The Corner

McCain’s Hidden Strength

From a reader:

Jonah –

There is a remarkably consistent — and, it seems to me, potentially

telling — trend in the Rasmussen state by state polls that I keep

noticing but that no one ever seems to talk about, so here goes:

McCain almost always does better (and often much better) vs. Obama on

“favorability” ratings than he does vs. Obama in the “who do you

intend to vote for” question. For example, in PA, Obama leads McCain

by 5 (3 with leaners), but McCain leads Obama 58-55 in favorability

ratings. In OH, McCain leads by 4 (5 with leaners) but by 15 in

favorability ratings. Same in Virginia (McCain -1 or +1 depending on

leaners, McCain +10 fav), MI, NM, WI and on and on.

This suggests to me that either (a) a significant number of people who

have a more favorable opinion of McCain than Obama nonetheless intend

to vote for Obama or (b) a highly disproportionate number of

“undecideds” (and maybe even some Obama “leaners”) are actually

inclined towards McCain over Obama.

While possible, the former seems unlikely. History suggests that

people tend to vote for the presidential candidate they have a more

favorable “gut” impression of, for whatever reason. The latter seems

like a much more obvious explanation.

If my (admittedly amateur) analysis is correct, one of two things will

happen between now and election day. Obama will close the

“favorability gap” in key states as more people begin to focus on the

election, or McCain will outperform his poll numbers and win the

electoral vote fairly easily, winning states that appear to be very

close (e.g., VA or OH) by a comfortable margin and pulling of

“unexpected” victories in some blue states like PA or MI that he now

appears to be losing.

Again, at least as it looks today, the latter seems more likely. The

fact that the national Rasmussen numbers don’t really show this

disconnect between polling numbers and favorability ratings suggests

that the gap is appearing more in the contested swing states

(Virginia, PA, MI, etc), where most of the ad dollars and candidate

efforts are presumably being spent, than nationally. This further

implies that the more exposure the voters get to the candidates and

issues and campaign messages — which will happen more broadly as we

get closer to the election — the more likely they are to view McCain

favorably in comparison to Obama.

Alot can change between now and Nov 4. Shoes can drop, candidates can

flub or excel in the debates, etc. But this suggests that — as

things stand today — this is McCain’s election to lose, and that the

evidence of a likely McCain victory might just be hiding in plain sight.

I am curious if any Corner contributors (or readers) more expert on

polls than I has any thoughts on that . . .

Update: A party activist responds:

Jonah, There are several things to keep in mind when looking at poll numbers in this election: 1) Polls do not account for the Bradley effect (voters falsely telling pollsters that they will vote for the black candidate and then voting for the Republican). I believe that the favorability ratings disparity your emailer noticed was a testimony of that. We saw the Bradley effect many times in the primaries, with Hillary often significantly getting more votes than the polls (even the exit polls!) showed. New Hampshire was the best example, as Susan Estrich reminded us today. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/08/whats_in_a_poll.html . From what I saw in the primaries, we can expect to see a pronounced Bradley effect in states where the electorate is white collar and socially liberal (white guilt). Hence, I would expect McCain to overperform his polling significantly in the key states of Colorado and New Hampshire, while I don’t believe that we could see any such thing in the South (where it is more socially acceptable to oppose Obama). 2) Many polls are reporting “undecided” black voters, and I don’t believe these really exist. They will go for Obama. Black turnout will also be extremely high, which is why I worry about Virginia. 3) Polls do not account for Obama’s advantage in the ground game. Obama has a huge advantage in volunteers, and his superior organization will likely result in better GOTV efforts in key states. What does all this add up to? I think (1) is significantly stronger than (2) and (3). My guess (and that’s all anyone can do, really) is that the Bradley effect is about 4 points nationwide and Obama will make up about half of that in swing states with (2) and (3). With increasing tension with Russia and the McCain team picking up steam, I think now is a good time to buy Johnny Mac on Intrade. I think that McCain is now the favorite.

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