Boy, you take two weeks off and the whole political world turns upside down. The following are some quick observations on the current political landscape. Let's start with Obama and the Democrats:
- Obama and his team made a tactical error by vacationing in early August. Our sense is that he lost a lot of momentum that his campaign had built up in the Spring and early Summer.
- This--combined with his lackluster performance at Saddleback and the campaign's uninspiring television advertising--resulted in his limping into the convention. Several national polls released just prior to the convention showed Obama up by just a couple of points or dead-even with McCain.
- However, the convention was a success by the only important measure: it successfully introduced Obama to millions of people who did not know him. Additionally, it matched the historical average for convention bounces (3-5%) by giving Obama a four-point bump in our post-convention poll analysis.
- The Obama team won the expectations game regarding the Clinton speeches. For days the media wondered aloud how strong the Clinton(s) endorsement of Obama would be and acted stunned by the strength of their vocal support.
- Bill Clinton's speech was a home run. The former President showed again why he is such an effective politician (even if you disagree with what he is saying). He gave the best comparison between the two candidates in explaining why the Democrats are the better choice this year.
- The image of Obama's convention speech will stick with voters. Simply put, the production was a show-stopper. Getting 84,000 people in a stadium to see a political speech was impressive enough, but combining that with the Greek columns, the fireworks, confetti shot from a cannon and grand orchestral music made this seem like a Hollywood blockbuster. Nearly twice as many people watched his speech on television compared to John Kerry's in 2004 (38 million viewers compared to 20 million four years ago). Those images will stick with people.
- Picking Joe Biden for VP was smart...announcing it on Friday at 1 a.m. was not so smart. The selection added much-needed experience to the ticket. Perception is everything, and the takeaway from most voters was that Obama had the good sense to pick a grown-up. However, we are stunned by the timing of the announcement. It was a major communications misfire and a wasted opportunity.
- While the Obama adverstising has been lackluster, some recent spots are beginning to tie McCain to Bush (a strategy which we argued weeks ago they should have been pursuing since June). These are pretty effective.
On the McCain/Republican side:
- The Palin pick is neither a game-changer nor a disaster. On the plus side, she has and will continue to invigorate the base, and she is the ONLY thing being talked about both on the convention floor and in newsrooms across the country. In 24 hours, the McCain campaign went from no buzz to being the political version of the iPhone 3G. She is a base pick who will have a cultural connection with alarge swath of the nation's voters. She also brings a reformer edge that compliments McCain. On the other hand, as hundreds of commentators have pointed out, she undercuts the experience argument against Obama. A few comments on the selection:
- Vice Presidential nominees do not matter. With the exception of Johnson in 1960 this is the truest thing you can say about Presidential elections. In the end, the only thing they can do is hurt you. This race has always been about Obama and (to a lesser extent) McCain...and it still is.
- She is a base pick, pure and simple. This is not about attracting Clinton voters. Her job is to energize a flagging Republican base.
- We think this pick will make Biden's job quite a bit harder. If Palin holds her own in the debates and exceeds expectations it is a victory for McCain.
- Finally, unlike the Biden roll-out, this one was done beautifully and blunted the Obama post-convention bounce.
- McCain's advertising has been vastly better than Obama's. As we pointed out in mid-August the McCain attacks on Obama in July and August kept this thing close. For the most part, the McCain ads have worked because:
- They usually make their point clearly and simply
- They contrast the two candidates in sharp and relatable terms
- They use third party validators (often Obama's primary opponents or his own words) They employ viscerally engaging video that help tell the story
- They tell a story that people are already pre-disposed to believe (that Obama is not ready to lead)
- Here is a quick sampling of the most recent McCain contrast spots that we think have made a difference:
- Yes, they tried to make lemonade out of lemons, but make no mistake: losing a day of free convention advertising was a major blow to the Republicans. They had no choice in delaying/curtailing the opening night, but that doesn't mean it was good for them. In fact, it means 25% less time for defining Obama and laying out McCain's agenda. They get some points for putting the country first but that may be long forgotten in a few days.
- With Labor Day in our rear-view mirror, the fundamentals of this campaign (a bad economy, very negative impressions of the incumbent and his party, a dissatisfied electorate) are locked in and they overwhelmingly favor Obama. Every recent national poll (released over the last three days) has Obama up by anywhere from four to eight points. It is still Obama's election to lose.
LCG Regression-Based Vote Projection
Beginning today, we unveil our regression analysis/vote projection. To completely bore (most of) you, we have developed a single line projecting the net McCain vote. We have included all reputable publicly available registered voter polls since June 9th of this year (there are 56 polls in total). The most recent poll includes interviews conducted on Sept 1st. We used SPSS to develop a curvilinear polynomial regression model.
If you project the trend out to Election day, our analysis shows McCain losing by 3.1 percentage points.
Hats off to Chris Blunt who helped develop the model. Truth be told, there really hasn't been much of a trend. It's just a cloud of data points. The regression suggests that there has been some tightening but not enough to close the gap by November 4th. Of course, this assumes no change in the political environment and there will be hundreds of meaningful changes.
Things to watch in the coming days:
- If the Palin narrative becomes a "process" story. This would be devastating for McCain. The focus on Palin needs to be about her...and not how she was selected or vetted.
- How much of the GOP convention focus is on Obama. Team McCain will try to bloody Obama with surrogates over the next 48 hours.
- Whether tropical storm/hurricane "Hanna" is impacting Florida on Thursday evening enough to impact what McCain and the GOP say and do.
Thanks again to Pete Ventimiglia, John Zirinsky and Chris Blunt for their contributions to this Election Monitor.