in Europe and the Middle East. This is one of them, and the other was McCain's new commercial directly blaming Obama for high gas prices. This is smart politics I suppose, considering that Obama's staff isn't in a good position to respond. But McCain clearly thinks this phrasing is a winner for him, and if the Obama people don't get on the case pronto, they may find themselves going down John Kerry's well-worn path.
We might think of it like this. Suppose that, in the status quo, 75 percent of voters base their vote on domestic policy, and those voters go to Obama 60:40. The remaining 25 percent base their votes on foreign policy, and they vote for McCain 70:30. Under this scenario, Obama would win the election by five points:
[Status Quo] % Voting Obama McCainNow suppose this: Obama emphasizes foreign policy. As a result, he cuts his deficit with McCain on that issue from 70-30 to 65-35. But he also increases the percentage of the public that base their decision on foreign policy from 25 percent to 35 percent. (Indeed, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center, attention to Iraq and Afghanistan has increased by about that margin within the past week). The electorate now looks as follows:
Foreign Policy 25 30 70
Domestic Policy 75 60 40
Total 100 52.5 47.5
[FP Emphasis] % Voting Obama McCainNow, instead of leading by five points, Obama leads by just two-and-a-half -- even though the strategy succeeded in improving perceptions about his ability to handle foreign policy.
Foreign Policy 35 35 65
Domestic Policy 65 60 40
Total 100 51.25 48.75
What you're hoping for in the long-run, of course, is something like this:
[Long-Term?] % Voting Obama McCainThat is, in the long-run, the public's emphasis shifts back to domestic policy, which is where Obama wants it. But among those voters who do want to vote on foreign policy, he has assuaged some concerns and made some permanent gains. This results in him leading by 7.5 points rather than five.
Foreign Policy 25 35 65
Domestic Policy 75 60 40
Total 100 53.75 46.25
Granted, this has been a rather arbitrary exercise. But it wouldn't surprise me if something like this is going on. You're still giving McCain a sort of home-court advantage by fighting every day over foreign policy, even if you're winning some of the skirmishes.
The other substantive takeaway is that it may be a mistake for Obama to pick a Vice President who shifts the emphasis to foreign policy. So those of you who had Mssrs. Biden, Clark, Reed, Hagel, or Nunn in the Democratic Veepstakes, it may be time for a short.
- To speak to a national television audience at least once a week through a variety of venues.
- To speak to age 18-30 voters on a regular basis, through mechanicsms such as online chats that you host at your website.
- To develop a 30-second soundbyte answer to the question of high gas prices that everybody can recite by rote.
- To embody some of Bill Clinton, let your guard down, and speak to people's economic pain every day.
- To embody some of Hillary Clinton, develop more than one gear, and keep the McCain team off-balance.
- To speak to the importance of your role as a father, and to use it to highlight the moral imperative that we face in keeping the environment safe for our children.
- To pick some quick-and-dirty populist pieces of legislation that appeal to particular swing constituencies, such as the Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights.
- To determine whether Hillary Clinton is able and willing to be a high-profile surrogate for you and, if so, to deploy her on the trail immediately.
- To get some better advertising people, and run more ads less often rather than fewer ads more often.
- To quit being so deferential to John McCain.
- To let the press in all the way, except FOX NEWS.
- To avoid the temptation to pick a Vice President by focus group.
- To make some high-profile admission of an error in judgment that you made, and to get your self-effacing sense of humor back.
- To highlight an issue like your support for gays in the military that polls better than the Republicans realize, and attempt to lure them into re-fighting the culture wars.
- To continue going after uncharted ground like Montana, North Dakota and Indiana where the McCain campaign can't spend resources without losing face.
- To poll the hell out of the cellphone problem and determine if it gives you an advantage, and if so, in which states.
- To quit acting like you have a 10-point lead. You don't.
Note: This is analysis, not advice.
In Colorado, Quinnipiac has McCain ahead by 2 points, 46-44. This is the only Colorado poll in which McCain has led all year, save for an oddball results from the GOP-affiliated firm TargetPoint Consulting back in early April. Obama had led by 5 points in Quinnipiac's prior poll of Colorado, taken at the height of Obama's post-primary bounce last month.
Obama maintains his lead in the other three states in this box set, but it is smaller than before in each instance. In Michigan, Obama now leads by 4 points after having been 6 points ahead in June. In Wisconsin, his lead is down from 13 points to a still-healthy 11-point margin. But in Minnesota, the tightening is far more substantial, with Obama's lead going from 17 points to just 2.
Rasmussen also has numbers out today from another swing state, New Hampshire, where Obama holds a 4-point lead -- broadly in line with the recent UNH and ARG surveys -- after having led by 11 in June.
