Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obama's Reversal of Fortune Or McCain's Missteps??

Or, why is McCain the underdog now?

Why is McCain now the underdog? It is true, Obama's reversal of fortunes coincides with the economic crisis becoming the dominant issue of the election. But, the economic crisis alone does not account for all of Obama's lead in the polls. To be sure, Obama helped himself immensely during the early part of the economic crisis. Equally and perhaps more important was McCain's monumental misreading and mishandling of that same crisis and the nine lost days McCain and his campaign wishes they had back.

This analysis is based on the Gallup poll only. Some folks don't like to look at poll numbers. Others do. I can tell you the candidates and their campaigns sure do. There are other polls but for the reasons laid out below, I focused on the Gallup poll.

Let's begin by looking at where the candidates were in the Gallup poll before the economic crisis really took hold of America's attention. Keep in mind that the AIG bailout announced on Sept 16 marked the approximate beginning of the public's focus on the United States' financial crisis. (Bear Stearns' bailout was in March but for some reason did not capture the American public's attention, perhaps because the loan to Bear Stearns was "only" 29 billion versus 84 billion for AIG and Bear Stearns quickly merged with JP Morgan Chase.) U.S.Gallup's polling is not an exact barometer for the outcome of a presidential election but for the most part has been accurate with 2-3 points. The exception was in 1992 but, much of that can be attributed to the factor Perot played in the election. And regardless it still predicted the winner.

This year's Gallup polling of the presidential election is shown in the link below:

The poll numbers for the presidential election from Sept. 12-14 had McCain leading 47%-45% over Obama, still within the margin of error but at the very least in a dead heat if not showing McCain slightly ahead. Then, McCain issued one of the worst proclamations in the history of presidential campaigns. On Sept. 15 McCain said, "the fundamentals of the economy are strong."
First, McCain tried to explain the comment as a reference to the American worker. Furthermore, McCain was likely attempting to reassure and calm those that would listen. However, the line taken alone was a gift wrapped present to Obama. Now Obama could talk about McCain being, "out of touch," because McCain refused to accept that the economy was suffering. That coupled with McCain's lack of knowledge regarding how many houses he owned worked well in pushing the talking point of McCain being out of touch with ordinary Americans.

McCain's camp is then in limbo for about nine days and watches as McCain's poll numbers begin to slide. Then, on Sept. 24 McCain "suspends" his campaign to address what he now calls a, "historic crisis."
It is arguable that first, it was too little too late. But secondly, it came off as a political stunt, especially when he didn't rush back to Washington. Ask David Letterman about it.

Then the polling numbers' slide finally bottoms out for McCain and quickly. By the time the Gallup polling numbers came out for Sept. 25-27, the time period immediately after he "suspended" his campaign, McCain now trailed Obama by 8 points, 42%-50%. That difference is astonishing especially in the context of the earlier poll numbers. It was effectively a 10 point swing in Obama's favor.

And still, after the McCain campaign's initial mishandling of the economic crisis, McCain's surrogates continued to give Obama ammunition to use against McCain.

For example, his surrogates on Sept. 28 and 29 gave McCain credit for getting a bailout bill passed that did not end up passing.

On Oct. 3 a McCain surrogate talked of, "turning the page," on the economy and getting back to issues favorable to McCain.

Then again on Oct. 5 a McCain surrogate stated that if the conversation stayed focused on the economy McCain would lose
Both statements on Oct. 3 & 5 may very well have been honest and true but, why would you say such things to a reporter? Why didn't McCain do what he had done on Obama's "need for change" talking point/issue. Specifically, why didn't he immediately try to usurp the mantle of being "strong on the economy" from Obama?McCain had arguably succeeded in softening Obama's theme of being the "change" candidate when McCain began the talking point of being the "maverick". But, McCain didn't do the same with the economy. Instead, he waited about 9 long days then tried to tackle the economic problems facing the nation by "suspending" his campaign, which again came off looking like a political stunt.

Lastly, remember that the now infamous Palin/Couric interview began to run nightly on CBS beginning on Sept. 24 and ran nightly for what must have seemed like an eternity to the McCain campaign. Why the McCain campaign agreed to an interview with CBS that could be shown on multiple nights is a question McCain's camp will be asking itself for a long while.

It was misstep after misstep and quite frankly, it was difficult to watch at times. And since then Obama has maintained a statistically significant lead in the Gallup poll. So now McCain is the underdog. But, of course it's just a poll and you can trust it or not. We'll see how accurate or inaccurate it is on election day.

Side note: Here's another perspective on the "socialism" attack/talking point that the McCain/Palin campaign has been attempting to use, without much success, against Obama. Two of the article's points are, 1) the difference between McCain's and Obama's tax plans are 4.4% for the top bracket (both plans tax the top brackets more than the lower brackets thus, both are progressive tax plans) and somehow that makes Obama a socialist and 2) Palin's state of Alaska taxes oil companies and spreads those taxes around. Each citizen of Alaska gets a check to the tune of $3,269.00.

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