Poll roundup: Will there be a bouce?

As I explained two days ago, I am skeptical of arguments that securing the nomination will automatically resolve Barack Obama's problems with the registered Democratic vote, but that does not mean that the Illinois Senator will not enjoy a substantial bounce in the coming days and weeks. We will then have to see how the bounce lasts and whether it gets Obama to his full potential. For now, use these polls -- some of which are very interesting on their own right -- as markers of where the campaign lied as of early June.

Keep in mind also that any bounce Obama will get will come from (1) the Democratic Party uniting and (2) the boost that any candidate derives from victory. I don't buy the argument that McCain has been campaigning for the general election for months but Obama hasn't and that he will therefore improve his percentages. He will certainly improve his general election organization, turnout efforts and registration drive, but that has little to do with poll numbers for now. If anything, McCain has been out of the spotlight and struggling to attract any attention since mid-February, whereas Obama has been airing dozens of ads in key swing states worth millions of dollars. He was campaigning against Clinton, sure, but many of these spots were meant to introduce himself to voters and having already aired those will be useful in the general election as well.

First, the latest NYT/CBS poll and USA Today/Gallup will be widely discussed because of their strong reputation:

  • In the field from May 30th to June 3rd, the CBS/NYT poll did not register any effect Tuesday night might have had. Obama is leading McCain 48% to 42%.
  • As for favorability ratings, both candidates have a lot of neutral respondents -- much more than usual. Obama's rating stands at a strong 41-31, while McCain is much weaker, 34-37.
  • In the USA/Today Gallup poll, Obama is leading 46% to 43%. Clinton fares better in what is probably the last national poll in which she will be included, trailing 49% to 43%.
Republicans have long been worried that Obama might open up a double-digit lead nationally once he wraps up the nomination. If that is correct, the fact that he already leads by mid-single digits should worry the GOP. But Republicans are also more hopeful about the state-by-state situation and their chances in the electoral college. As my first ratings yesterday afternoon showed, that race is a toss-up, with McCain ahead by a slight 227 to 207 electoral votes. A few polls all released by SUSA on Tuesday give us a better sense of the situation in those states (these polls were taken to test VP match-ups which I will not report fully since I do not find interesting at all; most match-ups only test name recognition):

  • In New York, Obama leads McCain 48% to 38%, with only 66% of registered Democrats. This is the same margin Obama has enjoyed for two months now, and it is naturally too close for comfort in one of the Democrats' strongest states nationally.
  • Depending on the VP match-ups, the range goes from +1 Obama (if McCain picks Romney and Obama picks Hagel) to +20 Obama.
  • In Massachusetts, Obama continues to look stunningly weak as he barely distances McCain 46% to 41%, with the support of 65% of registered Democrats.
  • Depending on the VP match-ups, the range goes from +1 Obama (once again if he picks Hagel) to +16 Obama. Huckabee fares a bit better than Mitt Romney, the state's former Governor.
  • In Missouri, Obama edges out McCain 45% to 43% with 74% of registered Democrats.
  • Depending on VP match-ups, the range goes from +11 McCain to +11 Obama. Only Edwards improves Obama's vote total, but that is entirely a factor of name recognition.
  • In Iowa, Obama is leading 47% to 38%. He has been ahead in every single one of the 10 polls SUSA has taken starting in February 2007, most of them by substantial margins.
  • Finally, an Alabama poll confirms this state will not be paid attention to in the general election. McCain crushes Obama 57% to 34%, as the Illinois Senator only gets 19% of the white vote.
The Massachusetts poll confirms my rating of Massachusetts as only "likely Obama" despite the state's reputation as the country's most staunchly Democratic. It is difficult to explain why this is the one state in which Obama's weakness is so consistent. Rasmussen's survey last week found Obama up 13% but that paled in comparison to previous cycles and to Clinton's 30% lead in the same poll. As for Iowa, this poll confirms that this is the one 2004 Bush state that is already leaning towards Democrats, not to mention how strong Obama's organization in the state ever since the caucus campaign. Finally, Missouri is a good surprise for Obama as it is a state I have rated "lean McCain." Most other polls taken in the past few weeks show the Arizona Senator ahead in that state and it remains to be seen how strongly Obama will push there.

Another observation about these polls is the increase in the percentage of undecideds. The trendline in most of them shows a decrease in the totals of both McCain and Obama, which is not necessarily what we would be expecting after months of campaigning.

