General election polls: McCain's electability still on display

Just when we think we've seen the extent of McCain's superior electability come November, here's a new wave of general election polls that looks even more surprising -- even showing McCain potentially winning... Massachusetts. First, here are the most recent national numbers of the new LA Times/Bloomberg poll:

  • Clinton and Obama crush Romney, Huckabee and Giuliani with margins they have rarely approached but that are starting to look very common in most national polls released in the past month. Romney is defeated 50-39 (Clinton) and 46-35 (Obama), Giuliani is crushed 53-37 (Clinton) and 49-32 (Obama) and Huckabee is down 51-38 (Clinton) and 47-37 (Obama).
  • But McCain runs much better: He trails Clinton 46-42 and is statistically tied with Obama 42-41 (it's unclear who gets 42, as the official version has two different set of numbers). Notice also that Clinton runs slightly better than Barack in this poll, counter to the CW of some that Obama is obviously more electable (polls are very inconsistent in showing which of the Democratic candidates would run stronger).
In a Rasmussen survey of the general election that was released today, John McCain trails both Hillary (47% to 45%) and Obama (46% to 41%). But it is in state polls that McCain's advantage is the most obvious. Consider this wave of SUSA polls from key general election states released over the week-end:

  • In California, for example, Democrats do not tremble but McCain does cut Clinton and Obama's lead by half: Hillary leads the Trio of Giuliani, Huck and Romney with margins raging 29% and 36% and she holds off McCain by 19% (58-39). Obama, who has smaller leads against the trio ranging from 18% to 24% only leads McCain by 6%, 50-44.
  • In New York, meanwhile, neither Clinton nor Obama have trouble sending Giuliani packing (by 21% and 14% respectively) and they poll even better against Huckabee and Romney. But McCain keeps Clinton at 53% to 40% and Obama falls under 50% in the Empire State, trailing 49% to 43%.
  • The most shocking result comes to us from the Massachusetts poll, one of the bluest states in the nation. Romney makes very little inroads in his home-state, the one he governed for 4 years. He trails Clinton by 24% and Obama by 13%. The pair of Democrats perform much better against Giuliani and Huckabee (who trails by more than 30%). But look at McCain's results: He is behind only 4% against Clinton (49% to 45%) and he leads Barack Obama 50% to 45%. That's right, McCain manages a lead in what is arguably the country's most liberal state.

The Democrats obviously cannot afford to spend a single minute thinking about NY, CA and MA come the general election. With polls showing them competitive against the GOP in places like KS and VA the list thing they want is to be on the defense in some of their most important states. Notice also that Giuliani was the candidate proud of putting these kind of states in play for a long time, but that he is doing nothing for the Republican ticket.

Also, I think it is fair to conclude that Barack Obama runs significantly poorly in staunch blue states than Hillary Clinton, as he does in very red states (like Kansas and Virginia). He often looks more electable in states that are less partisan (such as Iowa), suggesting that Clinton rallies her base very effectively and Obama reaches to independents better -- and both are weak at what the other does well. And while it is important to be able to reach out and win purple states, it is also important to be able to expand the map and not have to play too much defense.

SUSA also released three polls from swing states which are even more indicative of McCain's strength and they also confirm that Obama looks better in purple states than he does in either blue or red states. Take a look at these set of numbers:

  • In New Mexico, Clinton has slight leads against the trio (1% to 5% only), but she is demolished 51% to 42% by McCain. Obama's lead is larger against the trio (8% to 10%) but he trails by just as much against McCain, 50% to 41%.
  • On to Wisconsin, one of the hottest states in both 2000 and 2004. Clinton leads from 4% against Huck to 8% against Rudy -- but she trails 49% to 45% against McCain. Obama leads 10% against Huck to 13% against Rudy -- but he trails 46% to 44% against McCain.
  • Finally comes Minnesota, a slightly blue trending state that Clinton leads from 8% to 11% against the trio. She once again trails against McCain, however, 49% to 45%. Obama leads the trio 7% (against Huck) to 19% (against Romney) but he trails McCain by an even bigger margin, 49% to 42%. That's right, McCain runs 26% better than Romney.
6 polls, and McCain runs better than his rivals 6 times, and it's not close. We are talking about wild improvements here, in the 15%+ range. And he wins MN and NM convincingly, two states Democrats would need to do very well in to capture the White House.

