Articles and Analysis


21 Days to Go and McCain's Slide Continues

The last eight days have been devastating for the McCain campaign. The deepening economic crisis (yesterday's historic market surge notwithstanding) is giving Obama an electoral surge that in the current environment may prove to be insurmountable. While three weeks is the equivalent of three lifetimes in politics, time is running out for McCain to turn this thing around.

To fully understand the impact of the economic situation on this race, take a look at the trajectory of our regression analysis vote projection of all public polls. The current regression estimate has McCain down -7.9 points.

regression oct 14.png

The McCain decline since his peak following the convention is startling. While it is unlikely that this trend will hold over the final three weeks (there will probably be some tightening - more on that later), if it did hold McCain would lose by double-digits. Again, the important point is that the McCain descent is real.

Sometimes really smart ideas come from young people and one such example is an analysis that came from a high school student named Arjun Modi, who graphed the trend of the S&P 500 with McCain's vote according to the Gallup Daily Tracker of registered voters. It shows how McCain's drop in vote share accelerated during the stock market crash of the last two weeks.

markets oct 14.png
Note the high degree of correlation between the two lines. The question, of course, is whether days like yesterday (when the market surged) will translate into a vote increase for McCain. Time will tell. But we tend to think that the underlying economic turmoil (job losses, slowing of retail and a weak housing market) will mitigate the upside for McCain. However any improvement that moves the economy to a page two story will be a help for the Republican.

Here is our up-to-the-minute assessment of the political landscape:

  1. The President just spoke (8:05 am) and announced that the Federal Government would take an equity stake in the nation's largest banks. This will help free up the credit market and it will keep the financial situation on the front pages for at least another two days.

  2. Yesterday's market surge (936 points for the Dow) was the largest point gain ever and the largest percentage gain since 1933. As of this writing, Japan's Nikkei index was up 14% and the U.S. market looks to open higher. This will not erase the memory of last week. The Dow Jones industrials lost 18% last week - their worst week in history. Regardless of what happens this week, the country experienced a stock market crash and there has been saturation media coverage. Its effect on this political campaign cannot be overstated.

  3. Last night General Motors announced that it is closing two plants: one in Grand Rapids, MI and the other in Janesville, WI, eliminating 2,700 jobs. The trickle-down effect of the economic crisis is just beginning; this is yet another blow for Team McCain.

  4. Obama and McCain meet for their final debate tomorrow night in NY and this is the last face-to- face between the two candidates. Obama will try not to lose and McCain has to go for the political jugular. If this is another non-event, Obama will have won all three debates.

  5. According to the Washington Post, Barack Obama is outspending John McCain by nearly a three-to-one margin on television time in the final weeks of the election. Team Obama's advantage in several battleground states may be even greater. Voters in key states like Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and Ohio are seeing four Obama spots for every one McCain television commercial.

Current Political Situation and Issue Handling Measures

Without sounding like a broken record, it bears repeating that we are in one of the longest and deepest periods of voter discontent in modern U.S. history. This compares to 1992, 1979 and 1974. Below is a chart using multiple sources of public and private data over a 25 year period.

historical direction.png

Currently more than 80% of the country believes that things are going in the wrong direction. This is an obvious change election environment and it will pervade down-ballot elections, too.

Obama benefits from this but there is more to his lead than the perceived state of the union. In the last three weeks he has taken a large lead over McCain on voter perceptions of his ability to handle issues. According to a recent NBC/WSJ poll, Obama leads McCain by 17 points on which candidate would better handle the economy. In that poll, Obama was perceived as better able to handle the mortgage and housing crisis (a 15-point advantage) and the issue of energy and the cost of gas (six points).

And there's more. According to a CNN/ORC poll done seven days ago, Obama led McCain by 21 points on his ability to handle the economy. In the same poll, Obama is also seen as better able to handle the current financial crisis (21 points) and-get this-the war in Iraq (three points). On virtually every issue (with the exception of terrorism, which McCain wins narrowly) Obama leads McCain. And remember, the economy is far and away the number one issue in the country.

EV Map and Key States

map oct 14.png

Trends in critical states are all moving toward Obama. In Colorado, a state we've followed closely as a key battleground, the tide has decidedly shifted for Obama in the past two weeks. We are now placing it in the Obama column, giving him 273 relatively safe electoral votes. If he is capable of holding serve in the states he currently leads, he will win the election handily.

CO oct 14.png

Looking at other battleground states, Missouri in particular has to be worrisome for Team McCain. Not only is it the Presidential bellwether, this year it is critical to McCain's electoral math given his slides in Nevada and New Mexico. McCain should be winning in Missouri, and it's unlikely that he can win the Presidency without it.

MO oct 14.png

The only positive--or, at least, the least negative--news for McCain is that Florida and Ohio, worth a whopping 47 electoral votes between them, remain within reach.

OH oct 14.png

FL oct 14.png

This seems like a massive hill for McCain to climb. And it is. We do believe, however, that the gap between the two candidates will close somewhat over the next 14 days. For the most part it will happen naturally (because that is the nature of the electorate in these modern times), though some of it will be driven by McCain attacks on Obama and the continued latent insecurity that many voters have with the Democratic nominee--and to a certain extent the media will latch on to the comeback narrative as well. This week will go a long way toward telling us if that swing back is going to be big enough.



