Sunday polls: Shifts in the partisan make-up, and unlikely states to host tight races

Today's three presidential surveys come from states that are deemed unlikely to host competitive races but where these polls find some tighter-than-expected results. First and foremost comes Nebraska, a Western state which Bush had no trouble winning 2:1 in 2004 but which Barack Obama might have different thoughts about:

  • SUSA finds McCain to be leading 49% to 40%, quite a dramatic drop for the Republican from past results.
  • Very importantly, SUSA shows tight races in the 1st and 2nd congressional district. In the first, McCain edges Obama 44% to 43%. In the second, McCain is on top 48% to 43%. In the third, McCain is leading 57% to 33%.
Nebraska allocates 3 of its 5 electoral voters by district, and this is not the first poll to suggest that Obama might have a good shot at winning the first or second congressional districts, thereby complicating even further our electoral college calculations (by the way, expect the year's first electoral college ratings to be posted in a few days). This is also a sign of trouble for McCain in the Mountain West, as a number of states that are usually not even mentioned at the presidential level could host competitive races this year.

One note, however, about SUSA's series of presidential polls. SUSA's samples are consistently much more Democratic than the 2004 exit polls indicated. This is the case in this Nebraska poll, as the partisan breakdown is 44% Republicans and 38% Democrats while the 2004 exit poll found that 53% of voters were Republicans and 24% Democrats. This is not to say that SUSA's polls are too skewed towards Obama, for there is no doubt that the proportion of self-identified Democrats has considerably risen since the last presidential election and that there is a considerable enthusiasm gap between the two parties, making it credible that the partisan breakdown of this general election will be much more favorable for Obama than the one in 2004.

The fact that SUSA is registering this swing this consistently is amazing news for Obama's chances, for it is hard to see how he could lose the election if there anywhere near the 20% shift that this poll is suggesting. But whether SUSA is registering too much of a swing is open to debate, and it is indeed hard to imagine that there is this much of a change in partisan identification. Other polls are not necessarily finding this dramatic of shifts and it is important to keep in mind that SUSA's assumptions about turnout model, while they could be perfectly right, appear to be leading to results more favorable to Obama.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen released two general election polls of its own:

  • First, it found a single-digit race in Louisiana, where McCain leads Obama 50% to 41% and Clinton 47% to 40%. McCain's favorability rating is superiot to Obama's, 55% to 45%.
  • Meanwhile, Massachusetts looks Democratic as Obama leads McCain 51% to 38% and Clinton crushes him 60% to 30%.
Louisiana's numbers aren't surprising in the sense that the state used to be a battleground, with Bush prevailing over Al Gore by 8% in 2000. But the state has increasingly trended Republican since then, with Bush increasing his winning margin to 15% in 2004. Louisiana should not be the first Southern state to fall if Obama manages to make inroads in the region.

Massachusetts, meanwhile, has become somewhat of a puzzle: Why is Obama struggling to live up to the state's Democratic strength? While a 13% margin is certainly decent, it is underwhelming, especially when we consider that Rasmussen has consistently shown Clinton performing better here, suggesting that Obama is having trouble to catch on. More troubling have been SUSA's surveys, which have repeatedly shown Obama struggling in Massachusetts. The latest, released late April, showed Obama 2% ahead and that was actually an improvement from the March survey that had the two candidates tied.

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  • Obama is doing relatively poor in MA because many Clinton supporters at the moment refuse to support him. The Democratic primary may almost be over but Clinton as been very ambigious over whatever she will leave the race after Tuesday or after Obama gets a majority of all delegates, or if she stays in and hopes to switch Obama SDs to her side. I would say that a 13% margin is good when the party is as divided as it is now.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 02 June, 2008 08:58  

  • Obama is suffering from the perception that he's an opportunistic hack that would destroy democracy itself to gain power. He's a fool to accept this ruling giving him Clinton's delegates and switching the uncommitted ones to him. It's a poison pill that he'd be smart to reject and denounce. The republicans will destroy him on this weakness of character. Wexler practically ruined his chances single-handedly. A true leader would put democracy above himself and usurp Clinton's high ground. We expected the committee to only reinstate half the votes and he should have pushed for whole votes instead of letting himself get trapped opposing it. His unfettered greed is his biggest adversary.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 02 June, 2008 13:27  

  • jaxx,
    I do not agree with your dismissal of polls in which Obama polls poorly as something that will go away when Obama secures the nomination. That is ignoring Obama's very real consistent weakness in parts of the Democratic coalition and the fact that the two candidates' weakness is not parallel. I will write a long post about this by tomorrow.

    By Blogger Taniel, At 02 June, 2008 13:39  

  • jaxx raxor is spot on. Feelings are still at a fever pitch, and polling in MA won't be very useful till things cool down and the general election campaign begins. Deval Patrick is however wearing out his welcome, and that could have an indeterminate effect on Obama's numbers.

    Taniel, the weakness Obama has shown amongst blue collar workers and middle income folks is not necessarily driven by the same dynamic that leads to weakness in MA. Its a very different state from Indiana, PA or WVA. I'll wait to see your analysis before saying anything more.

    anonymous 13:27, please try calming down a bit and provide factual basis for your posts.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 02 June, 2008 13:45  

  • I think Obama's weakness with Clinton supporters may disapate with some time. Obama and Clinton, in regards to policy, does not appear to me as being much different. Obama has a certain charisma that will help him sway over the majority of the Clinton campers (such as myself).

    I do believe that Obama needs to be cognizant of how he's being perceived. The church issue is a disaster waiting to happen, and it's not going to play out favorably in the South and Midwest. I'm curious on how his poll numbers will be affected in places like Ohio and Florida.

    By Anonymous Jim W, At 02 June, 2008 14:09  

  • obama's weaknesses will get better with every democratic demographic when the nominee is decided (this week). whether it's enough to make states like Arkansas or WV or FL competitive remains to be seen.

    But again, solid Democratic states like MA, NY and CA are not competitive now and will not be and they are too expensive for the GOP to contest.

    In as much as a blue collar, bread and butter pitch will help with working class voters in PA and OH and WI, it will help in Worcester as well, but it's not aimed at the folks in MA.

    the big picture will be the big 15:
    OH, MI, WI, IA, NH, NM, CO, FL, VA, MN, NV, PA, OR, AR, MO. Then, depending on polling after the primary has cooled down and money that each campaign has, Obama may try to extend beyond this list to NC, CDs in NE, MS, MT or AK or McCain may try for WA, ME or NJ.

    As for the message that resonates with all these states, it's the same one that worked in '76, '80, '92 and '00 - Changing the Incompetent and Corrupt Washington that has failed Americans.

    By Blogger st paul sage, At 02 June, 2008 14:41  

  • It's a fact that Wexler would not approve of the full vote reinstatement. It's a fact that this position of Obama's is perceived as opportunistic and weak. It's a fact that Clinton's moral high ground drives her continued campaign. What factual basis is lacking? Did you miss something?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 02 June, 2008 16:23  

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