We Have a Horse Race Folks, Zogby and Rasmussen Have McCain Up by One

Two polls have Senator John McCain up by one point.  Both pollsters are generally viewed with a slight and opposite leaning bias, Rasmussen tilts Republican, and Zogby tilts Democratic.  Each pollster would undoubtedly object to this characterization, but this is the perception on the street.  The fact that both Zogby and Rasmussen have Senator McCain up by one point is politically relevant.  More importantly, the Zogby poll is a complete poll of likely voters, and the Rasmussen poll is their daily tracking poll.  (Gallup’s poll last week had McCain up four points among likely voters.)

Other than the result of the Zogby poll, the most significant finding is the increase in the number of undecided voters.  This indicates more than just Obama not being able to make the sale — it foreshadows Obama could be losing a sale already closed.

In a related development, the most significant analysis done thus far of the Obama – McCain Presidential election, in my view, is the piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, by Juan Williams.   Williams has done his polling homework, and has picked out the results he cites in his piece from sifting through many other polls.  As an African American, Williams brings a relevant and critical eye to the unfolding election contest.

The following are excerpts from William’s piece:

“The race issue is clearly not going away. And the key reason — to be blunt — is because there is no telling how many white voters are lying to pollsters when they say they plan to vote for a black man to be president. Still, it is possible to look elsewhere in the polling numbers to see where white voters acknowledge their racial feelings and get a truer measure of racism.

In a Wall Street Journal poll last month, 8% of white voters said outright that race is the most important factor when it comes to looking at these two candidates — a three percentage point increase since Mr. Obama claimed the Democratic nomination. An added 15% of white voters admit the candidates’ race is a factor for them. Race is even more important to black voters: 20% say it is the top factor influencing their view of the candidates, and another 14% admit it is among the key factors that will determine their vote. All this contributes to the idea that the presidential contest will boil down to black guy versus white guy.

Consider also a recent Washington Post poll. Thirty percent of all voters admitted to racial prejudice, and more than a half of white voters categorized Mr. Obama as “risky” (two-thirds judged Mr. McCain the “safe” choice). Yet about 90% of whites said they would be “comfortable” with a black president. And about a third of white voters acknowledged they would not be “entirely comfortable” with an African-American president. Why the contradictory responses? My guess is that some whites are not telling the truth about their racial attitudes.

A recent New York Times poll found that only 31% of white voters said they had a favorable opinion of Mr. Obama. That compares to 83% of blacks with a favorable opinion. This is a huge, polarizing differential.

But polling can be tricky. In May, a Pew poll asked voters about Mr. Obama but did not give them the option of saying they are undecided. In that poll, whites split on the candidate, 45% saying they had a favorable opinion, 46% unfavorable. When white voters had the option of being undecided, as they did in the Times poll, 37% of whites said they had an unfavorable opinion of him, but 26% said they were undecided….

In the Democratic primaries there were states, especially in the South, where blacks made up nearly half of the electorate. But in the general election there are no states where blacks make up so large a percentage. Even in Southern states such as Georgia and North Carolina, where blacks made up about a quarter of the vote in the last presidential election, it will be an upset if Mr. Obama manages to win. Those states have a history of Republican dominance in presidential contests. Even an energized black vote is unlikely to make Mr. Obama a winner anywhere in the South, although some Democrats hold out hope for Virginia.

In 2004, John Kerry had a 46% favorable rating among white voters, barely better than Barack Obama’s. But Mr. Kerry lost. Mr. Obama needs to do better with whites. But the white voters’ view of him is still clearly unsettled.

Polls show white voters struggling to identify with him as a fellow American who, to quote Bill Clinton, is able to “feel your pain.” When the New York Times poll asked whether Mr. Obama cares about “the needs and problems of people like yourself,” 70% of whites answered “a lot” or “some.” But 28% of whites said Mr. Obama cared about them “not much” or “not at all.” Compare that with the 72% of black voters who said Mr. Obama cared about them “a lot.” The same Times poll had Mr. Obama leading Mr. McCain by six percentage points, 45-39, but trailing by nine points among white voters, 37-46.”

Finally, the kinda, sorta, maybe, anti-endorsement endorsement by former President Bill Clinton is historically important.  Using my own electoral impact translator Bill’s statement is really a message to the Hillary voters, the women over 40 (Fox News has them breaking for McCain by 3 or 4 points) and the white working class voters: don’t break your pick or your leg trying to vote for Obama, he is not really ready to be President.  Bill Clinton said: “You can argue that no one is ready to be President.”   In other words, on the key point of weakness for Obama, experience and readiness, Bill refused to give Obama cover.  Hmmmmmmm.  This may or may not foreshadow what is in store for Obama if he does not, as is being widely reported, pick Hillary Clinton as his running mate.

In short, the Williams piece clearly illuminates the race problem for Obama.  The Clinton statement compounds the Obama experience and readiness problem, and reinforces the doubts among Hillary’s key constituents in the Democratic Party — women and working class whites.

In a social science experiment, a moment like this could be easily labeled the tipping point.

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