If you are even an on-and-off a consumer of cable news or political blogs, you have no doubt noticed the collective media freak-out over the looming defeat of Barack Obama. John McCain is enjoying quite a post-convention bounce following his choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running-mate. Palin has energized the GOP's based and has helped in significantly closing the so-called “enthusiasm gap” that has been cited as a harbinger for an Obama victory in November. Coveted independents appear to be swarming to McCain. Now that the polls have tightened, and the McCain campaign has forced Obama to be on the defensive, pundits are worried that McCain might actually win this thing! Is their fear misplaced? No, and also yes.
John McCain may very well be the next President of the United States, but he has a long way to go before that happens. McCain indeed received a post-convention bounce, but it remains to be seen how durable his new poll standings will be. In 2004, George W. Bush’s convention bounce proved to be a lasting change in the poll numbers. Another number that has to be concerning Team Obama is the dramatic shift in the support of white women from Obama to McCain. As Soren Dayton reminds us, Bush beat Kerry by ten points among white women in 2004, so we may be seeing a key voter bloc shifting significantly across the aisle.
Most national polls show the race tightening to more or less neck and neck. These may be the numbers pundits and bloggers read, but according to Obama strategist David Plouffe, Team Obama isn’t much concerned with national polling. In an unconventional briefing for the McCain press corps, Plouffe emphasized that their campaign remains “very focused on the battleground states that will decide the race.” This may sound convenient for a candidate who is having his worst polling week ever, but as any Democrat remotely sentient in 2000 will remind you, presidential elections are not won on simple national majorities; they are won with electoral votes, won in individual state contests.
State polling projected on an electoral map tells a slightly different story. Currently, according to two separate models, Obama has the edge in likely electoral votes. The votes in the toss-up or too close to call columns could change the race, but on its face it appears Obama has less work than McCain in order to win. Patrick Ruffni reminds us that in just about every election, Republicans have historically rallied immediately before the election. In 2004, Bush was behind Kerry for most of the summer, but managed to defeat him in the home stretch. Think back to a year and a half ago; did anyone expect this race to come down to Obama/Biden vs. McCain/Palin? Hardly. To re-emphasize a much belabored point: anything can happen, especially this cycle. Rumors of Obama’s death are greatly exaggerated, but with McCain/Palin proving they have what it takes to close the enthusiasm, polling, and financial gaps between the tickets, Obama has reason to be very concerned.
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