In new wave of polls, Obama takes lead in California and candidates tie in major battlegrounds

Zogby just released its first wave of tracking polls from key Super Tuesday states -- including the first California poll in a few days. And overall these surveys are very good news for Obama supporters, as well as for backers of John McCain... though there is unexpected good news for Mitt Romney as well. Add to this a few other polls released over the past few hours, including the notorious Field poll, and we are in for a wild ride to Super Tuesday.

In the fascinating Clinton-Obama showdown, the numbers are now tight across the board. Only a few states that are being polled (New York, Illinois, Georgia) have a clear leader. The rest of the states -- including some very major contests like CT, NJ, MA, AZ, NM, CA, MO, AL -- are way too close to predict at this point.

This means that the delegate count will be excruciatingly close come Wednesday morning, whether or not one of the candidate pulls ahead in the next two days. But also consider that, with Obama and Clinton separated by a few points in all those states and the campaign now national, Obama could post a massive across-the-board victory in most of these contests on Tuesday night by just gaining a few more points until then. Even if he only prevails by 2-3% each in California, Missouri, Connecticut, Alabama, Arizona, New Jersey and he splits the delegates equally with Clinton, it will clearly be seen as a major victory for Barack. Similarly, a recovery of just a few points -- or a stabilization -- by Clinton could mean that she sweeps all those races, and she would emerge of Super Tuesday as the survivor.

Remember, the race will be analyzed as a delegate contest only if the candidates split the major states pretty much equally. And 72 hours from polls closing, the race is in such flux that a sweep is very much possible -- by either candidate.

And with that, let's get to the polls and let's start with the numbers from California, as we have truly stunning numbers for both parties:

  • Zogby shows Barack Obama ahead, 45% to 41%. Obama pulls off this stunning come back because of his strength among independents, men and African-American. Clinton's lead among women is "only" 11%, though it is worth noting that she shows no sign of weakening among Hispanic (64% to 29%).

  • The Field poll, meanwhile, shows Clinton up 34% to 32% for Obama with 18% of voters undecideds, a high number which makes it hard to compare this survey with Zogby's. The Field poll is known as by far the best poll of California. Two weeks ago, this poll had Clinton up 12%. One reason for this decline is Obama's massive lead among independents, 54% to 32%. Clinton leads among registered Democrats, 37% to 31%. However, the poll was conducted from January 25th to February 1st, so it is unclear how useful of an indicator it is of what is happening in the state, and the low numbers the two candidates are getting is also due to the fact Edwards was in the race for some of this time.

  • Both polls have numbers for the GOP race as well. And believe it or not, California is one state in which Romney could actually prevail. Don't forget that the GOP contest here is a closed primary. The Field poll has McCain leading 32% to 24%, with Huckabee at 13% and Ron Paul at 10%.
  • The Zogby poll, however, has Romney leading 37% to McCain's 34%. Huckabee gets 12%. Romney is ahead 56% to 18% among very conservative voters.
  • We also got a poll from Suffolk earlier tonight, which showed McCain 39% to 32%.
  • The Field poll also tried general election numbers and shows Clinton up 45% to 43% and Obama up 47% to 40% against McCain in California, suggesting that there is a major anti-Clinton mood in California right now. The New York Senator led her Arizona colleague by double-digits just two weeks ago.
There were signs pointing to Clinton's collapse in the state in polls released last week but Zogby's is the first that shows Obama in the lead. Unfortunately, neither Zogby nor the Field Poll give us any indication of how the early vote breakdowns are affecting the results. With about 25% of the electorate having already locked in their vote, where do these voters fall? It seems unthinkable that early-voting is not taken into account, but it is also really strange that there is no mention of that in either survey!

Clinton should also be reassured that she has kept her lead among Hispanics despite Obama's efforts to cut his losses there. But Clinton is certainly losing her hope of getting a big delegate lead out of California. No one will claim the lion's share of the state's 370 pledged delegates.

Among Republicans, the fact that Romney is staying alive is truly stunning. And he will certainly be able to press on if he pulls off a victory here. But let's not overestimate the impact of even such an unexpected exploit: California is not a winner-take-all state, so McCain will not be shut out of delegates no matter what. But contests where McCain seems untouchable right now (CT, NJ, NY, AZ) are winner-take-all. And Romney will be shut out of delegates there.

