Some notes on Pennsylvania

"My poll is better than your poll".

"No, you loser, everyone knows that the poll you're citing is conducted by having rodents run in a maze."

"Oh yeah? Well, you're a poopiehead!"

Such is the state of discussion about polls in the Pennsylvania primary, and, by and large, the primary itself.

Some observations. >>>

There's more...

"Bitter" Fallout

A new Rasmussen Reports survey looked at fallout from Obama's "bitter" comments and found that while a majority of voters disagree with what Obama said, a plurality of liberal voters agree with him.

A plurality of politically liberal voters--46%--agree with Obama's statement while 33% disagree. Moderate voters take the opposite view and disagree by a 51% to 27% margin. Seventy-four percent (74%) of conservatives disagree with Obama's statement, only 12% agree.

Democrats are fairly evenly divided--34% agree with Obama and 43% disagree. Generally, Obama supporters agree with him while Hillary Clinton's supporters disagree.

Leading Rasmussen to conclude:

Partisan and ideological differences suggest that the comments are more likely to be a factor in the General Election than in the Primaries.

Which would explain why calling Barack Obama "elitist" and "out of touch" is only half of Clinton's strategy in the wake of Obama's comments. The other half, and potentially a more effective argument in the primary, is one of electability, to both voters and superdelegates alike.

First, Evan Bayh to reporters on Saturday:

"I think it's a real potential political problem and it's something for superdelegates and voters to think about," said Bayh, who was made available to reporters by the Clinton campaign to speak about the controversy.

"The far right wing has a very good track record of using things like this relentlessly against our candidates, whether its Al Gore or John Kerry," Bayh said, "I'm afraid this is the kind of fodder they might use to harm him."

And then Hillary Clinton herself during last night's Compassion Forum:

"The Democratic party has been viewed as a party that didn't understand and respect the values and way of life of so many of our fellow Americans," Clinton said, adding that the debate wasn't over whether or not Obama was a man of faith but rather whether his comments made him easily caricatured by Republicans ala Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.

"Large segments of the electorate concluded that [Gore and Kerry] did not really understand or relate to or respect their ways of life," Clinton said. "That is an issue for voters."

Obama had a short and sweet comeback to Clinton's remarks in the second half of the forum:

By the way, I have to say I think Al Gore won.

Although, I will say he probably doesn't want to start framing "winning" as a popular vote formulation. But be that as it may, there is some evidence that despite Obama's pushback on Clinton's attacks, that the firestorm over his remarks has hurt Obama in Pennsylvania. According to the latest ARG poll (600 LVs, April 11-13, MOE +/- 4%,) which was in the field the day the story broke and the two subsequent days, Hillary Clinton has seen a remarkable turnaround in the state.

CandidateApril 11-13April 5-6

ARG has been rather unreliable this cycle and certainly the volatility of ARG's PA numbers does not exactly inspire confidence, so we'll have to see if Clinton sees an uptick in subsequent polls, but it's hard not to conclude that the 20 point shift to Hillary in less than a week is due at least in part to the "bitter" controversy.

There's more...

Obvious Poll Trends and The Media

As Obama and Hillary move their campaigns into the final week before the Pennsylvania primary, it's useful to examine some past polling phenomenons. If you look at the tracking poll averages from just about every highly contested state to date, you'll notice strikingly similar trends.

Here's Iowa:

And New Hampshire:

And Texas:

And Ohio:

These graphs all show a similar pattern. While the spreads between Obama and Clinton a few weeks or months out were relatively large - 20 to 30 points in some states - as the campaigns headed into election day, the spreads universally shrank.

Now take a look at Pennsylvania's trends:

Again we see the same shape we've been seeing in state after state. So what's happening here?

First, the obvious. As it gets closer to voting day in these states, the two campaigns spend more time and money there and opinions change. But I think the real dynamics lie a bit deeper.

As voting day approaches, people think more deeply about their choices. While someone might have supported a candidate earlier in the race simply because that candidate had higher name recognition or a voter happened to catch one of their speeches on television, when finally forced to make a real choice, voters switch support. Most support in the early stages of the primary in each of these states was "soft" support, based on little information or contact with the campaigns. As people actually begin to make up their minds and move from "soft" support to "hard" support, there is a lot of churn in the poll numbers.

While this idea is fairly obvious, media coverage and general discussion around these primaries has tended to ignore these trends. For example, headlines like "Polls: Obama gains on Clinton in Pa." are extremely misleading. Obama isn't really "gaining" support - if by gaining support you mean convincing Clinton supporters to vote for Obama. Instead, the information people are giving pollsters months before the election is misleading. "Soft" supporters along with independents are likely telling pollsters who they support without much thought. As the race gets down to the wire, people actually sit down and make up their minds.

(As a side note, I would say the same thing is happening with McCain's recentsurge in the polls. With Democratic voters split between Clinton and Obama, McCain has seen a surge that will likely evaporate once the general election race gets started in earnest.)

This is not to say, of course, that campaigns don't matter. If you look closely at the above graphs, you'll notice Hillary Clinton almost always experiences an uptick in polling towards the end of the race in each state, even if her general trend was downward. Clearly, events that happen on the campaign trail are having an effect on voters.

Of course, both campaigns are rightly trying to play the expectations game with these numbers, but we keep falling for it. This trend is happening in every single state every single time. As voting day approaches, the polling narrows. Why are we still surprised at this phenomenon? And why do most media outlets think this is still news?

The views expressed by J Ro are his and his alone.

There's more...

