Articles and Analysis


14 Days to Go and No Change in the Trajectory of This Election

Two weeks from Election Day and this much is clear: Barack Obama has owned the last 30 days. This has propelled him into the lead and provided him with considerable momentum heading into the final stretch. The deteriorating economy continues to be the driving factor in this race; it is the fuel in the Obama engine and it seems unlikely that it will run out. The LCG regression model projects that if the election were held today John McCain would lose by 7.7 points. If the current trend is projected to Election Day he loses by double digits.

However, this election-more than ever before-is about the 24-hour news cycle, tactical maneuvers and rapid response, some of which may impact the general trajectory of the campaign. Accordingly, here is our real-time assessment of the campaign as it stands at 9:00 am today:

  • Anytime this campaign is not about the economy is good for McCain and yesterday Joe Biden may have done just that. Biden stated that in the first six months of an Obama Presidency, "Mark my words, we are going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis to test the mettle of this guy (Obama)...and he is going to need help." We just finished watching Obama campaign spokesman Robert Gibbs on Morning Joe explain what Biden meant by the statement. This has the potential to occupy the attention of the Obama campaign for 24-36 hours. McCain is already using the statement to his advantage in his stump speech.

  • The above has shortened the impact of the Powell endorsement. Powell helped Obama because his endorsement sends a signal to many older voters who are unsure about Obama's ability to lead in wartime. The endorsement was in the works for months and was perfectly timed. This was a perfectly executed tactical maneuver. Too bad Biden didn't get the memo.

  • Obama will suspend his campaign on Thursday and Friday to visit his ailing grandmother in Hawaii. There should be minimal effect for team Obama because of this (the campaign will use surrogates at events). However, markets and states visited by the candidates in the closing days of a campaign have proven to be far more effective than campaign advertising.

Some quick thoughts on the current status of the Presidential campaign:

  1. Obama "won" the last 30 days in part because he flat out beat McCain in the debates. Obama was perceived as the more serious and stable candidate. He connected with voters. Importantly, he reassured many swing voters who were unsure about him (both personally and with respect to his ability to be President). Gallup conducted national polls after each debate among uncommitted voters and we decided to average those polls. The outcome based on all three debates: Obama 53%/ McCain 29%. McCain performed best in the last debate and he still lost that one (according to the post-debate Gallup poll) by 12 points. Below is the Gallup question wording and a table with the results.

    "Regardless of which candidate you happen to support, who do you think did the better job in last night's debate: John McCain or Barack Obama?"

    debate poll table oct 21.png
  2. McCain is losing in part because he mishandled the economic crisis. According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll released today, 55% of voters say they trust Obama more on handling the economy while only 39% trust McCain more. The gambit to return to Washington failed (when the bailout failed) and with it, McCain's chances to demonstrate he was a superior leader. While the fact is that much of this was out of McCain's hands (his party killed him here), the perception was that McCain couldn't get it done. Team Obama demonstrated a sound strategic sense when they latched on to this and portrayed McCain as erratic.

  3. Team Obama is putting the pedal to the metal and staying on offense. In stunning moves Obama went up with advertising in West Virginia and continued strong pushes in North Carolina and Missouri. They are playing in red states and forcing team McCain to spend resources in places that they should not have to.

  4. Obama is rewriting the record books on election fundraising and spending. McCain is doing better than topline fundraising reports may indicate because of matching funds from the RNC, but it still isn't close. Take October 12th: Obama spent $6.5 million during the Sunday shows and NFL games. That same day, McCain spent just $1 million. Or look ahead to October 29th: Obama has purchased a half hour of airtime on NBC, CBS and Fox, immediately prior to the start of Game Six of the World Series. Meanwhile, McCain is no longer buying ad time on national networks or national cable. With September FEC reports just announced, here are some additional notes (culled from the AP):

    • Senator McCain took the $84 million in public funding, so he is prohibited from raising additional money in September and October.