I hope that there is no longer any question that this is more than just statistical noise. Yes, there are individual results we can critique. It's hard to imagine Obama running 9 points stronger in Wisconsin than he does in Minnesota, for instance. And Quinnipiac's results from Colorado are a little odd, as Obama leads among independent voters and does as well as McCain does amongst his party, but trails slightly overall (Quinnipiac does not weight its results by party ID). Our model is designed to account for this noise in a variety of different ways, and for the moment, it doesn't take the possibility of a McCain win in Minnesota seriously, and still regards Obama as a very narrow favorite in Colorado.
But our model is also designed to evaluate trends, and there is an increasingly large body of evidence that Obama is now polling somewhere between 3-4 points off his peak numbers. In the grand scheme of things, that doesn't mean all that much -- it means that perhaps 1 in every 60 strangers you encounter on the street has switched from Obama to McCain within the last month. The more relevant question is where the downtrend dates from. If you look at our tracking graph, it seems to have started -- or at least steepened -- coming out of the July 4 holiday, when some of the Obama is a flip-flopper narrative began to take root. I am less convinced that Obama is getting an anti-bounce out of his trip abroad, and would remind you that their is a lagged effect before certain stories take hold, particularly in the dog days of the summer when the public's attention span for campaign coverage is limited.
The alternate hypothesis is that this is simply a reflection of McCain's greater investments in advertising in the early campaign, something we'll explore at greater length soon.
There is a fancier explanation here involving green M&M's and the Monty Hall Problem, but the the basic one is commonsensical. When a voter indicates that their first choice is Ralph Nader, we can reasonably infer that they do not like Barack Obama. These Nader votes are not coming from people on the progressive left who are trying to play it cute; 2000 taught Democrats a lesson that they won't forget until they take back the White House. Instead, they're coming from PUMAs and other left-of-center voters who find Obama unacceptable for one or another reason (if they were right-of-center voters who found Obama unacceptable, they'd just vote for McCain). We should not be surprised that, having determined that these voters consider Obama unacceptable, they'd pledge their votes to McCain if he's the only other choice.
But McCain isn't the only other choice; Nader and Barr will appear on the ballot in most states, and you can always sit out the election, undervote the Presidential race, or write somebody's (Hillary's?) name in. The general rule of thumb is that third party votes decrease as we get nearer to the election; that's why most polling -- and almost all of our state polling -- does not call out Nader and Barr. But if McCain is picking up 2 or 3 points' worth of support from aggrieved Clinton voters who say they prefer Nader when given the choice, I'm not sure how many of those votes he can expect on Election Day.
In the polling thread, I also suggested that the model would consider Florida to be a swing state. This was guesswork on my part, and in fact the model is not ready to do that quite yet -- it still rates McCain as about a 3-point favorite. If the new Quinnipiac poll, which ought to be out any day now (Quinnipaic typically publishes on Thursdays), shows Obama maintaining or increasing his lead, we may have a different story.
But now, just has his numbers in Ohio have fallen, his numbers in Florida may be on the rise. According to new data from Rasmussen, Obama now holds a 2-point lead in Florida. Obama had trailed significantly in all prior Rasmussen polling of the state, including a survey conducted in late June that had McCain ahead by 7. Our model now rates both Florida and Ohio as toss-ups.
Are we looking at noise in the data, or are there any reasons why Obama should be gaining ground in Florida while losing it in Ohio? Exit polling from 2004 might provide a clue. In Florida, 41 percent of voters identified a foreign policy issue (Iraq or terrorism) as their #1 concern, as opposed to 29 percent who identified an economic issue (jobs, health care or taxes). But in Ohio, just 30 percent picked foreign policy, while 35 percent picked the economy. This is, I suppose, just common sense: Ohioans tend to vote on pocketbook issues, whereas Floridians -- with their particular concerns on Israel and Cuba -- are more engaged in foreign policy. So, it seems plausible that Obama's international trip is helping to reassure voters in Florida, while at the same time it distracts him from focusing on the economic concerns that might be of most interest to Ohio.
There is some other polling out today too, but none of it is quite as interesting. In Virginia, Obama holds a 2-point lead in a new survey from Public Policy Polling; he led by the same margin in their June release. Rasmussen has Obama 13 points ahead in Minnesota -- a slight downtick from the 17-point margin he held two weeks ago, but still nowhere near the numbers McCain needs to make the state competitive. And in New Jersey, a poll from Monmouth/Gannett has Obama with a safe-looking 14-point lead (this is actually a downgrade from April, when Gannett had shown Obama 24 points ahead, but that poll had looked like an outlier at the time).
Note: There will be a slight delay before we get the charts and graphs updated.
It probably cannot be debated that economic turmoil in general helps the Democratic candidate -- but gas prices carry a particular symbolic weight that may reframe the issue in ways favorable to the Republican.
For one thing, there are the specific remedies that McCain has proposed: a reduction in the gas tax and a relaxation of the moratorium on offshore drilling. The former is a mixed bag electorally -- Obama did an admirable job of arguing the issue in the primaries -- but the latter is probably worth something to McCain. Offshore drilling polls well, and while the Obama campaign has some good arguments to make about its lack of connection to near-term gas prices, it has not really been devoting sufficient bandwidth to the economy to make them.
