Thursday, August 21, 2008

"You know it's over when..."

You have to give it to the folks over at Zogby, as they know how to light a fire under the progressive blogosphere. Wednesday's polling data showing John McCain with a 5-point lead over Barack Obama (along with similar results from a July USA Today/Gallup poll) set minds and keyboards ablaze with speculation about the usefulness of "likely voter" models.

While I may be overstating the impact of this most recent poll - as speculation about accuracy of voter snapshots goes all the way back to 2004 (see Public Opinion Quarterly) and began in earnest earlier this month at both (see here, here and here) and TPM Cafe - there is a palpable concern in liberal circles that the Great Himself might not be able to bring home the electoral bacon come November.

In attempting to explain its polling results from last month, Gallup's Editor's blog contends that McCain' advantage among likely voters "could
be a result of a short-term energizing of the GOP base as a reaction to the Obama foreign trip or some other cause," although this explanation strains credulity in as much as the same blog post
notes that "Republicans have historically been more likely to qualify as likely voters under Gallup's model (a fact that has been borne out in the real world as Republicans are able to win elections despite facing deficits in party identification or pre-election standing among all national adults.)" And it doesn't help that there are now two likely voter polls showing a reproducible result in favor of McCain, again undercutting the "short-term energizing" theory.

Indeed, Gallup's likely voter model - along with those used by dozens of polling services - likely skews towards whites vs. minorities, men vs. women and older voters vs. younger. And we are not surprised by the fact that each of these groups are more favorably disposed to McCain (see Gallup results for race, gender and age). But part of the Left's expectation this year (as in 2004) is that younger voters, blacks and women will flood the polls as never before. To be sure, Barack Obama spent significant time and money to bring this about, as noted by Rasmussen Reports (with an assist from Marc Arbinder.)

Rather than recruiting traditional precinct captains, the Obama campaign focuses on building neighborhood teams of five or six members who assume specific, clearly defined roles, including a team coordinator (the team's principal contact with its local field director), and a data coordinator (who is in charge of using the campaign's online voter-contact tools), while other members assume responsibilities such as volunteer-recruitment, phone-bank management, and canvassing.

In addition to teaching leadership and team-building strategies, the Obama campaign trains its volunteer organizers in the nuts and bolts of modern targeted campaigning and gives them access to the high-tech information-management tools that have become indispensable to voter-contact operations. The most important of these tools is the Democratic Party's registered voter list, a vast database containing troves of information about voters and their probable political leanings. Campaigns use that list to target undecided voters they might be able to persuade, to identify their likely supporters, and make sure they get to the polls on Election Day.

So the Obama campaign must look at the Zogby data with great dismay. Critical to Zogby's analysis is the fact that Obama is actually losing ground in demographics that would be key to a Democrat victory. The poll shows "Obama losing voters to McCain in groups where [he] had bigger leads a month ago, such as Democrats, women and younger voters," adding "Obama also lost ground among Catholics and Southerners."

Specifically, when the August Zogby poll data was compared with results from a similar survey of likely voters conducted in July, Obama lost ground to McCain among women (50 percent support in July vs. 42 percent in August) and voters under 35 (59 percent vs. 47 percent). Obama has also lost traction with Democrats (83 percent vs. 74 percent), college grads (51 percent vs. 40 percent) and those with incomes below $50,000 (53 percent vs. 46 percent).

As they say, the "net-net" is that John McCain may yet win this election by not losing, with losing defined as coming unhinged under pressure. And pressure is exactly what Obama is feeling in the face of what pollsters and others are saying lately. The American Spectator reports that Obama spent part of his Hawaii vacation
"working on weaning himself from a heavy dependence on teleprompters." (We've all seen what happens when his teleprompter malfunctions or he is otherwise asked to speak on matters "above his pay grade"; watch Obama wax ineloquently on matters such as McCain running for President Bush's fourth term, breathalyzers for asthmatics, fallen heroes, whether al Qaeda is in Iraq, Arabic interpreters and the 57 states he has visited during his campaign.)

And if Time's Joe Klein is any indication, Obama is surely giving the MSM "[m]emories of John Kerry in 2004." That is as it should be. But for the fact that at this time in 2004, John Kerry was ahead of George Bush in Zogby's likely voter poll, everything appears like a flashback. The Democrats have once again nominated an otherwise unremarkable Senator with no record of significant legislative achievement. They commend to us an aloof, elitist "citizen of the world" who is as disconnected from the realities of ordinary Americans as he is discombobulated without his teleprompter.

Four More Years!!

Update: RealClearPolitics now seems to agree that McCain will prevail in November.

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