Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

September 15, 2008 12:58 AM

2008 Presidential Campaign: Act III is Underway

As you may recall, WW sees the Presidential race as a play in 5 acts.

Act I - Post-"nomination" to the conventions

The pre-convention period was relatively quiet for both Party's candidates. There was some drama between the Obama campaign and Senator Clinton and President Clinton. It is hard to understand why the Obama campaign didn't give them their convention program positions within a week or 10 days after she publicly withdrew from the race. Their failure to do so kept tensions alive for a longer period than necessary.

Obama made it clear that he did not intend to take Federal public financing ($84,000,000) in the general election. McCain has taken the funding.

The Obama campaign has taken over the Democratic National Committee and moved many of its historical general election functions to Chicago. McCain on the other hand has installed some trusted lieutenants at the Republican National Committee.

Act II - The Conventions 8/25-9/4/08

Both Parties delivered well-organized public spectacles, with the Republicans to be given particular credit for having pulled themselves together after losing most of the first day of their convention.

Each of the two conventions drew TV/Cable audiences that were the largest since 1992. Over the 3-day period, in which both conventions had prime time hour activity, the Republican convention drew the larger audience.

Comparing the 3 nights when both conventions were in session, Tuesday- Thursday, The Republicans won the ratings contest on Wednesday (Palin) and Thursday (McCain) and the Democrats won when Hillary Clinton was the featured speaker in the prime time hour - 10:00-11:00 EST.

The individual ratings for each of the principals + Clinton was as follows: [each point of ratings equals 1,150,000 households]

Rating Households Persons More Than 2 Years of Age
John McCain 24.6 28,298,000 38,933,000
Barack Obama 24.5 27,716,000 38,379,000
Sarah Palin 23.5 26,933,000 37,244,000
Joe Biden 16.4 18,841,000 24,029,000
H. Clinton 17.8 20,066,000 25,974,000

Women 18
& Over
Men 18
& Over
John McCain 19,193,000 17,933,000 3,063,000
Barack Obama 19,894,000 16,205,000 7,542,000
Sarah Palin 19,511,000 16,426,000 3,011,000
Joe Biden 12,609,000 9,573,000 4,413,000
H. Clinton 14,311,000 10,525,000 4,492,000

The Democratic and Republican Vice Presidential running mates are quite different. Barack Obama's pick, Senator Joe Biden (D-Del), is a long-time Washington player, who is just finishing his 6th term in the Senate.

John McCain managed to surprise most of the political world with his selection of Governor Sarah Palin (R-Alaska), who has been Governor of Alaska just under 2 years. Prior to that time, she was Mayor of a town of less than 10,000 people. McCain decided to try and hit the long ball, and he seems to have done so.

What does each of them bring to the "party?"

The obvious is that Biden adds an important foreign policy credential to the Democratic team.

But there is something that Biden brings that is not so obvious, his knowledge and his relationships.

He brings on-the-spot knowledge of Senator John McCain and his legislative record in practice, enabling Biden to engage McCain in ways and with authority that others cannot.

He also brings knowledge of the Congress, its players and its ways. Even though Democrats are likely to increase their majority in the next Senate, this will be the place where Obama will have the most difficulty passing his programs. A well-connected Vice President, especially as respected as Biden, is effectively the Administration's best lobbyist in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Biden's knowledge of the government as a whole is imperative to the "change" Obama plans to implement as President. In essence, to change a system you have to know how it works, which Biden does.

In the area of foreign policy, his knowledge of the players on the international stage and the history of dangerous hot spots around the world, will be invaluable to Obama as he governs.

In a related area, Israel is not Obama's strongest suit. Israel has no better friend in the U.S. Congress than Biden, and that is something that can be used in the Jewish community.

While Biden will be an effective advocate on the campaign trail, in particular in working class communities, his most important role will come if Obama is elected.

Palin's most obvious contribution is coming in the here and now. It is clear that she has resolved whatever hesitancy the Christian right had about the McCain candidacy. While McCain said the right things, they were not sure about him. Now they know they will have an unquestioned advocate just down the hall from the Oval office. She appears to live the values about which this community is so concerned.

There is no questioning the excitement that she has infused into the McCain campaign. She has captured the imagination of the public. The crowds that McCain has drawn since the convention, in his joint appearances with Palin, far exceed anything he drew solo.

Palin is a strong woman to whom many women relate because they admire the role that she has played in raising a large family and serving as a major public official.

The early evidence is that she has given McCain a new lease on life among white women. The ABC/WP survey found a 20-point swing among this group after the Republican convention. While eyebrows were raised at the size of the swing, the NBC/WSJ survey found a 10-point swing. Something is obviously going on.

