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October 27, 2008, 6:04 am
Political Wisdom: Will Undecided Voters Abandon Obama?
Here’s a summary of the smartest new political analysis on the Web:
by Gerald F. Seib and Sara Murray
Will undecided voters deliver a November surprise? Longtime Republican operative Bill Greener, writing for Salon, thinks it’s possible. He says that
“John McCain really does have a decent shot at winning, and that’s not just because I’m a longtime Republican political operative. Despite what the polls seem to be saying, a closer look at the numbers shows that a Democratic victory is not a foregone conclusion.
Why? Because if history is any guide, Barack Obama, as an African-American candidate for political office, needs to be polling consistently above 50 percent to win. And in crucial battleground states, he isn’t.” Obama needs to be above 50%, Greener writes, because history shows that voters who say they are undecided tend to break against an African-American candidate. “If you’re a black candidate running against a white candidate, what you see is what you get. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re an incumbent or a challenger. If you’re not polling above 50 percent, you should be worried. As of this writing, Barack Obama is not polling consistently above 50 percent in a number of electoral-vote-rich swing states, including Ohio and Florida. He should be worried.”
Arnon A. Mishkin, writing for The Weekly Standard online, argues that “McCain should win a larger share of undecided voters than Obama, but it has little to do with race.”
Rather, he writes, if, after all of the buzz for Obama, and all of his campaign spending, “if voters are not ready to tell a pollster that they are with Obama, they are unlikely to get there.” Mishkin calls this “the ‘Social Effect.’
Where there is a perception that there is a ‘socially acceptable’ choice, respondents who do not articulate it, are likely not to agree with it. Are they lying? Or just genuinely torn about taking that route or another? I am not going to psychoanalyze what is going on in their heads, but in the end, the pattern tends to be that those undecided voters vote against that ‘socially acceptable’ choice.
John Dickerson of Slate, on the other hand, writes that Obama has gotten out in front of the tax argument that has worked against Democrats so often in the past. “If Obama wins, one key will have been how he won the tax issue. Just a month ago, when voters in the Wall Street Journal poll were asked which candidate would be ‘better on taxes,’ McCain was favored 41 percent to 37 percent. That’s not the case anymore. In the latest Wall Street Journal poll, Obama has a 14-point lead (48 percent to 34 percent) over McCain on this question. That’s an 18-point swing.
This suggests Obama may have been able to shake the rap that has dogged Democrats since Walter Mondale promised to raise taxes in 1984—but it also says that the Obama campaign has been very effective in delivering a message. Obama has been able to change voters’ minds over time.”
One Democrat who isn’t in such good shape, writes Josh Kraushaar of Politico, is Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, who “is in an unexpectedly tight race for an 18th term after effectively calling the constituents of his southwestern Pennsylvania district racists and rednecks.” Murtha told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board a few weeks ago that “there’s no question Western Pennsylvania is a racist area” when talking about Obama’s prospects. Later he told a Pittsburgh TV station that “this whole area, years ago, was really redneck.” Kraushaar writes: “Though Murtha, the influential chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, has brought back $160 million in earmarks to his economically struggling district in the southwest of the state so far this year, he’s slipped in the polls since making the comments. Republican William Russell is the unlikely beneficiary of the congressman’s missteps…Given Murtha’s stature in the region and the poisonous national environment for Republicans, pundits gave Russell no chance of winning.” Now, though, a new poll “shows Murtha leading Russell by 5 points, 46 percent to 41 percent. Fifty-four percent of the respondents said that it was time for someone else to represent them in Congress, and only 35 percent said Murtha deserves to be reelected.”