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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Back to the Fundamentals

When John McCain got his post-Convention “bounce,” many political observers said that Barack Obama’s most urgent challenge was to get public attention refocused on the economy.
Well, external events have taken care of that issue, and it’s not surprising that Obama’s doing better in both national and state polls since the financial meltdown began. But today’s new Washington Post/ABC poll provides at least one data point for the proposition that the presidential race has shifted significantly.
The poll has Obama up over McCain by a 52-43 margin among likely voters. The last Post/ABC poll, conducted on September 5-7, had McCain up 47-45. And the explanation of the shift is pretty simple: the percentage of voters calling the economy the top issue has jumped from 37% to 50% in the last two weeks.
The McCain campaign quickly called the new poll an “outlier,” and that’s entirely possible, at least on the margins. But the Post/ABC polling operation has a pretty good reputation, and if anything, is usually thought to have a slight pro-Republican bias due to its relatively tight “screen” for likely voters. Moreover, as the Post‘s own analysis explains, neither of the last two Democratic nominees ever registered above the 50% mark in a Post poll.
The composition of Obama’s surge in this poll is interesting: he’s regained the lead among independents, and has pared McCain’s lead among white voters to five percent. And it’s primarily college-educated white voters who are moving to Obama: he leads McCain among them by nine percent, while trailing among non-college educated white voters by 17 percent. In other words, Obama’s building a lead based on the strengths he’s long exhibited (he leads among African-Americans by a 96-3 margin).
More ominously for McCain and other Republicans, Democrats have regained a double-digit advantage in party ID.
All in all, the poll’s results seem to reflect a shift in the fundamentals rather than a specific comparative judgment between the two candidates based on campaign activity. And that’s not too surprising, given the recent domination of the news by a heavy confirmation of the public’s long-standing pessimism about the economy, which has been a drag on Republican candidates since well before the 2006 midterm elections.
We’ll see what experts like Mark Blumenthal and Nate Silver have to say about this poll later today, but one thing’s clear: if the economy has indeed retilted the race to favor Obama, it won’t be easy for John McCain to tilt it back, since the odds of the economy looking good before Election Day stand at somewhere between slim and none. Yes, the debates will matter, and yes, external events will continue to have an impact. But right now, the economy is reasserting a powerful negative effect on the campaigns of anyone campaigning with an “R” next to the name on the ballot.

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