Tuesday polls: Obama pulls ahead in OH and is competitive in NC, while Franken and McConnell are in trouble

Finally, after weeks of being bombarded by polls from New York, Kansas and Washington State, someone thought to poll the presidential race in Ohio – and it brings welcome news to Obama’s campaign:

  • Public Policy Polling released its first survey in quite a while and it shows Barack Obama trouncing John McCain 50% to 39%. As usual, Obama is weaker among registered Dems (73%) than McCain is among registered Republicans (83%). Obama is leading by 13% among independents, however. As for potential VP picks, respondents seem more inclined to be swayed by Hillary Clinton than by their governor Ted Strickland.
  • Update: A commenter points out that this survey was in the field on the 17th and 18th of May. This is very strange indeed, as it represents more than a 3 week delay... Did PPP not even poll Hillary Clinton against McCain then? At the time, most pollsters did.
A long series of polls showing Obama weak in Ohio or at least significantly underperforming Clinton (including PPP's most recent survey released in March, repeated waves of Quinnipiac's polls and Rasmussen's May poll) was interrupted by SUSA's showing Obama comfortably ahead of McCain mid-May. PPP's poll is the first since then. Given how much care the Obama campaign is putting in cultivating alternative electoral maps that do would not require victory in Florida and Ohio, the state's 20 electoral votes almost seem like they would be a bonus that would all but ensure the Democrat's victory -- though with McCain's apparent strength in Michigan, it is essential for Democrats to contest Ohio to offset a potential disaster in Michigan.

The day's other important presidential poll is the much-discussed ABC/Washignton Post national poll:

  • Barack Obama leads 48% to 42%, a margin that is little moved since ABC's previous poll, suggesting there has been little movement since the Democrat wrapped up his nomination. The WaPo is emphasizing the fact that the two candidates are tied among independents.
  • Another national poll, released by Cook/RT Strategies, shows Obama leading 44% to 40%.
Last week, after the NBC polled found Obama leading by 6%, I criticized the obsession with pointing out that Kerry had never led in NBC polls in 2004 and that Bush had never beeh ahead by that much either. I pointed out that, in many other polls, Kerry had a clear lead in the early summer and that Bush was repeatedly ahead by 9-11% in September. The ABC poll is a case in point: Now, everyone is pointing out that John Kerry had the same lead in an ABC poll taken at this time four years ago. So which is it? Is an Obama lead significant because Kerry never led or significant because he was the favorite? It is important to look at a pollster's trendlines because of methodology and turnout models, but the pollster-specific comparisons of surveys that are four years apart does not seem to me to be particularly helpful.

What is somewhat significant in recently released national polls is that predictions by strategists from both camps that Obama could open a double-digit lead in the weeks after becoming the nominee have not come true, though the Democrat is consistently ahead. But it is the electoral college, of course, that will determine the winner and two important state polls were released today besides Ohio’s:

  • In North Carolina, polls are now consistently showing McCain’s leading hovering around the margin of error. The latest Civitas poll finds him barely ahead 45% to 41%, with Bob Barr polling in at 2%. Last month, McCain was up by 5%.

  • In Minnesota, SUSA finds Obama struggling to pull ahead, coming in at 47% against 46% for McCain. He was ahead by 5% in a poll taken two weeks ago, though that swing is within the margin of error. The big difference is the flip of the indie vote.
It is difficult to imagine North Carolina flipping if a state like Virginia does not, underscoring how close to a blow-out victory Obama would get if he keeps NC this close through November. As for Minnesota, so much for my speculations that Obama might be putting away the “Dukakis 5,” though it’s worth pointing out that most other recent MN surveys finding a more comfortable lead for Obama. But it is SUSA’s Senate poll from this state that has got to worry Democrats:

  • Norm Coleman has opened up a significant lead against Al Franken, 52% to 40%, though this is stable from last month's poll that showed the Democrat trailing 52% to 42%. Franken loses the independent vote 60% to 33%.
  • If Jesse Ventura jumps in the race (it is the second time this week this match-up is polled), Franken trails 41% to 31% with 23% for Ventura. In a sure sign of trouble for Franken, Mike Ciresi, a Democrat who dropped out of the race in February, polls slightly better than him against Coleman: 50% to 40%.
  • Also today, Rasmussen released a survey of Alaska's Senate race, finding Ted Stevens surviving 46% to 44% against Mark Begich, who was narrowly ahead 47% to 45% last month. Other surveys have found larger leads for Begich.
Al Franken has been suffering through months of bad press, as controversies over tax disclosures, a 2000 essay in Playboy and a 1995 joke on rape erupted in recent weeks. Yet, polls found little movement in this (very often) polled race. But SUSA's survey is obviously bad news for the Democratic challenger as it goes along the narrative of a sinking campaign. That Franken polls roughly at the same level as a candidate who has not been campaigning for 5 months suggests that he is now underperforming the level of a generic Democrat.