Next we have unexpectedly tightening numbers in another state Clinton has to do well in, New Jersey. The last two polls had Clinton up 6 and 12, and two new polls released tonight paint even more opposite pictures:

  • Zogby's poll has Clinton having entirely collapsed, edging out Obama 43% to 42% edge. Clinton is ahead among women by only 9% and is holding on to a big lead among whites and liberals; Obama is crushing Clinton among blacks (74-16).
  • But Clinton should be reassured by a Monmouth survey that has her up 50% to 36%. One big difference is that Obama's lead among African-American is much less pronounced (57% to 24%). The poll was taken from Wednesday to Friday, so it greatly overlaps with Zogby's.
  • Among Republicans, McCain shows no sign of trembling and is likely to get all of the state's delegates. He is ahead 55% to 23% for Romney in the Monmouth poll, almost exactly the same as Zogby's 54% to 23%.
The Tri-State area is clearly no longer a Clinton stronghold, though New Jersey is still looking a bit better for Hillary than Connecticut. There is no question that losing one of the area's three states could be a blow to Clinton, but losing two could be a terrible symbol (I don't think there is much of a need to say what would happen if Clinton loses New York), and one that many newspapers will lead with since press time will come before the victors are known in the Western states.

Zogby provides us also with numbers from Missouri, one of the most fascinating battlegrounds of Super Tuesday:

  • Here again, the Clinton-Obama dual is completely tied, with Clinton at 44% and Obama at 43%. Clinton does better among liberals, and Obama among independents. These numbers are consistent with other polls we have seen over the past two days that have consistently shown a toss-up in this state.

  • Among Republicans, McCain is up 36% to Huckabee's 27% and Romney's 22%. This contest is also winner-take-all for the GOP, so even such a small victory could give McCain 100% of the delegates. If Romney and Huckabee want to prevent McCain from getting the nomination on Tuesday, they have to stop him from getting Missouri's delegates as that -- combined with those from the Tri-State area -- could really give him too big a lead.
Zogby finishes things off with numbers from two states that are heading towards landslides:

  • In Georgia, Barack Obama is ahead 48% to 28%, confirming other polls of this past week. Georgia's demographics are similar to South Carolina's. Also, 23% of voters are still "undecided/someone else," more than in other Zogby surveys, which suggests a lot of Georgia Democrats might be willing to go for John Edwards.
  • In New York, meanwhile, McCain is not looking back. He is ahead 49% to 23% against Romney, with Huckabee at 8%.
As an extra bonus, Rasmussen released numbers from a rarely polled state that has a significant number of delegates, Arizona. And the numbers are tight in both parties, surprisingly so given that this is McCain's home state:

  • He is leading 43% to 34% in this winner-take-all contest. Arizona is a closed primary, suggesting that the state's conservative voters are not enthusiastic about their Senator.
  • In the Democratic race, Clinton is ahead 46% to 41%.
The race to the finish will be fascinating to watch.

Update, in answer to comments: (1) As I said, the early-vote results cannot be not be included in these polls even though it is not made explicit. It would make no sense for the pollsters to ignore it, and it's not like it's hard to include voters who have already voted. Whether Clinton actually has an advantage because of this, as one comment pointed out, can be debated. Were the people who voted Clinton early voters who would have backed her anyway? Or might some of them have changed their mind?
(2) It is silly to accuse me Obama-bias because I point out that he is rising in polls ... which he is. These surveys show Obama gaining on Clinton. In states like Missouri and California, he was down by more than 15% a week ago so his come back is undeniably impressive. Today, all polls show him tied in such battlegrounds. There is no question Obama has surged, but there is also no question that he has not surged enough to take a lead in any of these state but Georgia. As I have said repeatedly, Clinton has not sank because she started off strong enough that her decline of support has resulted in a tie. And I certainly believe (as I said) that both candidates could sweep the close state by just a 1-2% uptick in their national standing.
So everyone stay chill. Polls are polls and there is so much flux in the race right now (Edwards's withdrawal, debate) that very little will be surprising come Tuesday.

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  • Question about these CA polls. Are they taking into account all the people who have already voted????

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 03 February, 2008 03:34  

  • I believe Early Voting is a non-factor. Per the stump: http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_stump/archive/2008/02/01/where-obama-stands-in-california.aspx

    Update: A friend who's very knowledgeable about California politics writes:

    [I]t’s important to remember that the absentee vote in California is far older and whiter – but with fewer professionals making more than $100k – than the election-day voter.

    In other words, it matches up with the demographics of Hillary’s existing support almost perfectly. Those early absentee voters would have been in Hillary’s camp regardless of any Obama surge; absentee voting just lets them mail in the foregone result sooner.

    I suspect that the people who are left – younger, non-white, and professional voters – are all Obama people, and so her lead isn’t quite as invincible as it seems. (The exception to this trend is, of course, Latino voters, but ... Hillary is NOT going to win Latinos by the 25 or 30 points the polls suggest – those polls are totally a function of name ID, and you already see the gap rapidly closing in the last few days as the ads go up on TV and radio.)

