Wednesday polls: Clinton way ahead in PA primary, McCain strong in MI and PA

SUSA released two polls from upcoming primaries yesterday, showing some good news for both candidates but especially for Hillary Clinton:

  • In North Carolina, Barack Obama maintains his lead, up 49% to 41%. But he has gained no ground since SUSA's previous poll last month, in which he was up by 10%.
  • In Pennsylvania, Clinton has a stunning lead: She is up 54% to 35%, including a 30% lead among women. That's more of a lead than SUSA ever gave Clinton in Ohio (though Quinnipiac did show her up 21% there once).
The Pennsylvania and North Carolina are respectively six and eight weeks away, an eternity in a campaign of this intensity. Think about what the polls of California and Missouri were saying in mid-December or what we knew about Texas the week after Iowa...

But given how much Obama has progressed in national numbers the fact that he is failing for now to take off in Pennsylvania is certainly relevant. As I have explained before, Pennsylvania's demographics closely resemble Ohio's, and the few differences should favor Clinton. Obama has to find a way to move the numbers in Pennsylvania knowing that he did not succeed in Ohio. The good news for him is that he has 6 weeks to do so.

The North Carolina numbers are also better news for Clinton than they are for Obama. All polls from that state are now suggesting that Obama, who had opened up a double-digit lead, has failed to open up a commanding lead there. And that leaves North Carolina on the map of states that Clinton can win -- or at least keep things much closer than many observers are expecting to see. North Carolina is the 10th most populous state in the country (as Guy often points out in comments on this site!), so Clinton would love to do well here to bolster her big-state argument.

Meanwhile, we also got two general election polls from Rasmussen which show very tight races in two states Democrats probably must win come November:

  • In Michigan, McCain is leading both Democrats by 3%: 46% to 43% against Clinton and 44% to 41% against Obama.
  • In Pennsylvania, McCain is ahead of Clinton 46% to 44% and of Obama 44% to 43%.
The conventional wisdom is that Michigan should be no trouble for Democrats, despite the fact that Gore and Kerry had the greatest difficulty in carrying it. In fact, this only confirms that Democrats should really find a way to resolve the Michigan delegate mess, and explains why Obama is being very careful to not give the impression he is against a primary do-over, for that could create resentment in the state that would help McCain pick up Michigan's electoral votes.

As for Pennsylvania, most polls at this point agree with Rasmussen's and Democrats look better in Ohio than in Pennsylvania at the moment. What I am interested in is seeing numbers after April 22nd, so treat this Rasmussen poll as a baseline number. As long as Clinton and Obama don't go more negative in the next 6 weeks than they have been up to now, the Democratic nominee should be boosted by weeks of sustained exposure that McCain will only be able to dream about -- not to mention that they will build a thorough organization that will be very useful in November (though that will not show up in the polls).

Also today, Gallup released its first daily tracking poll of the general election, so we can now turn to them daily for some fresh numbers. I probably won't report them everyday but only when there is some significant trend building up. The poll will be a 5-day rolling tracking for now, so any trend will build slowly. Here is the first wave (Gallup says it is based on interviews with more than 4,000 registered voters which seems an unusually high number):

  • Obama leads McCain 46% to 44%, and Clinton is ahead 47% to 45%.
  • Both races are obviously within the margin of error, so this starts up as a toss-up.
Democrats can only regret what might have been, of course, had this first wave of tracking been done with nominee Romney or nominee Giuliani instead of McCain. This is not to say that Romney would not have eventually tightened things up but he would certainly have began with a significant deficit.

Also, it is worth noting that the 2-3 week period period in which Obama was way ahead of Clinton in seemingly every general election poll seems to be over, with the two running equal in all three of these surveys (and more generally in most polls that have been released these past 10 days).

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  • Thanks for a great article and for recognising that NC is the 10th largest state - sorry if I mentioned it too often. I moved to NC from the United Kingdom and NC is a great state - people say "the South" in a usually degorative way but there is the south and then the deep south. Democrats have a real chance in Virginia this cycle and in NC in a few years time (maybe this year if lucky). Democrats need to realise they need more than just the 20 states they win in the GE (2000 and 2004)- each state has 2 senators and the Democratic congressmen in VA and NC give the Dems the majority in the house - so a 50 state strategy (or something close) is needed.

    As you said PA is more favourable to Clinton so she should win it by at least 10% (the OH margin) and maybe a little more. Obama needs to win IN and NC well to offset the net popular vote and pledged delegate loss that he will suffer in PA. I think Obama will increase his lead in NC once campaigning starts (still 8 weeks away) - he has shown the ability to increase his share of the vote when campaigning starts - TX went from 20% behind to 4% loss and OH went from 20% behind to a 10% loss. So there is potential for him to win by 15% which is a solid victory in a "large" state!

    By Anonymous Guy, At 12 March, 2008 12:34  

  • The SUSA poll in PA is very strange. Hillary wins both genders, all age catagories (including 18-34 by 10%);all issues except environment and education(even the war in Iraq)and all regions(even the southeast-Philly).The undecided is only 3%. It may be a bit of an outlier.
    In the end it may help Obama in that this and a couple of other recent polls set a very high bar for her to meet. It will be interesting to see what the next wave of polls brings.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 12 March, 2008 13:14  

  • Agreed that it may be an outlier and sets the bar high for her. The demographics and the result in OH also set the bar high. Obama needs to (and I have seen some signs of this but not too much) downplay PA and broaden it out to April and May primaries which include important Democratic states like Oregon. He has been good at competing hard in every state. Now he needs to take a lesson out of the Clinton playbook and downplay states where he does not expect to do well in - she did it for MS (saying I expect my opponent to win) and she did it for multiple states in February including important Democratic states like Maryland and Wisconsin and swing states like Virginia.

    By Anonymous Guy, At 12 March, 2008 13:55  

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