Steve Lombardo | October 27, 2008
Obama "won" the week again (that makes six in a row) for three reasons:
- This remains a single-issue election, and the economy (and perceptions of the economy) has worsened in the last seven days. McCain lost his voice on the economy (and voter perceptions of his ability to handle the economy deteriorated) and has never recovered.
- Even in a week in which Obama took two days off to visit his ailing grandmother, McCain was a virtual afterthought, garnering very little media attention when he needs it most. And when the media spotlight shifted to the GOP it was about the cost of Sarah Palin's wardrobe.
- As the comfort level with Obama improves so has the perception that he will win. Stories about discord and finger-pointing within the GOP and the McCain campaign are magnifying this perception.
The Economic Eclipse
Sometimes it is difficult to truly comprehend the impact of events while you are still experiencing them. That is likely what is happening today. We are in the middle of a global financial and economic crisis, the impact of which we probably will not know for several months. But one thing is clear today: the economic crisis has almost completely eclipsed this election as a national news story. Who would have thought that in a year in which we are eight days away from potentially electing the first black President of the United States of America that it would be only the second-most important news event?
With a week and a day to go before the election, as the economic crisis deepens Obama's electoral outlook improves:
- Global stocks are plummeting because of renewed recession fears. The Hong Kong Hang Seng Index was down 13% today. South Korea announced a record interest rate cut in an effort to stem the tide. Japan's Nikkei Index is down 6.5%. European shares are now at a 5 ½ year low.
- The S&P 500 is down 25% this month, which makes October (so far) its worst month since 1938. The financial crisis is having a trickle-down effect. News reports say that General Motors and Chrysler may not make it through the end of the year.
- Unemployment rates rose in 47 out of 50 states in the month of September (compared with last year's rates). According to the Labor Department the average jobless rate in the U.S. is 6.1%. States above six percent include the following battleground states: Nevada, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida.
- A new Washington Post poll shows Obama up eight points in Virginia. President Bush won Virginia by nine points in 2004 and eight points in 2000. Sure, the demographics of the state have changed...but not by that much. While Virginia has not voted for a Democrat for President since 1964, we are now moving Virginia into the Obama column.
- A new Boston Globe poll has Obama ahead 54% to 39% in New Hampshire. NH has been in Obama's column for a long time, but the apparent size of his lead is staggering and the poll's internals suggest that McCain's unfavorable rating has skyrocketed since the onset of the financial crisis. More importantly, Obama is viewed as better able to handle the financial system and the economy by more than 20 points.
Here is our up-to-the-minute assessment of the state of the Presidential campaign:
- While McCain has stopped most of his downward slide, he still lags Obama nationally and in key states. The LCG regression analysis shows McCain behind by 7.6 points. If the current trend holds, McCain will lose the election by 8.7 points. To give you an idea of the hole McCain finds himself in, we have not seen a single reputable national poll showing McCain at or above 50% in more than a month.
- However, the gap will close because late-deciders will largely move toward McCain in the final days before the election. It is our sense that Team McCain has finally settled on a single message strategy (taxes and socialism) that will appeal to a large segment of undecided voters. An analysis of our own surveys--as well as three recent national polls--suggests that current undecided voters lean a little more male, and tend to be older and less-educated white voters from the rural Midwest. They tend to have voted for Bush in 2004. It is important to note that we do not believe that these late-deciders are going to go with McCain because of some kind of "Bradley Effect." Many of them will vote for McCain because they are ideologically aligned with him, not because of race. Finally, even if McCain wins late deciders by a 2 to 1 margin he still falls short by several points. He would have to win 80-90% of the late deciders to even have a chance at victory, and that is (obviously) extraordinarily unlikely.
- Obama has solidified his position on the electoral map. We now have 286 electoral votes that are either solid or lean Obama. At this point McCain not only needs to win all of the toss-up states but he also has to win some lean-Obama states like Virginia, Colorado, Pennsylvania or New Mexico. This too is extraordinarily unlikely.
- While clearly Obama's "ground game" was a factor this year in his primary victory, we feel the importance of grassroots and organizing activities in Presidential general elections is often overstated. Furthermore, because they can't be quantified in a poll, such effects are unknowable until after the election. Having said that, it appears that Obama is absolutely killing McCain on the ground. His advantage in terms of money, staff, volunteers and outreach all points to between a 3-1 and 4-1 advantage in the battleground states.
- McCain's increasing unfavorable rating is a problem for him and correlates with the drop in his share of the vote. Our average of several recent national polls shows McCain with an unfavorable rating of 44%. This is nearly ten points higher than both Obama's current rating and his own average of 35% in August.
- Team Obama has their foot on the pedal and isn't letting up. Obama is running contrast radio and television spots in many states--including Virginia--with eight days to go. It will be interesting to tally up the number of contrast spots and rating points (negative ads) for each side when all is said and done, but it is our sense is that Obama will have painted a starker contrast with McCain (i.e. he has been more negative) and it will be part of the reason he will win.
- Virginia is turning out to be the paradigm battleground for both sides. In a sense, it is a microcosm of this campaign.
Here is what McCain has going for him in VA:
- He is using thousands of microtargeted daily robocalls and direct mail pieces that attack Obama
- Palin has attracted huge crowds at rallies here
- VA has been a red state for 44 years (since LBJ in 1964)
Obama, on the other hand, has the following:
- 49 offices--plus 23 party offices coordinating with the campaign--and 40 GOTV offices also supporting him
- A 3-1 advantage on total spending in the state
- 438,000 new voters registered this cycle
- Tim Kaine and Jim Webb are very popular; additionally, the latest polling shows Mark Warner is leading his Republican opponent Jim Gilmore by approximately 30 points
- Missouri and Ohio are close and will go down to the wire. While Obama holds slight leads in both states, McCain is within striking distance. We should expect to see both candidates in these two states in the final weekSome thoughts on these two key states:
- Like MO, it's a bellwether--OH has picked the winner every year since 1960
- Obama has a volunteer dedicated to each of 1,231 designated "neighborhoods" in the state (conversely, John Kerry completely ignored the rural parts of the state)
- If this ends up being close, the key could be the 200,000 newly registered voters facing a legal challenge from the GOP
- Obama recently had 100,000 show up at rally in St. Louis
- This was followed with 80,000 in Kansas City
- McCain has been using micro-targeted mailings here (as in VA)
- In perhaps most controversial mailing, the RNC sent a flier to voters in Virginia and Missouri that depicts the nose of an airplane inched next to the glass exterior of a building, warning: "Terrorists don't care who they hurt," but "Barack Obama think terrorists just need a good talking to" (when a reporter asked McCain about the ad last week, he said he "absolutely" supports it and thinks it revealed one of his opponent's shortcomings)
- Obama has 40 offices open, at least 150 paid staffers and 2,500 neighborhood volunteers
- Senator Claire McCaskill is popular, and also shows how Obama can obtain victory--run up the score in Kansas City and St. Louis and hold down losses in rural areas
- The McCain campaign is virtually invisible on the ground