Secondly, while both candidates have placed some attention to the inexorably linked issues of climate change and energy security, for McCain the emphasis has been energy security / climate change, whereas for Obama it has been climate change / energy security. High gas prices may reduce the public's tolerance for seeing reductions in greenhouse gases as a moral and generational imperative (and a long-run economic imperative) and instead favor a more pragmatic approach that purports to lower gas prices first and ask questions later.
Thirdly, in what is arguably a reversal from the usual Democratic / Republican positions, Obama has run a far more optimistic campaign -- and that messaging may go over less well when people are grumpy about what they're paying at the pump.
Now, I think the Obama campaign could win the argument over high gas prices. But I don't know that they are winning it, and as such, that gives McCain some openings on the economy that he might lack otherwise.
* Let me also make clear: I think too much attention is paid to the price of gas as opposed to other commodities.
That's a little weird. Kaine's not up for re-election this year -- and he won't be up for re-election in 2010 since Virginia governors cannot serve more than one consecutive term. In fact, Kaine would seem to be one of the more star-crossed politicians around. Once Mark Warner wins his race and joins Jim Webb in the Senate, the earliest Kaine could plausibly run for that office would be ... 2018, assuming that Webb had been defeated in 2012 (of course, Webb might also have Presidential ambitions that year). Kaine could also run for governor again in 2014, although just one Virginia governor since Reconstruction has ever pulled a Cleveland. Or he could run for the House, but it's fairly unorthodox for an ex-Governor to do so.
The point is, if Kaine has long-term political aspirations and doesn't want a big gap in his resume, it behooves him to hitch his star to Barack Obama and hope for a job in his administration: that and Chairman of the DNC would seem to be the only reasonably high-profile jobs available to him between 2010 and at least 2014.
One of those cabinet jobs, of course, is that of the Vice President; Kaine presently ranks fifth in the Intrade Democratic Veepstakes, behind only Kathleen Sebelius, Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton. "FIRED UP FOR CHANGE"? It practically seems like he's campaigning for the position, as the ad feels like one of those Heisman Trophy PR kits.
Of all the prospective Democratic VP nominees, Kaine may have the fewest obvious drawbacks. The only problem is that he isn't all that popular in the state he is supposed to help Barack Obama to carry -- Virginia. In a Rasmussen poll conducted last week, 50 percent of Virginian likely voters rated Kaine's performance as "fair" or "poor", as opposed to 48 percent who rated it "good" or "excellent". And his numbers were even worse among independent voters: 58 percent "fair" or "poor" against 37 percent "good" or "excellent". A major turning point was the end of the Virginia General Assembly session earlier this month, which ended in gridlock as the Assembly failed to pass a significant roadway funding bill and to fill vacancies on the Virginia Supreme Court.
I don't mean to throw the guy under the bus; he's a good public servant and might be second in line behind John Edwards for the Attorney General position (or maybe first, if the Drudge Report gossip about Edwards is true). But if Obama picks Kaine to be his VP, it should be for reasons other than his ability to carry Virginia.
The main culprit for the decline are the new numbers out of Ohio, where Rasmussen shows John McCain jumping into a 10-point lead. We have already discussed this particular poll at length. Are the changes caused by differences in measuring party identification? No, not really. Rasmussen assumes a slightly redder electorate than other pollsters, but Obama's numbers had declined among Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike. Could there be problems related to the sampling of young voters in this survey, who went surprisingly strongly for McCain? That is a more viable explanation. But it still would not account for the entirety of the decline.
There is also new polling out from American Research Group, which has Florida and New Hampshire moving in John McCain's direction. In Florida, Obama now trails by 2 after having led by 5 points, and in New Hampshire, he leads by 2 after having led by 12.
The sky is not falling for Obama in Colorado, where Rasmussen has him retaining a 3-point lead (the lead is 7 points before leaners are factored in). This is consistent with the polling in Colorado throughout the election; Obama's leads have generally been in the small single digits, but he has almost always held one.
When we throw everything into the 538 blender, what we find is Ohio rating strictly as a toss-up. The fact that Ohio appears to be polling a point or two behind the national numbers for Obama rather than a point or two ahead has significant implications across the map. Viable 'Plan B' states like Colorado, Virginia, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada and perhaps Montana become even more important, as they, rather than Ohio, may now represent the path of least resistance toward an Obama electoral victory.
The basic issue with cellphone-only households is that their incidence is not distributed evenly throughout the population. Minorities are more likely to be cellphone-only than whites, and men are more likely to be cellphone-only than women. But the most important differences are in terms of the age of the voter.
The below is data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control on the number of cellphone-only adults by age cohort. Actually, it is not just cellphone-only adults -- the CDC also tracks another category which I call "cellphone-mostly" adults. These are people that have a landline, but also have a mobile phone, and use their mobile phone to receive most or all of their calls. I know, personally, a lot of people who fall into this category: they may use their landlines only to make local calls, only to connect to the Internet, only as an emergency in case their cellphone service is down, and they may have the service only because it came bundled with their cable or wireless package. If their friends and family are in the habit of calling them on their cellphones, they may be very suspicious of calls coming into their landlines -- assuming that they are likely to be from telemarketers -- and not make a practice of answering them.
