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29 Days to Go and a Transformed Election


The past 14 days have transformed this election. The financial crisis has catapulted Obama into the lead both nationally and in key states. We have been saying for six months that the political environment has favored the Democrats significantly, but it took a near global financial meltdown for things to finally reach the tipping point. The economic situation has virtually ended John McCain's presidential aspirations and no amount of tactical maneuvering in the final 29 days is likely to change that equation.

Here is our up-to-the-minute take on the campaign:

  1. The economy is going to get worse before it gets better, and that will drive the election dynamic for at least another 7-10 days.

    • Last week U.S. stocks suffered their largest drop since 9/11. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index dropped 9.4% last week to almost a four-year low.
    • Employers slashed 159,000 jobs last month - the largest number in five years.
    • Factory orders fell 4% in August...the biggest setback in 2 years.
    • As of 8 a.m. today, European and Asian markets are tanking and the NYSE is almost certain to open down.


  2. We believe that when the history of this election is written, September 15th will be seen as the day Obama won (or perhaps the day McCain lost the election). The previous Friday morning it was announced that Lehman was filing for bankruptcy. As the markets prepared to open it looked like we were headed for a downturn. In an apparent effort to bring some stability to the markets, at approximately 9:00 in the morning - during a stump speech in Jacksonville - McCain said "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." That marked the beginning of the end for his campaign. By 2:00 p.m., at his next stop in Orlando, he was backtracking, saying, "The economic crisis is not the fault of the American people. Our workers are the most innovative, the hardest-working, the best-skilled, most productive, most competitive in the world, that's the American worker. My opponents may disagree, but those fundamentals, the American worker and their innovation, their entrepreneurship, the small business, those are the fundamentals of America and I think they're strong." The stock market dropped 505 points that day.


  3. The window for challenging Obama's character may have closed. Media reports indicate that Team McCain is going to take the gloves off (they have begun by launching attacks on Obama's connection with Bill Ayers). However, it is our sense that this should have been done in August and September, and that at this point it will likely fall on deaf ears. We are not saying that this is not a solid campaign tactic, but in light of the serious (and potentially catastrophic) issues facing the country it seems off-key at best. At worst it seems desperate. Voter opinions of Obama started to shift and harden (in his favor) after that first debate. He became substantially more acceptable. Since that time, the economic situation has made Obama a more acceptable alternative. Character attacks are part of politics and often work, but not when the country is at war and mired in an economic recession.


  4. At noon today, the Obama team will respond to Team McCain by launching its own attack: a 13-minute "documentary" on McCain's role in the Keating Five scandal in 1989. The S&L crisis of 20 years ago may resonate with voters given the current economic situation.


  5. Palin did well on Thursday but it was simply a sideshow. The debate drew 73 million viewers (20 million more than McCain-Obama--what does that say about the country?). However, it is almost meaningless. Absent a major gaffe from either VP candidate (certainly a possibility considering the two participants) it was a non-event from a campaign standpoint. Presidential elections are about the top of the ticket.


Latest Polling and the LCG EV Map

The latest Gallup tracking poll shows Obama with a 7-point lead (50% to 43%), his largest since he was nominated at the Democratic Convention. Internals suggest that McCain is hemorrhaging with Independents, women (a group that temporarily moved toward him in late August and early September) and younger voters. Additionally, there is a body of evidence growing that suggests that McCain's unfavorable rating has picked up dramatically in the last 14 days. As perceptions of him have diminished, perceptions of Obama have improved.

As the race has shifted so dramatically in the past two weeks, we have seen the largest swing in our electoral vote count this election. Some of these--like North Carolina and Missouri--are the result of steady improvement in the polls by Obama, both states where his heavy investment in the ground game appears to be paying dividends. Others--like Minnesota and New Hampshire--are the result of polls we hold in high regard showing a large swing toward Obama.

As of today we have Obama sitting comfortably with 264 electoral votes. McCain has only 163. It is very unlikely that any of the states we have put in the Obama column will switch to McCain in the coming weeks. Therefore, McCain has to win nearly all of the remaining toss-up states to win in November.

map oct 6 sm.png

Here are the latest changes as we see it:

  1. New Hampshire from toss-up to Obama

    Kerry won New Hampshire by just 9,000 votes, the first time the state was won by a Democrat since 1996. It appears that McCain's love affair with New Hampshire's independent-minded voters may not be enough to offset the shifting demography of a state that is becoming more and more like its neighbor to the South. A Rasmussen survey released on Friday shows Obama jumping up to a 10-point lead, powered by an 18-point advantage among Independents.