    • However, the RNC appears to be matching much of his ad spending. The RNC raised $66 million in September and has $77.5 million in cash on-hand. While not all of this is being spent to help McCain, the RNC can continue to raise money this month and is likely to bring in an additional $40 - $50 million. (The RNC also has a $17 million independent expenditure account designated for running ads to help McCain that can't be directly coordinated with the campaign.)

    • McCain's campaign spent $37 million in September, ending the month with $47 million in the bank. With the RNC matching funds, McCain effectively has $95 million left for October.

    • Obama announced on Sunday that he had raised $150 million in September, or $5 million a day. He has 3.1 million total donors this cycle--including 600,000 new donors in September alone--and has raised $605 million since his campaign began. These are all record fundraising numbers. 

    • Sometime this week, he will break the $188 million spending record set by President Bush in 2004. This is double what McCain has spent. With $135 million in the bank after September, and additional money continuing to pour in, Obama already has more money available than McCain and the RNC combined.

    • Because he refused public money, the DNC can spend freely to assist Obama. The DNC raised $50 million in September--and will continue to fundraise this month--to add to its $28 million in cash on-hand. By a conservative estimate, Obama has at least $200 million at his disposal in the final month. Depending on the course of the race, his actual outlays might be lower. On the other hand, if his campaign and the DNC choose, he might spend over $300 million.

  5. The Democratic edge on party identification is a huge built-in advantage. We averaged the party ID for several national polls over the last several months and found that on average 36% of registered voters claim to be Democrats while only 28% say they align with the Republican party. We conduct dozens of national polls each year and, while our numbers have varied 2-4 points from the above, they have consistently showed a 6-9 point advantage for Democrats. Obama has also closed the long-standing partisan vote gap. National tracking polls show both candidates holding 85-87% of their party's vote, where in recent years Republicans have enjoyed a 3-5 point advantage. Combine the two, and this is a very difficult hurdle for McCain to overcome. He will need to win independents by at least 15 - 20 points to overcome the party ID deficit. The below graph was developed based on Harris polls conducted since 1969. Note the drop in Republican party identification in the last four years.

party id oct 21.png


There are no changes to this week's presidential electoral count. We considered moving Ohio into the lean McCain column but decided to wait a week. Additionally, recent polling data suggests that Virginia is trending toward Obama but we are hesitant to move it at this time.

map oct 21.png

With all of this in his favor, Obama may just want to lock away Joe Biden for the next two weeks.



Biden has been saved by Palin's decision to call those attacked on 9/11 as un-American and launch a VP coup of the Senate.

And NC's members of congress indicating that liberals hate America and God.

Not to mention Sydney's supporters slashing tires, burning and stealing BO yard signs, assaulting reporters and volunteers, hanging BO in effigy and today's coute de gras - executing a bear cub!


tom brady:

Like many pundits, you overstate the impact of the debates on voters' support for each candidate. Once you look at the internals, particularly the partisan distribution of those answering the instapolls (much higher proportion of Democrats), and you look at who changed their vote as a result of the debate (rather than the much hyped but relatively less important question of who "won" the debate), you'll see that the debates were largely inconsequential in this race. They simply didn't change many minds. Now, that may be a net plus to Obama, but it's a different narrative than saying Obama "flat out won" the debates. There's simply no evidence to support that.

You are on safer ground in asserting that the credit crisis benefited Obama.



Tom Brady,

I believe your both correct. The credit crisis freaked the country out, but it was Obama in the debates that was comforting to people where as McCain appeared to many americans to be angry and, i really didnt want to use this word but, erratic.

His actions after the crash seemed to have no direction when he suspended his campaign and then took credit for the bill passing even though many reported he made matters worse.

If he had come out after the crash and been stronger i dont beleive the crisis would have benefited Obama as much as it did.

Lets also remember that during this time is when the Palin interviews were going on which i think was another major factor and led to the conservative columnists slamming McCain over his pick.

All of this can be seen in the recent polling showing that Obama is now seen as the safer candidate and McCain as riskier.