Table 1. Cellphone-Only and Cellphone-Mostly Adults by Age Cohort
As you can see, fully half of all adults under the age of 30 fall into the cellphone-only or cellphone-mostly buckets, and the number is growing every day. About a third of adults aged 30-44 are cellphone-only or cellphone-mostly, and then the numbers trail off once adults pass the midpoint of their lives.
Obviously, if polling firms did not weight by age, this would be an utter disaster for any election in which preferences vary significantly by age. Suppose for example that the following represented the true distribution of the likely voter population in Big Industrial State:
Age %/LV Obama McCainThese numbers have been 'rigged' such that each of Obama and McCain receive exactly 50 percent of the vote. Suppose, however, that we exclude cellphone-only and cellphone-mostly voters from our sample, according to their proportions in the CDC data. What you'd instead wind up with is the following:
18-24 10 69 31
25-29 10 60 40
30-44 30 50 50
45-64 35 46 54
65+ 15 40 60
TOTAL 100 50 50
Age %/LV Obama McCainWhat ought to have been a tie instead turns into a 3-point lead for John McCain. (And keep in mind that the numbers in this example are hypothetical -- but they probably look something like this).
18-24 7 69 31
25-29 6 60 40
30-44 28 50 50
45-64 39 46 54
65+ 20 40 60
TOTAL 100 48.5 51.5
Pollsters can get around this problem by weighting groups that are likely to be cellphone-only more heavily -- in particular younger voters. This is what nearly all smart pollsters do, and it is considerably better than the alternative of not weighting at all. However, it creates a couple of additional problems.
The first and more commonly-discussed problem is that the cellphone-only voters may not be the same as their landline counterparts, even once we control for age and other variables like race and gender. Urban voters are about 50 percent more likely to be cellphone-only than rural voters, for instance, and while some pollsters weight by geography, others do not. Thus, you may wind up with a biased sample.
But even if the sample were unbiased -- the pollster is smart enough to figure out how to balance all the weights properly -- what you're still doing in effect is to magnify the importance of sampling error. Suppose that a pollster wants to sample 500 likely voters in a state. Roughly speaking, about 20 percent of these -- 100 of them -- are likely to fall into the 18-29 age range. But, about half of those voters can't be reached because they are cellphone-only or cellphone-mostly. So your effective sample size for this subgroup is 50 voters, which carries a margin of error of +/- 14 points. Sometimes, the luck of the draw will come through for you and you'll wind up with a pretty good sample, but other times you'll be pretty far off.
If you are not fortunate enough to wind up with a good sample, what you are going to wind up doing is compounding your problems, because you have to weight all the young voters that you do sample more heavily to make up for the ones that you can't reach because they depend on cellphones.
So what you should get in the habit of doing, where such information is available, is to check the cross-tabs for groups that are known to have problems with non-response bias -- by which I mean check them for younger voters because of the cellphone-only problem. If the pollster was unlucky and wound up with a poorly-representative sample of such voters, it may skew their overall results, as such responses wind up being weighted more heavily.
Is this an issue with the Rasmussen poll in Ohio? Actually, it may be. The poll has McCain leading 50-39 among voters aged 18-29, and 67-33 among voters aged 30-39. Obama leads 55-36 among voters in their 40s, and then McCain leads by single-digit margins among voters aged 50 and up. Such an age distribution is inconsistent with most other polling that we have seen in this election.
This does not mean that Rasmussen screwed up. This problem has nothing to do with Rasmussen; it is common to all pollsters that don't include a cellphone supplement, which means all pollsters except Gallup and Selzer. These pollsters are trying to do everything they can to work around a vexing problem -- that about half the young voters they might want to sample can't be reached, and that they are stuck with small sample sizes of such voters as a result. But it does mean that, if there is greater error in their sample of young voters, it will lead to greater error in their poll as a whole.
So, what the hell is going on here? Is this the party identification issue again -- PPP tending to identify more Democrats in its sample than Rasmussen?
Only up to a point. Neither pollster lists their party ID figures explicitly, but from what best I can tell, Rasmussen has the numbers at about 36/43/21 (Republican/Democrat/Independent) and PPP at 32/44/24. The party ID advantage accounts for about 4 points' worth of difference. For instance, if you took PPP's internals and weighted them as Rasmussen does by Rasmussen's party ID numbers, Obama would hold a 4-point lead rather than 8. That's still pretty significantly different from McCain leading by 10 points.
What else accounts for the differences between the two polls? Rasmussen initially permits one to select a third-party candidate -- and 7 percent of voters do -- whereas PPP does not. But then they push voters who have picked a third-party candidate toward one of the major-party candidate with a standard "who are you leaning toward?" question -- and most of those leaners wind up with McCain. So it's possible that you have a number of fairly conservative voters who are dissatisfied with John McCain and are flirting with the idea of voting for Bob Barr -- but will gravitate back toward McCain in the end.