  2. North Carolina from McCain to toss-up

    Bush won North Carolina by at least 10 points both times and yet the Tarheel State is closer than we ever would have thought. Demographically it has moved closer to Virginia and further from the deep red South. It is also a state where Obama has made a heavy investment in both campaign offices and TV advertising. For two weeks Obama has been ahead or within three points of McCain, and a Rasmussen Survey last week was the first to show Obama breaking the 50% mark in North Carolina all year, so this state will definitely be one to watch in the final four weeks.


  3. Michigan from toss-up to Obama

    Michigan was another state won by Kerry (3 points) and Gore (5 points) that Republicans have had their eyes on. While it has been close all summer, the rising Obama tide nationally has gradually increased his lead in this state. In a state that is one of the hardest-hit by the current economic woes--it has a 9% unemployment rate, up nearly two points from this quarter last year--recently Obama has consistently been exceeding the 50% mark. If we adjust for the Palin/convention bounce, it seems that Obama has been steadily gaining for months and is now comfortably ahead.


  4. Missouri from McCain to toss-up

    Missouri--the "Presidential bellwether," to borrow Michael Barone's phrase--was a Bush state in both 2000 and 2004. It was essentially tied heading into the conventions and was another state that evidenced a significant bounce for McCain following the Republican convention. However, the race has tightened and every poll since "Black Monday" shows the candidates within the margin of error--a statistical dead heat and the very definition of a toss-up.


  5. Minnesota REMAINS Obama

    Both Kerry and Gore carried the state, Kerry by 3 points, Gore by 2, but it was targeted early on by Republicans (as evidenced by their choice of convention site). McCain enjoyed a huge bounce in Minnesota after the Republican convention in Minneapolis and his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate, a choice that played well enough with the many hockey moms here that we debated moving it to the toss-up column. However, two polls in the last week show an enormous Obama advantage: a CNN/Time poll had Obama +11, and the usually-reliable Star Tribune poll showed a jaw-dropping 18-point Obama advantage.


The McCain campaign made several missteps last week including campaigning in Iowa (a sure Obama state) and allowing the Palin-Couric interview to be edited and dribbled out over a 7 day period, but the overwhelming force is the deteriorating economy and not even a perfect campaign could weather that storm.

There are more turns to come in this election and it is not over yet but it sure seems like it is.

 

Comments
Ken:

Thanks for that analysis. It sounds like you might not have expected this. Are you guys going to be okay? Do you have enough blue paint on hand for the website?

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muckinello:

RCP has Virginia at +4.9 for Obama, only one 1/10 of a point from "leaning" status. Is it going to be the next poll that is going to move this in Obama's column?
Point ... set... match?

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BarackO'Clinton:

I'm a big Obama supporter and I'm trying to not be overly optimistic, or otherwise risk "jinxing" the election.

But it's getting harder and harder to stifle my optimism. This looks too good to be true but everything McCain does seems to backfire (including his latest smear campaign) while Obama merely needs to do nothing more than avoid the hot-microphones and stay on his feet.

I want to sit back and relax but the game is not over yet - still plenty of time for something to happen.

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angrytoxicologist:

Thanks for the great analysis. Another thing about going negative is that it tends to solidify the oponents likely supporters into solid supporters. With the polls like they are, even if McCain gets some independents by slinging mud, Obama will continue to solidify his support and that will likely be enough to carry the day.

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johncoz:

I'm surprised you didn't mention Virginia, which surely is McCain's death knell if today's polls receive further confirmation.

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d3nnisbest:

By going negative, McCain is also undercutting the "reformer", "maverick" rationale for his campaign. He's behaving a like every other cornered politician.

On the day the market fell below 10,000 which attack will stick? Obama Ayres or McCain Keating? It's bad timing both for this phase of the campaign and bad timing today. Obama is talking about the economy and McCain is attacking.

Nice way to end your career John.