If anything, Palin's addition to the ticket has assured that the McCain campaign has dominated the media coverage since her selection. Palin should not be underestimated. Anyone who can be presented to the stage of a national political convention for the first time, in a major prime time role, and deliver the performance that she delivered, has strengths that may not be apparent or expected.

Palin's strongest attraction is that she is authentic. And John McCain knows what he has when he says "I can't wait to introduce Palin to Washington."

Palin will undoubtedly spend some of her time with McCain, helping to drum up his crowds. But don't be surprised if a new bus shows up called "Straight Talk Express #2" in which Palin will campaign back and forth through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Missouri.

Her contribution to the operation of the Administration, if McCain is elected, will play out after January 20th.

70% to 47% Americans see Biden as being more prepared for the job of Vice President than Palin. However, 60% to 40% see Palin as someone to whom they can relate.

Following the Republican convention, 44% rate Palin favorably as opposed to 22% who had that view before the convention. No surprise that Biden's favorability at 37% did not change during the same time period.

39% of McCain voters say the Vice Presidential choice influences their support of him. 24% say this about Obama. [CBS 9/08]

Who's the Better Leader?

With the selection of Sarah Palin, the Republican Governor of Alaska, as the Vice Presidential nominee of the Republican Party, the debate is once again joined. Between women and men, who makes the better leader?

69% of Americans believe that men and women make equally good leaders. 21% say men are superior and 6% give that recognition to women.

When asked why there are not more women in public office, 51% of respondents say it is because Americans simply are not ready to elect women to high office; 43% say that women who are active in politics are held back by men; 38% say women are discriminated against in all realms of society, and politics is no exception.

Women make up 17% of the members of the U.S. House, 16% of U.S. Senators, 18% of Governors and 24% of State legislators. The United States ranks 85th in the world in the share of women in its national legislative body.

Below are a series of characteristics and judgements concerning what is most true of men or women.

Women Men
Emotional 85 5
Compassionate 80 5
Creative 62 11
Honest 50 20
Outoing 47 28
Intelligent 38 14
Ambitious 34 34
Decisive 33 44
Stubborn 32 45
Hardworking 28 28
Arrogant 10 70
Source: Pew Research Center 8/08

Act III - Post-conventions to the 1st Debate

The response to the polls after the conventions by the political chattering class has been deafening. Obama supporters are hanging crepe and explaining endlessly what Obama has to do immediately if he is to be elected. McCain's backers are showing a level of excitement that would suggest they think the race is all but over and McCain is preparing to move into the White House.

Both groups need to get a grip. Bottom line, this campaign still has a long way to go.

With the caveat that polls around conventions are notoriously unpredictive, here is a look at the data before and after the conventions.

Gallup tracking polls Obama McCain Lead
8/22-24 45 45 Even
8/25-28 Democratic Convention
8/29-31 49 43 Obama +5
9/1-4 Republican Convention
9/5-7 44 49 McCain +5

NBC/WSJ Obama McCain Lead
8/15-18 45 42 Obama +3
8/25-9/4 Democratic and Republican Conventions
Obama/Biden McCain/Palin Lead
9/6-8 46 45 Obama +1

Washington Post/ABC Obama McCain Lead
8/22 49 43 Obama +5
8/25-9/4 Democratic and Republican Conventions
9/5-7 47 46 Obama +1

CBS Obama McCain Lead
8/15-19 45 42 Obama +3
8/25-28 Democratic Convention
Obama/Biden McCain/Palin Lead
8/29-31 48 40 Obama +5
9/1-4 Republican Convention
9/5-7 44 46 Obama +2

Bottom line - the race was within the margin of error before the conventions and that is where it is today.

To remind, after the Democratic convention in 2004, John Kerry was 9 points behind George Bush immediately after the Republican convention which ended on September 2nd, that year.

Through his selection of Sarah Palin, McCain has re-energized his campaign. Obama has yet to close the deal with American voters.

When it comes to feelings about the two candidates, their scores are about the same.

Positive Negative
McCain 50 33
Obama 53 32
Source: NBC/WSJ 9/08

McCain continues to be seen as far more prepared to be President than Obama. 76% now hold the view that McCain is prepared, an increase of 8 points since his convention. By the same token, Obama is now seen as ready by 42% of those surveyed. [CBS 9/08]

74% believe that McCain will follow President Bush's policies very/somewhat closely. [NBC/WSJ 9/08]

The NBC/WSJ survey also asked respondents which of the two candidates "will bring real change and direction to the country."

On this measure, Obama continues to lead by a goodly number, but McCain has made considerable progress.

Very/Fairly Likely to bring real change Increase/Decrease
McCain 35% +15 points since June
Obama 52% +4 points since June

But when comparing the two extremes on the standard, the certainty about McCain shows a considerable drop, while Obama is positive.