The polls were also conducted at different times; all of Rasmussen's interviews were conducted Monday whereas PPP's were conducted Thursday through Sunday. The conventional wisdom has been -- and frankly, my assumption has been -- that Obama would get a little bit of a bounce out of his Iraq trip. This would directly contradict that, although I think we'll need to see quite a bit more evidence before we can reach a firm conclusion.
Let me approach this from a couple of different angles. On the one hand, I have very little doubt that political campaigns can behave vindictively. I say this because, in our work over at Baseball Prospectus, we have occasionally encountered baseball teams behaving in this fashion when it comes to issuing credentials. If baseball teams act vindictively based on what they perceive as negative coverage -- and many of them go out of their way to be fair, but some of them are capable of it -- I have little doubt that political campaigns are capable of it too. When this does happen, the excuse given is invariably the same one that the Obama campaign gave to the New Yorker -- "sorry, there's no room".
At the same time, space actually is a problem -- especially in a cramped major league press box or a campaign plane that has room for just 40 correspondents. Does the New Yorker clearly deserve one of those 40 seats?
I have absolutely no idea. But it perhaps isn't a slam dunk. I've attempted to determine which news sources are driving the most Internet traffic based on the present Memorandum rankings. Excluding duplicates and portals that clearly do not have a reporting function, I come up with the following list:
1. New York TimesThere is The New Yorker, right on the bubble at #40. Of course, there are several names on that list that probably don't belong (or that had no interest in sending a correspondent), and several others that didn't make the list but undoubtedly do: Lynn Sweet at the Sun-Times was sure as hell going to get a seat on that plane, for instance. Nor is it clear that traffic generation ought to be the standard (though if the seriousness of one's reporting were the metric instead, Lizza would surely belong in the top 40).
2. Washington Post
3. Associated Press
5. The Politico
6. National Review
7. Wall Street Journal
8. Huffington Post
9. Los Angeles Times
10. Talking Points Memo
11. The Atlantic
12. Times of London
15. The Hill
17. ABC News
18. Telegraph (UK)
19. New York Post
20. Bloomberg News
21. Guardian (UK)
22. New Republic
23. Fox News
25. Boston Globe
27. Jerusalem Post
28. Der Spiegel
29. Daily Mail (UK)
31. Weekly Standard
32. USA Today
33. Chicago Tribune
34. CBS News
35. New York Sun
36. Vanity Fair
37. US News & World Report
38. San Francisco Chronicle
39. International Herald Tribune
40. The New Yorker
But clearly there is not an open-and-shut case -- and so to report that Lizza was 'barred' or 'snubbed' is a little misleading. At the same time, it's not the act of impropriety that matters so much as its appearance, and the Obama campaign ought to have gone out of its way to accommodate the request.
Sometimes, the polling is stable -- and other times, the polling creates a false sense of stability. This may be one of those times. The armada of polling released today generally points toward a fairly settled race. Obama is not polling quite as strongly as he might have been before the July 4 holiday, but neither are his numbers in any kind of freefall. In Ohio, for instance Public Policy Polling now gives him an 8-point lead -- down from 11 points last month, but still a result that he'd kill for come Election Day. Likewise, in Georgia and Alaska, Rasmussen has him shedding a point or two -- but still polling more strongly than most Democrats usually do in those states.
And in other states, Obama's numbers have improved a notch. EPIC-MRA has him 2 points ahead in Michigan -- a weaker result than he's seen in other polling of the state, but better than in EPIC-MRA's last edition, when he had trailed by 4 points in May. Likewise in New Hampshire, UNH has Obama pulling into a 3-point lead -- not the double-digit margin he's had in the Rasmussen and ARG polls, but an improvement from their April poll, when he trailed by 6.
It's possible, however, that we're in the midst of some sort of destructive superposition: the "Obama, no good dirty flip-flopper" wave is waning, and the "Obama, foreign policy superstar" wave is waxing. The result is not manifest in most state polling yet, but the Gallup daily tracker shows Obama's numbers rebounding in the past 48 hours.
It wouldn't totally shock me if McCain did announce his Vice Presidential nominee this week -- but if so, it tells you what a huge slam dunk Obama's trip to the Middle East and Europe has been. If McCain had the insight to name his VP just before Obama took off for Iraq, that might have been one thing, but to do it during or immediately afterward creates the perception that you're following rather than leading the media cycle. Moreoever, it denies McCain the advantage of picking his VP last and being able to react to Obama's selection, something which he'd inherently seem to have since the GOP holds its convention later.
But what's a good way to generate a little buzz at no cost at all? Tell Bob Novak that you're thinking about announcing your VP choice -- and then don't actually do it. That is the more likely scenario here.
