Not long before Barack Obama delivered a “major foreign policy speech” in Germany Thursday, where he was treated like the Fifth Beatle (including by the U.S. press corps), the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that he trails McCain as the candidate best suited to be the commander-in-chief by more than 2-to-1 (53 percent to 25 percent). This is true even as Obama leads McCain in the head-to-head match-up in most polls, albeit by single digits.
In fact, other measures far more indicative of electoral strength than the horserace numbers suggest that to date, no “Barack bump” has materialized from this week’s trip and few doubts about his ability to lead the U.S. in wartime have been soothed. Obama’s overall negatives are four points higher than John McCain’s (34 percent vs. 30 percent). Asked which candidate had strong leadership qualities, respondents chose Senator McCain by an 11-point margin, 42 percent – 31 percent. Better experience? McCain by 34 points. More consistent in standing up for his beliefs? McCain again, 38 percent – 30 percent. Thousands of miles from the Germany theater, where it actually counts, a majority of American voters chose McCain over Obama as the one whose values most closely mirrors their own.
Obama “won” one major test, though, in the same poll: By 55 percent – 35 percent he is seen as the riskier choice for POTUS.
Unless and until Obama breaks 50 percent and remains there for a few weeks, or he leads McCain by double digits for the same number of days, and improves his standing on some of these attributes, the race is a fight to the finish.
The overseas trip is a success for its stagecraft, visuals, and timing. The messenger was on his game. But the message was eerily non-specific and epic in it self-importance. This “citizen of the world” apologized, “I know my country has not perfected itself.” Among other things he promised to “…answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.”
After two years, that nagging item on the Obama campaign to-do list, “Visit Iraq” can now be scratched off, but will likely have no lasting positive effect on his electoral fortunes. Too many superseding, intervening events like VP selections, conventions and debates will overtake it as relevant or consequential. And despite the hero’s welcome abroad, Obama is smart enough to want it that way. After all, if General Wesley Clark, then a senior adviser to the Obama campaign on foreign policy, was right that [McCain’s] “riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is [not] a qualification to be president” then surely five days abroad of “fly over and touch down” is not either.
— Kellyanne Conway is CEO and president of the polling company.