Very likely Not at all likely Increase/Decrease
McCain 15 41 -26
Obama 30 24 +6

If you can believe what folks say, McCain's age is a greater liability than Obama's race. Respondents were asked whether they would be "enthusiastic, comfortable, have reservations, or be very uncomfortable" with persons having the referenced characteristics.

Have reservations/
Very uncomfortable
An African American 87% 10%
A person over age 70 51% 49%
Source: NBC/WSJ 9/08

Most recently John McCain has improved the margin of his relatively consistent lead over Obama on the statement - "Is a strong and decisive leader." For the last couple of months McCain has had an average lead of about 6 points. Now that has widened to 11 points, 52% - 41%. Following his convention Obama actually showed a 2-point lead over McCain on this score, but that has disappeared and then some. [Gallop 9/08]

Various news organizations maintain electoral vote counts that are periodically reassessed and updated. Each organization has its own formula for deciding which candidate will receive a State's electoral votes. The chart below summarizes a number of those reports as of September 11, 2008: (WW has taken the liberty of lumping together firm and leaning counts to the extent those categories are used by a given organization.)

Obama Toss-UP McCain
CNN 243 106 189
538.com 270 -- 268
MSNBC 228 110 200
NYTimes 238 73 227
Pollster.com 243 71 224
RCP 217 105 216
USA Today 248 155 135
WSJ 183 166 189

Respondents to a ABC/WP survey (9/5-7) were asked whether Obama or McCain was better at a number of specific issues or characteristics.

Obama scored above 50% on education, having a better personality/temperament to be President, better understands people like you, and would do more to bring change to Washington.

McCain scored above 50% on the war in Iraq, international affairs, handling an unexpected major crisis, the U.S. campaign against terrorism, and being a better Commander-in-Chief.

The single largest positive score for either candidate is the 69% who sayMcCain would be a better Commander-in-Chief.

Barack Obama Better John McCain Better
Education 52 37
Social Issues, such as abortion, gay and civil unions gay and civil unions 48 41
The economy 47 42
Energy Policy 45 43
Taxes 45 44
Federal Budget Deficit 44 39
War in Iraq 41 51
International Affairs 39 51
Unexpected Major Crisis 37 54
U.S. Campaign against Terrorism 36 56
Has better personality/temperament to be President 57 35
Better Understands problems of people like you 51 39
Would do more to bring change to Washington 51 39
Better represents your own personal values 48 44
Is the stronger leader 44 48
More consistent in his positions 41 47
More honest and Trustworthy 38 44
Better Commander-in-Chief 24 69
Source: Washington Post/ABC Poll 9/5-7/08

In a recent Washington Post/ABC survey (9/08) respondents were asked 3 questions.

A review of those questions leaves the following general impressions. On the question of handling taxes, the economy and the Federal budget deficit, the two candidates are treated equally.

But on the question of how well either of them understands the economic problems people in this country are having, Obama has a clear advantage over McCain.

Taxes are a problem for Obama. At least half the respondents think their taxes will go up if he is elected. About 1/3 of folks think that is the case with McCain. However, while 1/3 think their taxes will go down under Obama, only 9% think that about McCain.

"Regardless of whom you may support, whom do you trust more to handle the following:"

Taxes The economy Federal Budget Deficit
Obama 45% 45% 44%
McCain 44% 42% 39%

"Do you think (Obama/McCain) does or does not understand the economic problems people in this country are having?"

Does Does not
Obama 74% 23%
McCain 53% 43%

"If (Obama/McCain) were elected President, do you think your federal taxes would go up, down or stay about the same?"

Up Down
Obama 51% 33%
McCain 34% 9%

On the question of whether Hillary Clinton voters are returning to the fold and now supporting Obama, the information varies. As of the first of the month, Gallup found that 81% of former Clinton backers were now supporting Obama, an increase of 11 points since before the Democratic convention. The most recent NBC/WSJ survey found that 60% of former Clinton supporters are now supporting Obama, a jump of 8 points since August.

Intense interest in the election [10 & 9 on a 10-point scale] is just about what it was in September 2004. [NBC/WSJ 9/08]

The McCain campaign regularly complains that the media is tilted toward Obama in terms of favorable coverage. The public shares this view. (Keep in mind that this survey was conducted September 5-7 at the height of Palin rumors, etc.)

The news media have been:

McCain Palin Obama Biden
Harder on 31% 54% 18% 3%
Easier on 11% 10% 36% 23%

Act IV - The Debates 9/26-10/15

Other days on which the election may be decided.

Final Act - October 16 - November 4, 2008

Is down the road.

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