Just one point: the media will not make note of a McCain "comeback" or a tightening in the race. The media has been trying to elect Obama for most of the year -- there is no indication that they will change prior to the election.

Speaking of narratives, it is fairly obvious that this site is for all intents and purposes come to the conclusion that "it is scientifically impossible for McCain to win."

Which is, of course, ludicrous.


Joseph Marshall:

Good job, Mr. Lombardo. You are the only pundit I have yet encountered who has noted McCain's fall and not just Obama's rise. Up until day 60, Obama and McCain tracked in parallel with a consistent but fluctuating Obama lead.

After day 60 Obama has sharply risen and McCain sharply fallen. At the moment, McCain would have to rise 9% to win the Popular Vote. This same 9% is the nominally "undecided", and I suspect that this high percentage so late in the cycle is the shadow of the race issue. It also has been the target of pundit blather about Obama failing to "close the deal".

But once we stop fixating on Obama and look at McCain's situation, it is hopeless, short of an Obama train wreck. To win the popular vote McCain must win all 9% of the current undecided population.

Until and unless a game changing event happens, I think even a 50-50 split is generous. This would yield Obama 54, McCain 46. I think a 60-40 split is far more likely, or Obama 56, Mcain 44.

I note by your state EV counts, which are among the most generous to McCain, he cannot win even with acquiring 100 more electoral votes. To rise that high, McCain would need to win every state you currently list as toss-up.

For McCain to win, he must not only do that, he must pry at least one state out of Obama's solid totals.

For all the conventional wisdom that "3 weeks is an eternity in politics", the only serious question now is not whether Obama will win, but by how much.

I think we are far too glamored by "the states Bush won in 2004". In the interval the electorate has become far more fluid than it has been for the past quarter century. The voters of the "silent majority" who were the late 20th century backbone of the Republican rise to dominance are in their graves or their late 80's and early 90's.

A new world is coming where "white, non-hispanic male" voters will be a minority. Where everybody else will go politically in the long term is an open question.



Whitetower, both of your statements are clearly false.

First, the mainstream media wants profits. The narrative two weeks before the election that Obama will win by a landslide isn't compelling. We've seen this already with their electoral maps - they want to keep this race close.

Secondly, claiming that Pollster is somehow biased and intentionally creating negative narratives for McCain is foolish. All the data point out that if McCain will win this election it'll be a comeback of the century. It's not impossible but highly unlikely.



The correlation between Mccain's polls and the stock market is misleading. The stock market can only claim a partial causation for the problems Mccain is having. The rest I attribute to the debates and the way Obama handled the issue- in both cases calm and thoughtful.

I'd account a significant portion of Obama's trailing behind the "generic democrat" to the fact that he's a relative newcomer to the national stage. Through his manner in the debates and the crisis, he managed to appear Presidential and so ease the fears of many who where concerned about his lack of experience.

In the meantime, Mccain's recent erraticism along with the pick of a VP who is loved by the GOP base but considered an idiot by everyone else has undermined his support.



The correlation between Mccain's polls and the stock market is misleading. The stock market can only claim a partial causation for the problems Mccain is having.

Nope. The market slide -- and just as importantly, the ensuing bank bailout -- contributes to the entirety of McCain's slide. Just check the data: in mid-September McCain was competitive in MI, WI, MN, PA, and even NJ (!).

Further, the choice of Palin was clearly a smart move -- it united the GOP base behind McCain, contributing to the aforementioned rise in his polls. (It was his base that McCain was having problems with, not the fact that Democrats, eastern "establishment" Republicans, and Europhiles didn't/don't like her -- all of which are completely irrelevant to McCain.)

Simply put: if the election were held in mid-September McCain/Palin would have won.



Another point -- Lombardo's trend line is waaay off at points.

In the graph "2008 General Election Horserace" the trend line for between 50-60 days out indicates a (roughly) 2-3 point Obama lead.

However, only one poll shows an Obama lead greater than five points; two polls show an Obama lead of (roughly) 1-2 points; two polls show a tie; but six polls show a McCain lead of between 2-10 points.

In early-mid September Obama was not ahead. He was behind -- and then the market crash/bank bailout occurred.



Mccain was ahead in early September because of the election bounce. The polls had already started to swing in Obama's favor before the financial crisis- I believe he was up 4% on the pollster.com average.

I don't see how anyone can think the choice of Sarah Palin has helped Nccain. Yes, she's helped excite the base. But what good does that do Mccain if she turned away independents? And the bad press she's gotten for her flubbed interviews and now Troopergate are certainly damaging.

Personally, I find it amusing to think that part of this campaign has hinged on a bit of randomness- the amazing physical resemblance of Sarah Palin to Tina Fey. Of course Fey had great material to work with- much of her script was written by taking quotes from Palin verbatim.



I meant to say that Mccain was ahead because of a "Convention Bounce" not an "Election Bounce".



Personally, I think all three things (the convention bounce receding, Palin's poor Gibson interview, and the economic crisis) contributed to Obama regaining a small lead. And then came McCain's disasterous "suspension" stunt and the first debate, and the Couric interviews, and more bad economic news, and more debates, and then McCain/Palin going hypernegative and their crowds getting nasty. In short, I think a lot of things have been working together over time to create the current trends.



Oh, and I always forget to include the fact that recently Obama has been steadily increasing the voter contact and advertisment gap, and that he will continue to do so through the election, as per the Obama/Axelrod standard strategy.


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