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Ken:

I agree. Events and voters have already decided that this election is going to be about the economy. McCain is going against the voters when he tries to shift the campaign and he needs to meet Obama in the arena that voters have chosen.
It seems to me that it's much too late in the game to be changing the basic theme of your campaign and it reminds me of Democrats' failed attempts to go after W late in the 2000 campaign. The negative attacks are a "Hail Mary pass" on a windy day. The tactic (not strategy) is as poorly chosen as it is desperate.

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vercordio:

I'm with BarackO'Clinton on not wanting to jinx the election, but I'm definitely pleased to see recent trends moving toward an Obama win. Right now I'm most concerned about two potential problems:

1) McCain/Palin figure out some way to turn the tide in their favor. I have no idea what this might be - especially because they've shown they don't have any new information to attack Obama with - but I've learned to never let my guard down when dealing with Republicans.

2) For whatever reason, Democrats and other pro-Obama voters don't show up on Election Day. I think this may be my greater concern of the two. I realize early voting has already started, and so to some extent this is a non-issue, but I'm terrified that November 4th will pass with only 30-40% voter turnout on the Democratic side.

Thanks for the great, thorough report!

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thoughtful:

The trend that started this was McCain being branded a Liar. A week later He stated that "the fundamentals are sound." the slip then became the slide.

On my model 390+ EVs

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Scott in PacNW:

Another good day

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George Not Bush:

The GOP has done very well in:

2000 by making sure that all the votes were not counted in Florida and

2004 by making sure that Ohio inner city (black) neighborhoods had so few voting machines that people were waiting in the rain until 2am to vote -- those that did not give up.

So I do not yet know how well the GOP's vote suppression efforts will work this time around, but this time, the GOP will have to "win" in each of: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Missouri -- they have to win ALL of them with less budget than Obama.

The Iowa primary early on showed that Obama's team has mobilised youth turnout in a way that has escaped other candidates for decades. If he keeps doing that, the GOP will be swamped.

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tcdtcd:

Can someone please clue me in as to why Barack Obama would be seen as a competant steward of our economy? As a citizen of Illinois and the Chicago area, and having seen what he's done, or really not done here, I don't understand it.

I really can't think of an accomplishment on any front, in fact.

If this election does go to BHO, it seems to be more a vote against Bush (whos not running) than for Obama.

Pretty scary given what we face today, both homa and abroad.

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RalphW:

George not Bush -- thank you for bringing up the voter suppression tactics. I am very concerned about this too.

One of the network newscasts ran a story last week about thousands of people in multiple states being struck from voting rolls. In MN you can just re-register on election day, but many states require provisional ballots, which are not always very accuratley handled, and end up spoiled or uncounted.

Then there's the whole voting machine issue. Paper trails are coming back, but will it be enough to stop the election from being stolen?

I worry that polling will tighten to within margins of error nationally, and stay within MOE in key battleground states, so that after the election if McBush wins, it'll look plausible that their side won.

I know it seems like lala land to many to question voting integrity in our fine nation, but I think there is a lot to be concerned about when the vested interests build the machines and hold the software code for the ballot devices.

I am glad that MN has optical scan ballots and hand count audits of at least 3 precincts in every county in our state!

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Professor M:

You refer to the "usually reliable Star-Tribune poll." The Star-Tribune poll doesn't really have much of a track record at the moment. The "Strib" let go its long time internal pollster (and former AAPOR president) Rob Daves in May 2007. The Strib now outsources its polling.

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twokidsandadog:

A great article - thank you.

One question I have though is about your statement: "Therefore, McCain has to win nearly all of the remaining toss-up states to win in November."

My reading of your map has Obama victorious with any one of the states still in play, except from Nevada, which would take him to 269. Do you think that a congressional district in one of the two non-"winner-take-all" states could go against the rest of its state and decide the election? And, if so, which one?

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cagilbert:

I disagree that 9/15 will be known as the day McCain lost the election. The history books will undoubtedly record that it was the date (last week sometime) when he stood up David Letterman. As Dave says, "the road to the White House goes through me."

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I actually think the day McCain lost the election was the day his VP candidate had to debate the battle-hardened Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She did well, better than expected, and lost big. That was the day credibility descended on the Obama-Biden ticket in waves, and they looked, for the first time, confidently Presidential. From that point forward, their numbers soared.

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