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.


Mark S:

This may be a dumb question but - if Democrats, Republicans, and independents have all declined since 1995 or so, where did they go? Are they Libertarians, Green Party or what?

-Mark S



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.



From the party i.d. chart it seems like the drop in dem. registration was its second biggest right before the 2004 election with the bottom of the lines valley being right at 2004. The first biggest drop would have to be starting at 1978 and ending 1981 around Reagan. From 2004 to 2006 the dems made their biggest gains ever. By the time this election is over is there any possible way that peak could be as high as the one from the years of Reagan for the GOP?



I wish someone would address the issue of disparity between the daily tracking polls and the "regular" non-tracking poles (Pew, ABC, NBC, etc.)

The trackers all show a race that is fairly close. The non-trackers show Obama with a healthy, in some cases double-digit, lead.

How can that be?



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