Last week, an NBC/WSJ poll piqued the concern of many in the Democratic party. The fears of those who believe the prolonged primary to be bitterly divisive seemed confirmed, with more than twenty percent of Obama and Clinton supporters claiming they won't vote for the other candidate in a general election. To make matters worse, John McCain's favorability has continued to climb; and while a recent survey indicated that 76% of the American people want a different approach than that of Bush, McCain is still within the margin of error in a general election matchup with Obama. It would seem to many as though the Democrats are in the process of squandering their best chance of reclaiming the White House.
But in politics, as with anything else, things are not always as they seem.
A poll is a snapshot in time and we've entered an especially unusual time in the race. While the Clinton campaign attacks Obama with the desperation of a wounded animal, McCain has dropped out of the news almost entirely, making only cameo appearances in the bulk of the media's coverage. Far away from the squabbles of campaign life, McCain has indeed enjoyed a temporary boost in his favorability rating, no doubt the result of being largely above the fray. But that is where the good news really ends for him.
After all, at a time when the American people have yet to associate John McCain with the policies of George Bush and the Republican Party, and at a time when Democratic primary voters are so polarized that one in five is planning to vote for McCain, McCain still finds himself in a statistical tie with Obama. Unless the Democratic race goes to the convention -- an outcome that party insiders are inclined to prevent -- McCain is unlikely to ever see a better set of circumstances for his candidacy. In this snapshot in time, Independents, Republicans, and a substantially inflated number of Hillary Democrats are actually voting for him. And yet, he still finds himself losing narrowly to Barack Obama.
If McCain can't win today, when will he ever?
We should be less concerned with what polling tells us about today, and more concerned with what it suggests about tomorrow. Today's atmospherics might be ripe for McCain, but there is little doubt that voter attitudes will change soon after the nomination fight is over. Come November, Barack Obama will have healed many, if not most of the wounds produced from a bloody primary battle. Sixty percent of voters still believe that Obama can unite the country, a tacit indication that voters still feel capable of coming together again. It is also likely that very few of those who claim they will abandon their party will actually do so; their responses, in many cases, are the product of the anger and frustration that grows out of fighting a long and losing battle.
Obama has proven, time and again, that he is a gifted campaigner, capable of delivering a resonant message. In each state that he has campaigned against Clinton, he has either won or significantly decreased the margin of his loss. As long as he is able to woo back at least some frustrated Clinton supporters, and as long as he spends his time and financial resources describing McCain, Bush, and the GOP as one and the same, Barack Obama is poised to do more than just win; he's poised to win in a landslide.