Either way, it is a reminder of the state of zugzwang that McCain campaign finds itself in. They have to make a move to react to Obama's Iraq trip -- but each plausible move weakens their position.
As our travel prevented a Senate update from getting out last week, today's numbers incorporate two weeks' worth of polling. They also incorporate second quarter fundraising numbers, which looked better for the Democrats than they did for the Republicans in most cases.
There are three races that have shifted somewhat significantly since the last update, and a couple of others that have shifted more modestly.
In Oregon, the race appears to be tightening, as Gordon Smith has gone from a 76 percent favorite to win re-election to a 64 percent favorite. Not only did Jeff Merkley beat Smith in fundraising for the quarter, but he also held a polling lead for the first time, as Rasmussen showed him ahead by 2 points. This is beginning to differentiate itself from superficially similar races like Minnesota and appears to be a top-tier pickup opportunity for the Democrats. Smith, for his part, has had trouble staying on message, touting his relationship with Barack Obama in recent advertising.
Kansas, meanwhile, has gone from Likely Republican to Safe Republican, as we now attribute Pat Roberts with a 99 percent chance of winning re-election. This is principally on the strength of new Rasmussen polling that shows Roberts 28 points ahead and with strong favorability ratings. On paper, it is difficult to perceive the pickup opportunity here: red state, reasonably popular incumbent who has had better than a 10:1 fundraising advantage.
Maine remains more viable as a competitive state, but is not really coming together for Tom Allen, as Rasmussen showed Susan Collins holding onto a 10-point lead whereas SMS Atlantic -- in a now somewhat dated survey -- had her ahead by fully 25 points. Allen's fundraising has been quite good, and there is still a lot of money to be spent in this race, but I don't see the angle for defeating Collins, as both Mainers and Collins are a little too sophisticated to be taken by the "Ooga Ooga Republican Bad!" line of argumentation.
A couple other races have shifted slightly. We now classify New Jersey as "Safe Democrat", as Rasmussen, the one agency that had shown the race competitive before, now has Frank Lautenberg with a 13-point lead. Lautenberg is old and sometimes ineloquent enough that there is a little bit of Macaca potential in this race, and Dick Zimmer is a relatively serious opponent, but it will likely take some sort of external event to shift these numbers. North Carolina, meanwhile, has shifted slightly more Republican, as Elizabeth Dole continues to hold on to a lead in the small double digits as time winds off Kay Hagan's clock.
With races like Maine and North Carolina becoming more difficult for them, the prospect of Democrats controlling 60 seats has dimmed slightly and now rates at about 14 percent (or 8 percent if Joe Lieberman is not counted as a Democrat). In order to achieve the 60-seat threshold, the Democrats will need to win all five races that we presently classify as "tilt" or "lean": these are Alaska, Mississippi, Oregon, Kentucky (where Bruce Lunsford has dumped a bunch of his own money into the race) and Minnesota. The Democrats face a decision point soon as to whether to try and consolidate their efforts in those states, or to try and put something exotic like Texas or Idaho into play.
Complete polling follows.
Nevertheless, the other half of the debt -- about $12 million -- takes the form of accounts payable owed to individual vendors. A substantial amount of that ($5.3 million) is owed to Mark Penn's consulting firm, and another million-plus to other pollsters and consultants. But there are also more mundane sorts of expenses. Approximately $2.0 million is owed to event-staging companies such as caterers, equipment rental firms and lighting companies. Another $1.2 million is owed to printers, and $0.5 million to phone banking companies. Almost all of the companies in these categories are small businesses. The Clinton campaign also has about half a million dollars in unpaid phone bills owed to AT&T and Verizon, and $230,000 in uncompensated travel expenses to campaign staff.
Clinton's obligations for paying off her debt are a little murky. In theory, all of her vendors -- yes, even Mark Penn -- are required to make a good-faith effort to collect their debts because otherwise this might constitute an illegal campaign contribution. Consider the following, for instance: Verizon allows the Clinton campaign to accumulate $300,000 in cellphone expenses, but lets the campaign know that it's not going to worry about the bills being paid. This is tantamount to Verizon donating $300,000 directly to the campaign, which is illegal under campaign finance law.
In practice, however, as The Politico's Ken Vogel reports, "Firms that do a lot of work for campaigns understand that complaining to the press or suing over lingering bills are big no-nos sure to get them blacklisted".
The debt can be transfered to future campaign committees of that candidate (in fact, my understanding is that it must be transfered if the candidate runs for office again). Thus, the Hillary for Senate 2012 Committee may start off substantially in the hole. That might seem fair enough, but here too there is a problem. If someone who had already contributed $2,300 to Clinton's primary election fund also contributes $2,300 to Hillary for Senate 2012 to help pay down her primary debt, what they've really done is to donate $4,600 to underwrite her primary campaign, violating the individual contribution limit.
The problem is made far worse if Clinton transfers funds from her general election fund -- which is substantially solvent -- to her next Senate committee, as she is reportedly considering doing. The vast bulk of funds in that pool were raised from high-value donors who had already maxed out their $2,300 limit in the primaries.
