The PEW Research Center is out with a new study that suggests John McCain's attacks against Barack Obama's character and associations have strongly backfired.
Buried in a study released on Wednesday is this nugget:
"Obama has an advantage in voter assessments of the tone of the campaign. Nearly half (48%) see McCain as too personally critical of Obama. By comparison, just 22 % see Obama as too critical of McCain. Even among McCain's own voters, nearly one in five (19%) think he has been too critical of Obama... Perceptions about the campaign McCain is running are starkly different from what they were in June, when just 26% said he had been too personally critical of Obama. In contrast, the percentage believing that Obama has been too negative is nearly unchanged since June."
The findings, in many ways, are nothing more than a fait accompli for the McCain campaign, which admitted on Wednesday that it has lost the spin war against Obama.
"The truth is they play dirty politics, and maybe we haven't been quick enough. Maybe we don't have enough friends in the media to carry the message," spokesperson Nicole Wallace said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show. "We certainly lost the spin war about his fighting a more negative campaign. The truth is that Barack Obama has spent more money on negative attack ads against John McCain than any politician, Democrat or Republican, in history."
And yet, all indications point to the Republican nominee going back to the well during the debate tonight by bringing up Obama's association with Bill Ayers.
PEW also tested directly the recent attack lines being used by the two campaigns: the Republicans' "Who is Barack Obama" and Democrats' assertions that McCain is "erratic." And the conclusion was, they aren't working.
"Comparable majorities of 57% say they do not worry about Obama's personal character and judgment, or about McCain's age and judgment. (Forty percent say they do worry about McCain's age and judgment and 38 percent worry about Obama's character and judgment.)"
A caveat here: in general, voters instinctively recoil from negative campaigning when they hear attacks though, at the same time, poll numbers move upwards for the attacker. So it is not a terrible surprise to see these survey numbers. However, for McCain, the PEW findings are problematic for another reason. Obama seems to have wrapped up a sizeable portion of the electorate, meaning that McCain's margin for error is growing increasingly narrow.
"Obama has a sizeable advantage among those who express certainty about their choice: 42% of voters are classified as certain to vote for him, compared with 34% certain to vote for McCain... The percentage of voters saying they have definitely decided not to vote for McCain has risen steadily, from 37% in early August to 45% in the current survey."