Obama's Verbal Gutterball

Yesterday was a travel day for me -- I'm back east in CT with my parents for a couple of weeks -- and so I was unable to follow the fallout from Obama's "bitter" comments in real time. I think I'm all caught up now and my primary reaction is "what the hell was he thinking?"

The comments in question, spoken at a San Francisco fundraiser (of all cities...) are as follows:

But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

OK, so, we all know what he meant and perhaps he felt he could be less guarded at an event such as a fundraiser, but come on, the optics of this are really bad. I thought Evan Bayh -- yes a Hillary supporter -- explained why Obama's comments came off as elitist quite well.

"We do have economic hard times, and that does lead to a frustration and some justifiable anger, it's true," Bayh told reporters after introducing Clinton in Indianapolis. "But I think you're on dangerous ground when you morph that into suggesting that people's cultural values, whether it's religion or hunting and fishing or concern about trade, are premised solely upon those kinds of anxieties and don't have a legitimate foundation independent of that."

Jonathan Martin explains why this is likely to stick.

Obama's comments play directly into an already-established narrative about his candidacy. Why did Hillary's Bosnian gaffe cut deep but McCain's Sunni/Shiite mix-up not seem to leave much more than a bruise? Because, fair or not, questions of honesty are the Achilles heel of the Clinton brand while McCain is perceived as strong and knowing on national security. One fit into a framework and the other didn't.

And much ink has already been spilled on Obama's primary shortcomings and potential general election challenges with blue-collar white voters. For him to an offer an inartful explanation of that which informs these people's lives and voting patterns only underlines his weakness with this constituency.

For me, this is just the sort of thing that raises doubts about the discipline of Obama's campaign and his readiness to run a general. Recently he's allayed many of my concerns and my confidence in him as our potential nominee has been growing; this episode has shaken that confidence. First he goes bowling when he doesn't actually know how to bowl and now he sounds as though he's talking down to those that vote on "guns, god and gays." The overall impression one is left with brings memories of John Kerry on a windsurfer crashing back. And this guy's running on judgment?

Now, I must say, as Marc Ambinder notes, Obama is no Kerry; he's more comfortable in his own skin and more surefooted and the way in which Obama has responded swiftly and forcefully to this controversy is better than anything Kerry ever did. You watch Obama take on the story in his stump speech in Indiana and you see how he's able to take lemons and turn them into lemonade.

But in the meantime he has a primary in Pennsylvania to deal with and Hillary Clinton is using Obama's remarks to portray him as elitist and out of touch and herself as in touch with middle American values.

Of course, predictably Obama partisans are slamming Hillary for using the ammunition that he gave her and are attacking the messenger in the comments to the original Mayhill Fowler story over at HuffPo. Funny, I didn't see Obama partisans complaining when Obama attacked Hillary on healthcare using rightwing talking points, but then again many are under the laughable impression that the Obama campaign hasn't attacked Clinton, so I guess that would explain it.

Look, I'm not saying Obama is actually an elitist or is out of touch with every day voters at all. Unfortunately, reality is often beside the point and perception rules and I suspect Obama is losing the perception war here. The fact is, he probably has a more credible claim to the feel your pain mantle than Hillary Clinton does, having spent years as a community organizer in Chicago, but then how has he managed to cede this ground to Clinton? How has he managed to fuel this perception of him that will be used by the right whether Hillary Clinton jumps on it or not? How has he managed to lose control of what for much of 2008 had been quite disciplined messaging? If this does hurt him, whether in the short term or long term, maybe Obama supporters should be looking to their candidate for answers to these questions. In the meantime, we know that this is going to be the topic du jour on the Sunday talkshows tomorrow and no doubt will come up at next week's debate in Philadelphia, so this iteration of this story probably has a good week left in it. It will be interesting to see how Obama deals with this latest speed bump; if he handles it as he did the Wright affair, he just might come out of it stronger than when he went in.

There's more...

PA: Clinton Up 9 Points in Temple Poll, 4 Points in Zogby Poll

Here's Temple:

Senator Hillary Clinton leads Senator Barack Obama by 44 - 35 percent among Pennsylvanians likely to vote in the Democratic presidential primary on April 22. Nineteen percent remain undecided or refuse to express a preference, but that group leans toward Obama. Adding in the undecided voters who lean to one candidate or the other shrinks Clinton's lead to 47 - 41 percent.

Here's Zogby:

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of New York leads party rival Barack Obama of Illinois by a narrow margin in the all-important Pennsylvania primary heading into the final stretch before Democrats there head to the polls April 22, a fresh Newsmax/Zogby telephone poll shows.

Clinton wins 47% support to Obama's 43% among likely Democratic primary voters, the survey shows. Another 2% are still holding out for someone else, while 8% said they are yet undecided.

With these surveys in the mix, the trend estimate now puts Hillary Clinton's lead over Barack Obama in the Keystone state at 6.1 percentage points, 48.4 percent to 43.1 percent. Clinton's lead is a bit larger in the Real Clear Politics average, 48.7 percent to 41.4 percent. The two poll-watchers diverge more in the trends they're catching, with Pollster seeing a downward trend for Clinton and an upward trend for Obama, and RCP seeing Clinton trending slightly upward (after a drop around the beginning of the month) and Obama basically stagnant.

What I seem to see looking over the polls is this: Clinton was above 50 percent in Pennsylvania before, but isn't now; Obama quickly moved up to the low 40s (where he is in both of these polls) but hasn't been able to move up from there. Where the race is going to go from there in the next week and a half remains to be seen.

There's more...


Advertise Blogads