6.15.2008

NV and AR polls: All eyes on the Southwest, and Southern hopes rest on increased turnout

The hottest battleground of this general election will no doubt be the Southwest, not necessarily because of the 19 electoral votes that are stake there in this election but what the region might represent in the future. A fastest-growing area, the Southwest is bound to pick up congressional seats and thus electoral votes at the start of the next decade, just in time for the next presidential election.

Along with Colorado and New Mexico, Nevada completes the Southwestern trio. Flipping these three states alone would be enough for Obama to get to the White House if he also carries all the states won by Kerry in 2004. Arizona would have surely been added to the list had McCain not won the GOP nomination but the state's Senator should hold on to his home-state despite some murmurs that he has problems with Arizona's conservative base (he did, after all, only receive 48% in the Super Tuesday primary here).

All three states remain too close-too-call. That alone is a Democratic victory in Colorado, which was considered solidly red in 2004 and clearly leaning Republican four years ago, but it is not that much of a change in Nevada and New Mexico, the latter having hosted two of the tightest results in 2000 and 2004. This alone should frustrate Democrats, some of whom are confident that the growing Hispanic population will pave the way for significant gains. In fact, Nevada was already deemed a disappointment four years ago as President Bush won despite being on the wrong side of what was described as the one issue that mattered in state politics, Yucca Mountain.

A new poll released today by respected polling outfit Mason-Dixon finds yet another close race:

  • John McCain edges out Barack Obama within the margin of error, 44% to 42%.
  • Among Hispanics -- a constituency among which McCain believes he can reduce the margin a bit -- the Republican is crushed 56% to 28%.
Both parties know the cost of not contesting the Southwest would be disastrous in the long-term, and that alone should guarantee that neither candidate takes a commanding lead in Nevada. Just as in 2004, this one should go down the wire.

In Arkansas, meanwhile, a new Rasmussen poll finds somewhat of a shift:

  • John McCain leads 48% to 39%. A month ago, however, Obama trailed by 24%, a result Rasmussen interprets as a "Clinton bump" in the state the former candidate used to call home.
  • Obama has a decent favorability rating but also a very high proportion of respondents (36%) who have a "very unfavorable" impression of him.
Hillary Clinton led by 14% in last month's Rasmussen poll, a 38% gap with Obama's showing. This is one state that Clinton would have been almost assured of carrying while Obama is expected to durably struggle, though a bump of the size Obama has gotten here has to satisfy the Democrat's campaign. Not only do such numbers allow them to claim that the party is now uniting and that former Clinton supporters are lining up behind their nominee but it also represents new data to tout Obama's potential in Southern states, a theme the Illinois Senator has evoked for months now.

It is worth noting, however, what Obama's high unfavorability rating tells us about the state of the general election in Southern states, as Obama's ability to close to gap to a tighter-than-expected margin despite coming in with higher unfavorables is a phenomenon that we have observed in other Southern states as well. This suggests that Obama might be reaching the low 40s (a level Kerry struggled to reach) and trailing by single-digits, but it will be very difficult for him to reach much higher than that as much of the remaining electorate really does not want to vote for him. That is not surprising in states in which the political fault lines are dictated by racial polarization (Kerry did not get 20% of the white vote in Mississippi!).

If Obama has room to grow beyond trailing by high single-digits or low double-digits (such margins would already be great improvements and would guarantee a strong popular vote showing, but they would not get him any closer to the White House), he will not find it in the usual pool of voters and in convincing swing voters but will have to expand the pool of voters and increase turnout among the Democrats' southern base, African-Americans. Any election that depends entirely on unpredictable pattern turnouts is notoriously difficult to poll (see the Iowa caucuses), so keep these factors in mind in the coming months.

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7 Comments:

  • While losing by 10% instead of 20% won't help Obama get into the White House, it should help the Democrats win a few more down ticket races. Maybe even flip a state legislature or two. Winning on the state level would be huge, especially with the 2010 census coming up.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 16 June, 2008 03:36  

  • At first, I thought that Obama did not have a rat's chance in hell of taking AR, but if he is able to shrink the margin from -24 to -9 in just ten days, imagine what is possible over 5 months.

    That being said, I think McCain will carry AR, but Obama could turn it into yet another battleground, forcing the GOP to divert funds and energy and TIME to states it thought were safe, thus limiting it's chance to challenge in blue states.

    By Blogger Mark, At 16 June, 2008 07:32  

  • With Obama's resources, it may be sufficient simply to force McCain into defending states he thought would be a walk-over. Another factor is the Obama campaign's enormous successes with voter registration and voter turn-out efforts. Disproportionately, AA voters remain unregistered in many Southern states, and drawing that bloc into the election could have a significant effect. In LA, the registrars (many of them GOP) are already howling about being swamped with new voter registrations, a possible precursor to vote suppression down there.

    So, the goal isn't necessarily to win, failing which you lose - its more complex than that.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 16 June, 2008 08:10  

  • There's no doubt that Obama will help down ballot candidates, but trading the WH for it just doesn't sound worthwhile.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 June, 2008 08:11  

  • anonymous, my reference was to losing a given state and not the GE. I was suggesting that with Obama's enormous financial advantage, forcing McCain to throw dollars into a state that Obama possibly won't win anyway, weakens McCain elsewhere and makes Obama's election more likely, in addition to helping down-ticket in that state.

    For McCain, spending is a zero sum game, given his limited resources. Same is true for redirecting his organizational resources, which are somewhat more limited than Obama's.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 16 June, 2008 10:00  

  • Obama should forget about AR. In two more weeks he will be behind in there by 10-15 points, the can of territory that makes the state unwinnable for him. He is better served by concentrating in the places that he can really win. McCain will make a push for that Latino vote in NV. At the end of the day I am convinced he will narrow that gap with the Latino voters. Obama will make a strong play in NV and NM, and look at AR in the rear view mirror.

    By Anonymous Robert, At 16 June, 2008 13:48  

  • I have an analysis of poll movement in KANSAS here at my blog. The data is fascinating, to say the least.

    By Blogger Mark, At 16 June, 2008 14:38  

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