Obama's Lost Poll Lead
Everything went right for Barack Obama during his world tour. Nouri al-Maliki seemed to endorse his plan for Iraq. (Not quite, but its not like most voters will care enough to bother finding out what al-Maliki really meant). He got a crowd of 200,000 for his Berlin speech, which was, according to the media, quite brilliant. All in all, his trip was perfect—as superb as the three-pointer he effortlessly drained for the media. (Give Obama credit; making threes isn’t easy, and he would have looked pretty foolish if he had missed). Barack Obama couldn’t ask for more.
John McCain could. It would be unfair to say he had a bad week—he didn’t make any significant gaffes—but he couldn’t say he had a very good week either. He was supposed to visit an oil rig, but he didn’t, he was (according to Bob Novak) supposed to name his running mate, but he didn’t, and he was supposed to publish a New York Times op-ed, but he didn’t. (In fairness to McCain, the Times wouldn’t accept his op-ed, which was staggeringly biased even for them. Even more staggeringly, some in the left-wing blogosphere claimed this represented bias towards McCain). Barack Obama had a good week, McCain didn’t.
Then why does Obama only lead McCain by three points?
That’s the RCP national poll average. True, some polls put Obama up by more (a recent Gallup poll has Obama up eight), and one poll puts McCain up four (among likely voters; that poll was also done by Gallup), but three points is probably a safe estimate of Obama’s lead (that’s what Rasmussen has). And if an unpopular Republican party, adoring media coverage, and well-managed foreign tour doesn’t give Obama a bounce, nothing will.
It’s hard to explain the situation. I’m an optimistic sort of person, as least as regards the GOP’s electoral hopes, (I actually clung to the hope that the Republicans would pull out a stalemate in the 2006 elections), but this is beyond what even the most relentlessly positive Republican could hope for. The most obvious explanation is the notion that Hillary voters are still angry at Obama and haven’t given him their full support yet, which probably accounts for some of the disparity. Another explanation may lie in the fact that at least some voters may be uneasy with the idea of a black president, which may also keep Obama from leading by more. But neither of these explanations is wholly satisfactory—most Hillary voters are probably over there loss, and any racist voters are probably negated by voters happy to have a black presidential candidate.
A more probable reason for Obama’s lack of a larger lead is that he never should have had one anyone. Many of the perceptions of the Obama campaign resemble the point of view of those who supported Ron Paul—against all logic, Paulians constructed an elaborate fantasy world about their candidate, proposing “clever” strategies to ensure his primary victory, and then “crafty” dodges to snatch victory right out of McCain’s hands at convention. The media has done likewise for Obama—it is just barely possible that maybe Obama isn’t the defining, changing movement that so many hoped he was (note how I slipped “hope” and “change” into that sentence—clever, huh?), and that maybe the country isn’t quite as weary of Republican presidents as it is supposed to be.
Back in November, Obama truly seemed unstoppable. He was pulling huge crowds, getting adulatory media attention, and had the luxury of watching his weak GOP opponents try to tear each other down. McCain was hardly in the race—all the other candidates were crushing him in the polls. So naturally, when Fox News did a head to head poll…McCain led Obama by four points. In early January, Rasmussen put McCain up by three. Even after Obama’s Iowa caucus bump, McCain was still tied with him in the polls. McCain still led in a USA Today/Gallup poll as late as early May.
So perhaps the reason Obama isn’t getting his expected lead in the polls is because such expectations weren’t based on reality. Obama was never the transformational leader, the “agent of change”, the Messiah the media billed him as. He was merely a very good (but not great, or even Clintonian) politician. He is not the most capable politician to ever run, or even the most talented of this election cycle. (Mike Huckabee was). Ace writes that “given the wild-eyed zealotry of Obama's cultists, I know that previous voter-turnout models are wrong. I just don't know how wrong.” I predict that the previous voter-turnout models are right (at least as much as anything is “right” in politics). Obama is more John Kerry (typical politician) than Franklin Roosevelt (transformational historical figure).