In the absence of adequate mechanisms for the repayment of debt without violating other core precepts of campaign finance law, the remedy would seem to be pretty simple: campaigns out not be allowed to accumulate such debts in the first place. A rule, for instance, that a campaign may not accrue obligations in excess of 120 percent of its current cash-on-hand less accounts payable might do the trick. And there need to be real teeth in the rules too: a candidate who commits a major violation of campaign finance law ought to be barred from running for public office for some probationary period thereafter.
EDIT: 'Accounts payable' had been incorrectly referred to as 'accounts receivable'.
I tend to think the impact will be felt too, but perhaps somewhat indirectly. Foreign policy is the one area where the American public does not have a great deal of patience for nuance and detail -- even a detail as important as this one. At a soundbyte level, the Republican counter-spin "see, the surge worked!" -- is liable to be at least somewhat effective.
This does, however, put McCain on the defensive on foreign policy, which is especially problematic as this was one of the few issues where he had the opportunity to play offense. Getting the boys home -- which seemed like a slam-dunk winner for the Democrats six months ago -- might not have been one by November. Polling in key swing states had begun to show slight majorities opposed to a specific withdraw timetable, and unless the Republicans do an exceptionally good job of winning the spin war, this will change all of that.
While such confidence might seem natural coming from the liberal/progressive base, it has not always been that way in the past. Liberals can sometimes be a pessimistic bunch, and John Kerry's defeat in 2004 had left many people feeling especially bitter. By contrast, it would be hard to overstate the importance of the 2006 election in terms of buoying and reinforcing activism, particularly in the online sphere. If the Democrats had not won back both chambers of Congress in 2006, one imagines that there would have been much less comfort in Barack Obama's business model, and that Hillary Clinton would have received a larger fraction of support from thought leaders both in the netroots and in the party establishment.
Are there dangers to Obama in all of this? Certainly there are some. Turnout is going to be high almost no matter what, but if people have concluded that the presidential race is fairly safe, they may begin to donate their time and money to Senate, House and local candidates rather than the Presidential effort; their attention already seems to be somewhat directed that way. Obama's July fundraising number -- which will serve as a baseline in a relatively newsless month -- is going to be worth paying particular attention to.
p.s. Also somewhat contrary to my earlier reporting, the Obama campaign did have some presence here. Deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand spoke on a panel yesterday, and Obama addressed the conference by means of a video message.
What was Barr doing here? The conventional wisdom is that he might be trying to draw out some fundraising support. This is one place where you'll find quite a few maxed out ($2,300) Obama donors, and those people could plausibly contribute to Barr if they think his candidacy would help the Democrat. Barr is also attending the competing Right Online Summit, which is also in Austin tonight, and where interestingly enough he was invited to deliver a keynote speech.
I think it's equally likely, however, that Barr is here simply to get a sense for what makes the netroots tick. Whereas the Ron Paul campaign very much played off the netroots model of highly networked, online-based fundraising and activism, Barr has had less success in getting his candidacy to go viral.
I still find it unlikely that Barr is going to wind up with more than about 1.5 percent of the vote. But if he learns a couple of things, and begins to cultivate support from the right-leaning netroots (an intrinsically libertarianish demographic), his threshold might be higher than that.
Let me caveat the following in a couple of ways: firstly, I see my function as an analyst rather than a reporter. Secondly, I am a participant in the conference as well as an observer. Thirdly, my observations are based on a limited sample size -- a series of friendly conversations I've had here, as well as a couple that I had in New York.
But here's the sense that I've gotten on the ground. There are very few displays of anger at Obama over things like his affirmative vote in FISA. The people here in Austin are mature and seasoned political aficionados -- there are plenty of folks in their 20s and 30s here, but just as many in their 50s and 60s. They come from a wide diversity of backgrounds, and bring with them a fairly wide diversity of viewpoints running from the center to the left. They understand electoral politics, and they understand why Obama has positioned himself on these issues as he has.
If the good news for Obama is that people aren't talking much about FISA, the potentially bad news for him is that people aren't talking much about Obama, period. The focus is more on long-term organization and party-building, House and Senate races, and governance if and when Obama takes office. The Obama campaign itself also does not have much presence here.
So there is a certain amount of ... I don't know quite how to put it. There is a certain amount of arm's-lengthedness, aloofness, toward the Democratic nominee. Of the 2500 or so attendees here, Obama can probably count on about 2475 votes, and for significant fractions to donate, knock on doors, and volunteer for the campaign. But the enthusiasm toward Obama is a bit more cerebral than you might expect.
Some of this is an inevitable consequence of the long- and drawn-out primary campaign. I don't mean that you have a bunch of bitter ex-Hillary supporters here; there are plenty of Hillary supporters here, and they've (mostly) gotten over it. But the primary process was exhausting -- an 18-month campaign that concluded barely a month ago. People are taking a bit of a breather before the conventions begin and the campaign really gets underway.