Finally, one last poll for the day concerns the North Carolina Senate race. It is an internal poll taken by Anzalone Liszt Research for the Hagan campaign and it was in the field mid-May, at the time other polls showed very narrow Dole advantages and before the Republican incumbent started airing ads of her own: In this survey, Dole leads 48% to 44%. Since then, a poll taken more recently showed her slightly expanding her lead, a possible consequence of the advertising blitz. But since I am still the phase of slight surprise at every survey that shows that yes, indeed, Dole is vulnerable, this poll is certainly useful.

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  • I anticipate that Obama will not get any big unity bounce until his acceptance speech in the convention. The reason of this is because Hillary Clinton supporters are very bitter and angry at Obama winning the nomination and it will take several months for them to see that a vote for McCain would be very damaging to their interests. It won't start until Clinton endorse Obama on Saterday, and then slowly but surely Clinton supporters will get used to Obama as their nominee. By the time late august comes around, I think that at least half of Clinton's supporters who say they won't vote for Obama now will come around. Because of this, Obama will likely get a bigger poll boost from the convention than usually transcribes.
    The states where Clinton supporters are most likely to turn around will be in traditional democratic states like NY and MA. While some of Clinton supporters will never support Obama (i.e those in WV and KY) realistically there is no chance that Obama will get only 2/3 of democrats in democratic strongholds like NY ad MA. If democrats are willing to support Obama in Missouri, which is far from a democratic stronghold, they will defintely come around in MA, NY, CT, and other democratic strongholds.

    I also agree with you Taniel about the vice president candidate. I say that with a few exceptions (Hagel and Lieberman would definitely weaken Obama and McCain respectively) the vice president won't really matter that much in the election: the VP will be more important in terms of an actual governoring role for Democrats and of a likely sucessor for the Republicans.

    And on the Dole-Hagen race: yes Dole probably has seen the writing on the wall that she isn't a shoo in despite not having to face Easley and her advertising has undoubtly helped her. However, the DSCC will give Hagen lots of support to match Dole's spending. The NC senate race is one of those will money will be key.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 05 June, 2008 10:44  

  • I am inclined to think that the VP selection may be more important this time than we think and WILL have a bearing on winning or losing the GE. This rationale for this I will put up on my blog in the next days.

    By Blogger Mark, At 05 June, 2008 14:40  

  • I'm somewhat in accordance with mark, for two reasons:

    1: Obama is a different candidate, one many people are suspicious of. Putting him with a familiar face people trust would help him immensely.

    2: McCain is the oldest presidential candidate ever, and people are going to be concerned about what's going to happen if he doesn't last (for whatever reason) a full term. His VP is going to be examined very closely.

    By Blogger Stephen, At 05 June, 2008 14:56  

  • Obama is steadily weak among Democrats and I bet McCain will weasel his way closer to the Democratic platform since his weakness among conservatives gives him the option. Again Clinton's base was more against Obama than for her. Her endorsement without delegates won't mean much. If she takes the VP position, some might think she'd be a Democratic Cheney, wielding more power than Obama. That might help. I think most Clinton supporters will find McCain more in line with their interests by Nov. than Obama is.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 05 June, 2008 15:01  

  • I disagree with you anonymous about Clinton supporters. Most of them are going to support Obama by November because he is much closer to Clinton than McCain is close to Clinton. The bulk of the Clinton to McCain democrats are going to be in appalacia and in some sections of the deep south (including Florida). Northeasterners epecially, but also Pacfic/northwest, mountain states, mid west are going to go back to Obama to Obama in droves. As I said in my earlier post, at least half of the clinton supporters who say that they will either vote for McCain or stay home will decide to vote for Obama in the fall.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 05 June, 2008 15:18  

  • I'd like to add the issue about leadership. Although policy wise Clinton is much more compatable with Obama than McCain, the leadership skills of Clintons may be more in line with McCain. Many people are not focused on the policies of America, but are focused on how well a candidate will handle the problem when a problem is brought to attention.

    I'm not stating this a slam to ANY of these candidates. Obama provides America with a fresh approach to handle America's problems, an approach that we have never seen before. Clinton and McCain are the old guard. This change will be hard for some of the Clinton supporters (I am a Clinton supporter) to handle.

