THE BLOG
09/20/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

McCain Gains Nationally, Leads In Florida; Indiana Even

**Updated with new Indiana poll **

It’s a good thing for Democrats that their convention is just around the corner and that they will soon regain control of the race with Obama’s vice-presidential pick. While none of these most recent polls are particularly alarming -- Obama is ahead in both national surveys within the margin of error in Florida and leading outside of it in Pennsylvania -- they support impressions that McCain has had a strong few weeks:

  • A national poll released by Quinnipiac finds Obama leading 47% to 42% -- down from the 9% lead he had last month. That includes 79% of Democrats, versus 83% of Republicans for McCain, and a 6% lead among independents. Obama has a strong lead among women, 53% to 39%. Respondents say they would trust McCain more to deal with Russia -- confirming that Obama has work to do on national security.
  • In a second national poll released by the LA Times, Obama is up 45% to 43% (by only 1% when Barr and Nader are included), but he was leading by 12% last month (15% when leaners were included). The poll also finds that 35% “have questions” about Obama’s patriotism. In another sign that McCain’s month of negative ads is working, Obama’s favorability rating has dropped from 59% to 48%! But there are worrisome signs for McCain as well: Obama is more trusted on the economy, 75% think the country is on the wrong track and his supporters are far more enthusiastic.
  • UPDATE: SUSA released the very first poll from Indiana in two months yesterday evening. The previous survey (also taken by SUSA) had Obama up 48% to 47% -- a stunning result that had not been confirmed by any other poll. Yesterday, McCain lead 50% to 44% -- but considering that we had gotten no confirmation that the race in this very red state was that tight, it would be unfair to consider this SUSA poll as McCain gaining.
  • A month after Obama inched ahead in Florida (polling history) for the first time in Rasmussen polls, John McCain is back in front -- but within the margin of error, 46% to 43% (48% to 46% with leaners). Obama might be alone on air, but his favorability rating is very weak (49% versus 48% unfavorable), especially relative to McCain’s very strong numbers (61% to 36%!). Obama needs to improve his share of the Democratic vote (78%).
  • In North Carolina (polling history), McCain also posts some gains in Civitas’s latest poll. Leading by 3% last month, he is now ahead by 6%, 46% to 40%. To the extent that African Americans only represent 18% of the sample, a bit lower than the 19-20% they represented in 2004, it is not surprising that Obama is trailing.
  • In Pennsylvania (polling history), Susquehanna finds Obama holding on to a lead, 46% to 41% despite getting only 73% of Democrats. The institute’s last poll was taken in May and had Obama leading by 7%. Obama’s numbers among African Americans are outstanding (98%-0%) but McCain is very strong in the Southwest (up by 18%); that’s a region Hillary Clinton did well in and where McCain is hoping to appeal to white working-class Democrats.
  • Worrisome news for Obama in Minnesota, where SUSA finds him ahead within the margin of error 47% to 45%. SUSA’s previous poll from the state had a 1% race, so it is not technically a tightening -- but most polls had found Obama leading by healthier margins up until the past few weeks.
  • In Louisiana, there is no surprise in Rasmussen’s latest poll: McCain leads 55% to 38% (57% to 39% with leaners).

Both the Quinnipiac and LA Times national poll have Obama falling from the double-digit region to the 2-5% leads that most polls have shown him hovering around over the past few weeks. That’s the good news for Obama -- he has been pounded by McCain over the past 5 weeks, took a 6-day vacation, and he is now preparing to enter a period in which his financial dominance will be more useful; yet, McCain’s gains are still leaving him short in national surveys. And Obama is confirming his good dispositions in Pennsylvania -- a crucial battleground state in which he has led by at least 5% in every July-August poll.

That’s the good news Democrats can take out of this, but there is plenty of things to worry about as well: McCain’s gains in the LA Times poll and the Rasmussen results with leaners are outside the MoE and they seem to be accompanied with a successful redefinition of Obama, as concerns about the Democrat’s patriotism now appear to be definitely part of the political conversation. Furthermore, this is the third straight Minnesota poll to find McCain pulling stunningly close -- after Quinnipiac and Rasmussen. Finally, and this is something we have been talking about for a while, McCain is not even on air in Florida and North Carolina while Obama is spending millions in advertising; yet, here are two new polls finding McCain inching ahead there (this is the 5th straight Florida poll released in August, and all have shown McCain ahead; Obama led in every Florida survey taken in July).

As for Indiana, the release of that SUSA poll is sure to be among the highlights of this week’s polling: Obama has been spending money here but we had no indication of the state of the race. Given that Bush won the state by 20% in 2004, it was difficult to trust that SUSA poll without any further confirmation. While this survey’s result isn’t as good as that from June, it confirms that Indiana will be a battleground state and that Obama is not wasting his money here.

To sum up: on the one hand, Republicans were worried Obama would take a dominant lead over the summer, that did not happen. On the other hand, the Obama campaign believes it has laid the ground to take the lead in the fall; it knows it has a superior ground game and that it will dominate McCain financially, something it has not really tried to do over the summer months - but how much should there be worried that numbers are not moving in their direction in FL and NC?

These are among the last pre-convention polls that will be released. Soon, it will be a whole new ball game, and the VP picks and conventions will set the tone of the fall campaign. The state of the race on September 5th will surely be very different than that of August 24th - but voters’ impression of the candidates during the summer will surely play a large part of the fall dynamics. We will have to wait a few more weeks to know the significance of this summer tightening.