So i dont think It was any one thing that led to the current state of affairs. I believe it was many little things that happend during the credit crisis. It wouldnt have had as big of an impact if McCain would have taken on the issue stronger.



Overall I very much agree with you, Pachete, but I do think that McCain had (to at least some extent) an uphill battle on the credit crisis. Or, that is to say, I don't think it was entirely his issue to lose. I believe, in part, he was doomed by two things: 1) the perception that McCain would be a third term of Bush was on the rise; and 2) it was Bush's government that failed.

So, essentially, whether it was an accurate assessment or not, I believe the perception war was already teetering in Obama's favor; McCain's actions during the crisis cinched his loss.

But that's just my opinion - I could be entirely wrong.




@ TomBrady -

When the history of this campaign season is written, the focus won't be as much on the CONTENT of the debates (or, who won on points), but the public's perception of them, and the overall feeling that a good number of voters came away with after viewing them. Sure, the economic crisis (and the candidates' reaction to it) will be certainly a top game-changer mentioned, but more and more, we're hearing and seeing that in the debates, Obama's "cool" under pressure and well-spokenness clearly contradicted the picture the McCain camp was trying to pin on him... "dangerous," "mysterious," "inexperienced," "unfit to lead," etc., while McCain pretty much performed as the Obama campaign had begun to label him, "erratic," "angry," "knee-jerk," etc. This is where many believe Obama really made in-roads with the moderates and independents who were unsure if he was in any way capable of being "Presidential." Not necessarily that his views and plans were that much more palatable than McCain's (well, maybe until that last debate) but that there really was nothing to "fear" about him. They were looking for change, but unsure what change they could get, and Obama's level-headedness and respect for his opponent (comparatively, certainly) gave many undecideds the evidence they needed that their vote wouldn't be going to a shadowy figure who planned to invite members of Al Queda into the Oval Office. He came off as anything but dangerous, or risky, or Anti-American.

Again, the economy was huge, but to dismiss the impact of the debates, and how the public saw them (and the candidates) would be silly.



Obama has just run a much better campaign. He has a strategy and he sticks to it- he stays on message- he raises money well and spends it effectively- and when he was behind he didn't panic or change strategy- he calmly kept at it and closed the gap

The McCain campaign looks like a greased pig contest- and it's not clear who is who.



JOe Biden, you're killing me. I love you but seriously it's the economy, stupid. Stay focused!!!!!!!



You are hesitant to move Virginia to lean Obama? How big a margin do you need? It's clear that Obama is ahead in the state and has been in the lead for quite some time now. Otherwise a good informative article.



Although I am pleased with the trends, I still find it disturbing that if the credit crisis had not happened until 2009, McCain might actually be leading this race. Given what the voters, the bloggers, and the pundits say about the performance of the two candidates in the debates along with the messages each have delivered on the campaign trail, one would believe that Obama should be in a commanding lead anyway. I say this because with 2 weeks left, I am still not convinced that something monumental cannot happen. Bush has come close to getting us into a shooting ward with Pakistan as he tries to find bin Laden before leaving office so I'm still not completely convinced.



You were going to move Ohio to lean McCain? Huh? The same Ohio whose Pollster.com average has Obama up 48.4-46.7?




I dont agree all the polling before the credit crisis show Obama inching his way back. Obama has alot of money and McCain still has Palin to deal with which is only indirectly related to who can manage the crisis.

Conventions almost always Produce a bump and i think the polling that had MCain up was just a result of that.


I think the absolute turning point for Obama was the Palin Couric interviews. They proved beyond a doubt both her incompetence and McCain's recklessness in choosing her.



Steve Lombardo,

You stated that Obama was suspending his campaign to visit his grandmother but the Obama Campaign officially said that they are not "suspending" they're campaign. I guess someone asked them so I figured it's worth letting you know. I agree with you that this break from the trail for Obama at this inoportune time has the potential to 'be' something in either direction. Thanks for great job and for this website.


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