    By Anonymous Jim W, At 05 June, 2008 16:40  

  • If she takes the VP position, some might think she'd be a Democratic Cheney, wielding more power than Obama. That might help.

    Or it might hurt. She might help supporters to "come home" who might not otherwise do so, but she might drive away independents where Obama is strong and bring out conservatives who might otherwise stay home. If one believes that Democrats will vote Democratic when the chips are down in November, there's a serious question as to whether her positives outweigh her negatives.

    By Blogger dsimon, At 05 June, 2008 17:44  

  • Clinton as VP seems unlikely to me now anyway.

    I do expect Obama get a significant bounce (my best guess is from 63/66 to 70/75 percent support among Democrats) after Clinton's endorsement and even better if she's able to give a strong speech promoting him at the convention.

    I also think that the Republican's relative lack of money (is McCain really going to spend in Mass. rather than in Michigan?) and the much stronger Democratic organizations and turn-out machines will keep most of the traditional strongholds for Democrats regardless of Obama's poor polling currently.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 05 June, 2008 23:18  

  • "Obama is steadily weak among Democrats and I bet McCain will weasel his way closer to the Democratic platform since his weakness among conservatives gives him the option."

    It's not happening today. One of his key advisers has taken a hard right position on wire-tapping and the inherent powers of the executive. This will chip away at a certain demographic of angry Clinton voters.

    But Obama's major concern has to be not so much with NOW/Emily's List (Emily Malcolm came around to support him on PBS last night) but the more traditional lunch-pail Dems who have critical economic needs and just aren't down with a lot of beautiful rhetoric. On this one, jaxx raxor, I do disagree - I think the VP choice has to specifically buttress significant weaknesses in the nominee, and he does have them.

    Nunn would be more meaningful in a senior cabinet position - he's been out of the game for a long time, and his name doesn't mean too much to anyone but greybeards and junkies.

    Clark is an attractive figure who helps on defense and maybe lends foreign policy gravitas, is better known right now and I guess you could argue that this demo would respond to a military figure, but in 2004, he seemed to have major appeal to the traditional liberal who welcomed support for anti-war views from the armed forces. I took a look at supporting him for a while, and IIRC, he didn't campaign particularly well.

    Bayh has been mentioned. However, friends of mine who are more familiar with him and his experience say he is a poor campaigner - boring and no natural constituency beyond Indiana.

    I doubt they'd want to pull Warner out of the VA race, although he would certainly strengthen Obama's chances there. I'm guessing that part of the thinking is to maintain as much strength at the Senate level as possible, particularly as a fail-safe against an Obama loss, and Warner had stuck his toe into the presidentials a while ago, quickly pulled it out for family reasons, so would he want to go down that road again. Also, while I like his views, he is like Bayh a rather pallid campaigner.

    I can't see Clinton, for all of the reasons cited - it would look like he folded his hand in the face of coercion, it would infuriate his base and no matter where they tried to hide Willy, concern about his penchant for the spotlight and ad hoc policy statements would rule that out. Maybe like Nunn a key cabinet/policy decision for her, if she wants it.

    Webb brings the same benefits as Warner, Clark and Nunn in a single package, but with a down home/country boy aspect that may appeal more broadly to the critical demo - working class Americans. I don't really associate him with economic policies, but that's not necessarily what you want him for.. As the GOP should teach us, it's not all policy - its how you're perceived by your target audience, and the associations you trigger that link you with their concerns. Downsides? He's not a compelling speaker, but has improved somewhat. He's quirky and unpredictable, and there may have to be lots of damage control. His previous writings contain lots of gamy stuff that may turn of the more religious or traditional of the targeted voters, and you can be sure he'll be Swift-boated on that. He has some talking to do on gay rights, and gays in the military esp.But he is an anchor to windward who can also negate accusations - esp from moderate Dem/Clinton voters - that Obama is a captive of the Daily Kos and MoveOn.

    I don't know if he is required to surrender his Senate seat to accept the nomination. If so, with Kaine in office, the Dems may be assured they'd control the appointment, which is different than the Warner situation. With Mark running for John's seat this pairing poses enormous challenges to McCain, forcing him to devote substantial time and dollars to a state where he didn't anticipate that.

    Makes a lot of sense to me...

    By Anonymous zoot, At 06 June, 2008 07:07  

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