Update: SUSA just released a fascinating new poll from Kentucky:

  • In the presidential race, John McCain leads Obama 53% to 41%. This is a huge progression from a May poll in which Obama trailed by 24%. Look no further than the vote of registered Democrat, Obama has gone from... 48% to 59%! Still a very low number, but one that is now in line with what you would expect in Kentucky.
  • In the Senate race, however, Mitch McConnell is only ahead of Bruce Lunsford 50% to 46%!
I for one have long remained unconvinced that Lunsford would be a real threat to McConnell, and given how nightmarish he would be for progressives, it is certainly my top wish among GOP-held seats. But this now the second poll that finds Lunsford to be very competitive and there is no doubt that unseating the Minority Leader would be a huge upset. Given that the DSCC is looking for second and third-tier seats to make competitive to have a shot at 60, this is not the last we will hear of Kentucky.

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  • I agree with you Taniel, Obama needs to contest Ohio and not take Michigan for granted. Yes, he doesnt like the idea of contesting the same states over again, but Michigan could very well fall into the Republican collum and if it did Obama would have to take Ohio to even things out. Especially since he wasn't in Michigan during the primary but was in Ohio.

    On Minnesota, the SUSA presidential poll is probably an outlier because most over polls show Obama with a bigger lead. I would say that Obama hasn't gotten a big boost because there are still wounds in the party that need to be healed. McCain is outperforming Obama in retaining his own voters and in addition to splitting the independnets, this is helping McCain come close. However it would be foolish for McCain to assume this all the bounce that Obama will get. I predict that at least a few days after his acceptance speech in denver Obama will finally get his poll boost as it is likely that most of Clinton supporters would have gone to Obama by that point as well as Obama's speaking skills. As for McCain, with his weak formal speech skills, I would see no to little bounce, even in Minnesota polls unless he choose Pawlenty as his running mate. Even then it would still probably only be small.

    The Minnesota race is starting to turn into a Democratic meltdown, similar to the letdown in Nebraska except even worse because Coleman is a senator from a Democratic leaning state in which Obama could possibly win by double digits. We have to see if other polls show Coleman opening up a double digit lead, and if so, I think that this race will drop down in the competive rankings to probably be around Maine or Kansas than North Carolina or Oregan. Let's hope Franken can deal with his problems because that is one of the top jobs that a good politican can do. If he can't do it, the probably isn't savvy enough to be a senator.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 17 June, 2008 15:29  

  • Ok, I checked out that SUSA Presidential poll, and I've got to call bs on this one. If Obama and McCain split the 18-34's in a state like Minnesota, I'll eat my hat. I'm also a bit surprised that McCain is beating Obama in the area they call "Twin Cites".

    All in all, this new Minnesota poll screams outlier to me.

    I'm also surprised that for the Senate race, they're projecting male voters to outnumber female, which wasn't the case in their Presidential poll. I'm presuming that they know that both elections are being held the same day and all.

    A couple weird ones from SUSA that I'd be a bit wary of.

    By Anonymous dannity, At 17 June, 2008 16:12  

  • In the lastest Ohio poll....
    PPP surveyed 733 likely voters on "May 17th and 18th". My question why did they wait to June 17th to release it? A month late after the data is taken seems to me to be very long time to release it?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 17 June, 2008 21:59  

  • I respectufully submit that any poll by SUSA is not worth the paper it is reported on. These polls are all over the place. I usually look at Rasmussen, Zogby, and yes SUSA. I find SUSA to be extremley unreliable. Reporting on the findings of one specific poll, to make pronouncements about the health of any particular candidates campaign, at this point in time, is naive and just show that we really have nothing to talk about. So polls will do. Every poll result is anounced as the determining polling study, that is, until the next one comes and shows a completely different result. I am not from Minnesota. I am unfamiliar with the political climate there. But I will tell you, Barack will win MN. And Coleman, as good campainer as he is, will have to use all his skills to pull this out.

    By Anonymous Robert, At 18 June, 2008 07:25  

  • What is somewhat significant in recently released national polls is that predictions by strategists from both camps that Obama could open a double-digit lead in the weeks after becoming the nominee have not come true, though the Democrat is consistently ahead. - Taniel

    Strategists from both camps? Identify your source please, Taniel. My memory may be faulty, and I don't have time for research right now, but I don't recall any such prediction from Obama. Most commentators were quite up in the air about any bounce, wondering if HRC would endorse, hold back or make a weak pass at support.

    I don't think the polls will take on any meaningful shape until after Denver. I expect them to follow more or less a constant line in the interim, with Obama possibly dipping in the weeks prior to the convention as the CLinton supporters get stoked up again about issues real and imaginary. By September 10+/-, we'll have a better feel for whats really going on. The most important thing they contribute right now is underscoring specific demographic weaknesses for the 2 campaigns rather than acting as a predictor for the future.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 18 June, 2008 07:56  

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