Are McCain's National Gains Coming from the South?
by Jonathan Singer, Tue Sep 09, 2008 at 06:44:07 PM EDT
An interesting finding from the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, which overall puts Barack Obama up 47 percent to 46 percent nationally against John McCain:
John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate has shaken up the presidential race, lifting enthusiasm among his once-subdued supporters, and boosting the ticket's appeal with women, rural voters, and Southerners.
The poll suggests they may be right about the Southern states. Nearly six in 10 Southern voters now favor the McCain ticket, up from fewer than half in August. [emphasis added]
Gallup is apparently finding a similar trend. McCain's support among Southerners is at a high for the poll since the beginning of the summer, the earliest point from which data is available, leading Obama in the region by a 54 percent to 39 percent margin, up from the 48 percent to 44 percent spread found a week earlier. And according to Gallup, McCain leads only in the South.
For historical reference, in 2006 Republicans carried the South by a 53 percent to 45 percent margin, in 2004 George W. Bush won the region by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin, and in 2000 Bush carried Southerners by a 55 percent to 43 percent margin. So at least according to the NBC/WSJ poll, McCain has moved up so much and so quickly in the South that he is now outperforming in the South, perhaps drawing more support than even Bush earned four years ago.
What does this mean? If this is where McCain's bounce is coming from, or even a large chunk of his bounce is coming from (which appears to be the case, at least according to both Gallup and NBC/WSJ), the meaning of his increased support nationwide is being overstated. Merely shoring up support in areas that aren't in play may help increase buzz and bump up nationwide numbers, but in the end presidential elections aren't about buss and nationwide numbers -- they're about a race for 270 electoral votes. There are at least a couple competitive Southern states -- Virginia and Florida -- so gaining support in the region is not all for naught. But for the most part the region is just not in play this election (as was the case in at least the last couple of presidential contests) -- and even in the case of both Florida and Virginia, there is real reason to believe McCain hasn't been able to pull away.
Don't get me wrong, there is reason for Obama supporters to be concerned in this poll. The movement among women, in particular, needs to be reversed.
One significant shift in the poll is among women. Back in August, Obama was leading McCain by 14 points. Now his lead is just four points.
That said, taking all of the internals into account, as well as the majority of national polls showing the race to be tied or well within the margin of error, it's still not clear to me that it's time to get excessively concerned by the national numbers.