3 polls from blue states, and Clinton hardly trembles. 3 polls from purple states, and Obama's margins are bigger -- but that goes both ways, as his floor is lower as well. That is both the strength and weakness of Obama in the general election. His supporters are more uncommitted, he is less well known so he can rise higher or fall lower. Clinton both has a low ceiling and high floor.

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  • My argument for Obama's electability isn't just based on the generally favorable image the public has of him. His general election numbers have gotten BETTER as he gets better known in more states--unlike, say, Romney, who creeps people out.

    Notice thatin Iowa, Obama doesn't just do better than Clinton--he does much, much better. Iowa's one of the few states in a nation that got a prolonged look at the candidates, and they liked what they saw of Obama.

    I'd like to see some general election polls of NH, NV, and SC to confirm my hypothesis.

    By Anonymous Andrew, At 25 January, 2008 11:10  

  • The inevitable problem with these types of polls is that they are based on current primary realities. With the Dem race so divisive at the moment, many supporters of one candidate will say that they won't vote for the other even if it's a rather blatant lie. What you're seeing in Mass. isn't that Obama will struggle with the base, but that the Clinton v. Obama fight has caused a Primary election division. The reality is that that's highly unlikely to last after the Convention since Democrats will be faced with the real possibility of winning back the WH for the first time in nearly a decade and will not vote for an ultra pro-war candidate like McCain no matter his positions on other issues.

    By Anonymous Chris, At 25 January, 2008 11:23  

  • "The inevitable problem with these types of polls is that they are based on current primary realities. With the Dem race so divisive at the moment, many supporters of one candidate will say that they won't vote for the other even if it's a rather blatant lie."

    I agree. There are some anti-Clinton Democrats or Anti-Romney Republicans who tell pollsters they would rather vote for the other party, but they are not exactly telling the truth.

    That said, McCain is still clearly the best chance the Republicans have. But it seems likely that if he doesn't win Florida, he's chances will be over.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 25 January, 2008 11:55  

  • The real battlefields (VA, WV, KY, OH, MO, KS, OK, WI,NM, CO - most on or close to the mason-dixon divide) will snap into position after both conventions. Drink tea* until then, and wait....

    *Is myway of saying "be patient".

    By Blogger Mark, At 25 January, 2008 12:17  

  • Part of the Reason that McCain looks so strong s that he's gotten nothing but good press for the past 6 weeks - endorsements, wins in a few primaries, the "comeback" story that the press loves. Add to that the fact that none of his opponents seem willing to go after him, essentially giving him a free pass

    Ask the average American what they know about McCain and I'd bet most only know he was a POW hero in Vietnam - a very compelling story - or that he is a "maverick and straight talker" like the press plays up

    Come general election, people will be reminded that McCain wants to keep us in Iraq, admits he doesn't know much about the economy and abut 6 months ago was singing about bombing Iran.... so I think his favorables are likely to drop somewhat and he won't be as formidable as he looks right now

    By Blogger stevepdx, At 25 January, 2008 18:19  

  • McCain doesn't have to win over a lot of Democrats. His virtue in the general election is, and has always been, his appeal to independents. If McCain gets the nomination, especially if he is opposing Clinton, the hardcore GOP base will get into line because they'd rather have a maverick than a Clinton. If he unifies the Republican base and does as well among independents as he traditionally does, especially in the battleground states, he'll be a formidable threat.

    As for the Democrats, it's a tossup. Clinton is obviously the safe pick, because she guarantees you a certain minimum of votes. Obama is the gambler's candidate...depending on how he strikes voters when the choice is narrowed down to two, he could either win handily or lose handily. Ultimately, I think Democrats in the big states will back Clinton over Obama. For them, there's just too much at stake in this election to risk it on a candidate who's only ever been vetted in one high-profile election. They have a name-brand edge across the board right now, so the name of the game as far as the race for the White House goes is "protect the lead."

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 25 January, 2008 23:27  

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