At the same time, the complaints I've heard about Obama are not about policy so much as presentation. I think people want to see and hear a little more of him, for him to let down his guard a little bit. There is some danger to the Obama campaign in being a bit overscheduled: Iraq Trip, Europe Trip, VP Pick, Convention, Debates, Election, FIN. Sometimes you have to take a little time out with your friends -- and I don't just mean progressives, but all American voters.
In Maine, Barack Obama now leads by 8 points according to the latest numbers from Rasmussen. While Maine is unlikely to be competitive, Obama had led by 22 points in Rasmussen's June poll of the state. Polling movement like this in Maine, and what Rasmussen had shown earlier in the week in Kansas, is probably caused by statistical noise to a certain degree. Nevertheless, it is of a large enough magnitude that it almost certianly isn't caused entirely by statistical noise, especially considering that Obama's lead in both the major national tracking polls is down to a single point. McCain's electoral position has brightened a bit since the July 4 holiday.
In Alaska, a Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos has McCain expanding his lead to 10 points; he had led by 7 in Research 2000's only previous poll of the state in May. While it would certainly be worth Obama's while to visit Alaska, the state now looks like a somewhat less attractive target than Montana or either of the Dakotas.
In Virginia, Rasmussen has John McCain with a one-point lead (the candidates are tied if leaners are not included). In June, Rasmussen had shown Obama with a one-point lead -- however, McCain had led in all of its previous polling of the state. We have characterized Virginia for some time as the closest of the toss-up states. (With the entire Washington establishment within driving distance of Richmond, one can only imagine the chaos that might ensue if there were a recount there).
Lastly, in New Jersey, Strategic Vision has Obama ahead by 9. Based on some research that I have done, Strategic Vision is one of only two polling agencies so far this cycle to show a statistically significant bias in their numbers; their polls tend to be tilted about 3 or 4 points toward the Republican candidate. (The other polling firm in this category is Zogby Interactive, whose numbers tend to be tilted by 3 or 4 points toward the Democratic candidate). So, if Strategic Vision is showing Obama with a 9-point lead in New Jersey, the state is probably pretty darn safe for him.
Rather then proceeded to talk about his respect for Jesse Jackson, who had certainly "paved the way for Osama bin Laden." (Yes, the whole name.) Nobody reacted or said a word, and Rather did not notice. To drive the irony point home, he then finished by referring back to the "front page of the newspaper" a 2d time.
Rather has just given carte blanche for Republicans to "slip" and negate the hue and cry with "Rather made the slip too... innocent mistake!" Wonder if McCain himself will do it in one high profile way and Plead the Rather.
EDIT: slight quote correction (video link here)... "paving the way for an Osama bin Laden."
The critical element that skews likely voters more Republican this time is that likely voters = engaged voters, engaged voters skew older, and older voters skew McCain in this race.
Marc Ambinder explains:
Based on data, studies and experience, pollsters assume that older voters tend to reach information saturation earliest, tune in the earliest, and pick their candidates the earliest. Likely voter models this far out don't oversample older voters per se -- they oversample voters who have made up their mind and aren't likely, even if they say they're likely, to change their minds. John McCain's leading among older voters, but not by much. So when younger voters -- younger than 65 -- begin to make up their minds in the fall, likely voter models will move back into equilibrium and Obama's lead among registered voters should begin to match his lead among likely voters.Chuck Todd-led First Read agrees:
[R]ight now, pollsters will tell you that with older voters leaning McCain these days, any likely voter model is going to favor McCain for now. If Obama moves younger voters as well as many observers assume come October, the likely voter numbers could change.However, a key assumption needs to be called into question. This year, are the engaged voters skewing older? Are older voters reaching information saturation the earliest? Pew finds a surprise for pollster likely voter assumptions:
Compared with previous election cycles, voter engagement is up among all demographic groups, but has increased more among voters under age 50 than among older voters. Uncharacteristically, the youngest voters -- those under age 30 -- are at least as knowledgeable, and in some cases more knowledgeable, about candidates' positions on Iraq and abortion than are older voters.The assumption reported by Ambinder and Todd is that younger voters will be making up their minds closer to the election and that this will change the likely voter screen at that time. In other words, the pollsters are correct now (but not predictive of November) and they will also be correct in October (and predictive of November) when they expand their likely voter screen. All we are waiting on is the young voters to tune in and make up their minds (presumably skewing things back toward Obama).
This predicted dynamic flies in the face of the evidence. Pew reports two unprecedented findings in their poll. First, Democrats are expressing stronger interest in the campaign than Republicans for the first time since Pew began tracking in 1992. Second, the percent of voters more interested in the campaign relative to four years ago (usually hovering near 50% across the board) shows a huge jump on the Democratic side to 71%.
If engagement and interest is what makes a voter a likely voter, and if younger voters have reached saturation ahead of older voters reflected in their superior grasp of information, then any likely voter screen that doesn't currently skew Democratic is probably an incorrect likely voter screen.