    Right now, I’d say the state is a toss-up, and it’ll depend on who does a real ad buy over the weekend. And I think this is why Hillary has basically parked herself in the state today and tomorrow: she knows CA is way more close than it seems, and a loss here would be pretty devastating to her perceived front-runner status, regardless of the delegate split.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 03 February, 2008 04:00  

  • In other words, spend that cash on advertising now! Hasn't anybody figured out that these wildly fluctuating polls are being manipulated to direct campaign money? C'mon people,wake up. Greed is in the hearts of professional pollsters, not the best interests of the populace. You can skew a poll to say anything. The only poll that matters is in the voting booth.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 03 February, 2008 07:19  

  • So the republicans are running on empty, and the democrats have money to burn. I guess after Super Tuesday a pollster will have to come up with a push poll to claim the republicans have a huge lead.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 03 February, 2008 08:16  

  • the obama-bias of the author is amazing. when edwards' supporters move to obama, then instead of describing him as "rising" the author instead goes the opposite and describe clinton as "collapsed" even though her total vote-share is actually constant. also, the author only emphasizes how obama takes the whole black vote without mentioning what the white vote-share looks like (which i suspect is more clinton). most of these polls did not take fully into account the edwards drop-out or the debate in CA, so their numbers should taken with a grain of salt. also, without "realignment" in caucuses, there wont be that much last minute surprise like IA.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 03 February, 2008 12:42  

  • You always have to bias towards the underdog. That's what makes the race compelling and the money flow. If everybody only rallied for the obvious winner,the loser wouldn't have so much cash to spend. Overall it's an amazing feat for a political primary to be more popular than the "stupidbowl" is. Given the retail sales implications, I can't wait for the primary sales of dirt cheap laptops instead of big screen TV's. Where's that $199 deal from Dell? I'd buy a couple.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 03 February, 2008 13:29  

  • I agree with the anonymous a 100 percent. Constantly using words such as "collapse" or "sink" for Clinton doesn't make the race look more exciting. In fact, it might even make the writer look pretty bad on Wednesday morning, considering what happened in New Hampshire and also this large percentage of the undecided.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 03 February, 2008 13:58  

  • Bottom Line:

    Like all of you. I know that health care is the most critical, and important issue facing the American people. Now, and in the coming elections. And like the vast majority of the American people, I want HR 676 (Medicare For All) passed into law NOW! "Single payer, Tax Supported, Not For Profit, True Universal Health Care" free for all as a right. Like every other developed country in the world has. See: http://www.house.gov/conyers/news_hr676.htm

    “HR 676:
    For church goers: less money to insur. companies and more to the church- lots more.
    Srs on Medicare: save way over $100/wk. Because no more medigap, long term care & dental insur. needed. No more drug bills.”

    But if we the American people fail to bring enough pressure on our current politicians to get HR 676 passed into law before the elections. We will have to identify, and replace all the politicians standing in the way of passage of HR 676. And, I think the best first place to start is with the politicians that blocked the bipartisan SCHIP bills for the kids. Passed by congress twice.

    But what about the President. It was Bush after all that blocked the bipartisan SCHIP bill passed by congress to assure more health coverage for Americas kids. So which of the presidential hopefuls do I think will be most supportive of implementing the demand of the majority of the American people to have HR 676 (Medicare For All) passed into law immediately!

    We have some very fine presidential candidates who would make good presidents. But none of the top Presidential candidates directly support HR 676, the only true Universal Health Care plan. So I am supporting Hillary Clinton. She is the only top candidate that has ever actually fought for universal health care before.

    I have enormous admiration, and respect for Hillary Clinton. She fought a pitched battle against overwhelming odds back in 1993. To prevent this disastrous health care crisis that is now devastating the American people, and America. She fought so hard for the American people that she risk almost completely destroying her husbands presidency. I haven't forgotten her heroic effort. If any Presidential hopeful for universal health care deserves my support, it's her.

    Also, if we the American people fail to bring enough pressure on our government to give us HR 676 which we all so desperately need NOW! Then we will need the most skilled politician we can get on our side to broker the best health care plan for the American people that we can get. Though it will be less than we need, and less than we deserve. The politician I think to best do this is Hillary Clinton. The Clinton's are probably the most skilled politicians in American history.

    The insurance industry, and medical industry that has been ripping you off, and killing you has given Hillary Clinton so much money because they fear her. They have also given Barack Obama so much money because they fear Hillary Clinton. They think they can manipulate Barack Obama against the best interest of the American people better than they can manipulate Hillary Clinton. There is no race issue with Hillary Clinton. The Clinton's are the poster family for how African Americans want white people to be towards African Americans.

    As always, African Americans are suffering, and dieing in this health care crisis at a much higher rate than any other group in America. The last time there was any significant drop in the African American death rate was when Bill Clinton was president.

    My fellow Americans, you are dieing needlessly at an astounding rate. In higher numbers than any other people in the developed world. Rich, and poor a like. Insured, and uninsured. Men, women, children, and babies. And we the American people must stop it. And fix it NOW! Keep Fighting!!! Never! give up hope. There are millions of lives at stake. Bless you all... You are doing great!

    By Anonymous jacksmith, At 04 February, 2008 13:34  

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