Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Danger Signs" for Obama? (No.)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

ABC News's Jake Tapper suggests that Obama's 6-point lead over McCain (48-42) in a recent poll is actually "a surprisingly small lead considering that the incumbent Republican president George Bush is at record lows and public opinion overwhelmingly feels the country is on the 'wrong track'." He argues that Obama has not received much of a "bounce" from his victory over Hillary and that there is still "resistance from Clinton supporters."

I don't buy it.

First, I think Obama is right that McCain has essentially gotten "a pass" from the media -- a free pass, that is. He hasn't yet been subjected to rigorous media scrutiny and he's still benefitting from his mythical maverick image.

Second, I don't think Obama could have expected all that much of a bounce from his victory over Hillary. It was a long and sometimes bitter race. Obama was tested by it but also weakened -- Hillary's desperate "kitchen sink" smear campaign didn't exactly help Obama (although he may actually benefit in the long run from having so much negativity exposed early on). And some of Hillary's more ardent supporters remain bitter. (Yes, many of them will come around, but it'll take some time.)

Third, Obama is actually doing very well in the polls. Given McCain's free pass, the negative campaign to which Obama was subjected, and the lingering bitterness of many of Hillary's supporters, a 6-point lead nationally is a lot. (It's more of a lead than Bush ever had over Kerry.) Plus, a new poll in Ohio has Obama up by 11 points -- see Kos's analysis -- while a new poll in North Carolina, a traditionally Republican state, has him down by just 4 points (again, see Kos's analysis).

And, as Kos puts it, "Obama still has room to grow as he continues rallying the Democratic Party behind him" -- both in Ohio and throughout the rest of the country.

To quote Nate Silver at The Plank, Obama is "still bouncing" -- and, going forward, once the general election campaign gets underway in earnest, his continuing bounce could become far more pronounced.


More from Silver (whose analysis is consistently excellent):

[A] series of new polls from Quinnipiac. In Pennsylvania, Obama leads by 12 points -- up from 6 last month. His Ohio lead is 6 points -- he had trailed McCain by 4 points before. And then there is Florida, where Quinnipiac has Obama ahead by 4 points. Barack Obama has never before led a Florida poll -- not against John McCain, nor against Hillary Clinton -- so this is something of a watershed moment.

If Florida is in play, then John McCain's defense is completely broken; it was the one traditional swing state that always had looked off-limits to Obama. More frustratingly for McCain, he had spent the better part of three days in Florida earlier this month, hoping to raise doubts about Obama among Jewish voters. Although Quinnipiac does not break out the Jewish vote, Obama holds a 61-31 lead in Southeast Florida, where most of the state's Jewish population is concentrated.

Obama's surprisingly strong lead in Ohio isn't any better news for McCain. As recently as a week ago, McCain's strategy seemed pretty simple: target Ohio and Michigan, and hope to win one if not both. But now, Ohio looks tough for him, and even if McCain can steal Michigan, Obama has so many other places he can pick up electoral votes -- Virginia, the Mountain West, Iowa, Missouri and now possibly Florida -- that McCain would still have trouble winning a close election.

Obama's lead nationally is still relatively small -- we have it at somewhere between 4 and 5 points -- but looks to be an unusually robust one in terms of the Electoral College.

So, it seems, based on the polls, Obama is doing extremely well. (And, what's more, he seems to be doing well among likely voters (not just registered ones), which suggests, as Noam Scheiber points out, that he could win the turnout battle in November.)

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