Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 25, 2008
POLITICS: Would Obama Destroy McCain?

So we have been treated of late to the usual chorus of claims that the GOP is doomed, doomed I tell you, at the polls if McCain faces Obama. Well, Rasmussen's daily tracker has McCain pulling ahead of Obama the past 4 days, and now up 47-43 in a national head-to-head matchup. The RCP multi-poll average still gives a 47-43 nod to Obama. (McCain's matchup with Hillary is more favorable). But if you looked at polls taken between January 28 and March 7 of 2004, you would see Kerry leading Bush in 15 polls, to 7 showing Bush ahead and 3 ties, and an unweighted average result of 47.48 for Kerry to 45.2 for Bush. Gerald Ford trailed by 33 points in August and lost by 2. (H/T) George HW Bush trailed by 17 in July and won by a healthy margin. Those are the most famous examples, but hardly the only ones.

But, you say, huge primary turnout for the Democrats presages a landslide? Maybe, but Democrats traditionally have much higher primary turnout than the GOP:


That's right: Democratic turnout in the primaries was 47% higher than GOP turnout in 1980, and 89% higher in 1988. Any Democrats looking to replay those races?

Folks, it's a long way to November. Yes, you can slice and dice the polls cited above to make the point that polling (1) has its flaws and (2) can be badly abused if you don't distinguish between good polls and bad. And that's even aside from the fact that these are national polls whereas the election is actually 50 statewide elections. But the point is, there is simply no evidence right now that Obama, whose real record is very unknown to the national electorate and who has never run a campaign against anything resembling a competent Republican opponent, has this race in the bag. He may justifiably be favored over McCain, if you had to put money on this race today. But he is not unbeatable, or if he is the evidence of that is as yet undetectable.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:00 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (25) | TrackBack (0)

Crank is (unfortunately) right.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at February 25, 2008 2:30 PM

btw crank, when are you going to blog about your baseball predictions for each division in terms of expected win shares?

Posted by: seth soothsayer at February 25, 2008 3:23 PM

Well, anyone who is familiar with me knows I'm a conservative, but the following thoughts are
generating by my seven years pursuing political science degrees (yipee):

1) In Presidential elections, the challenger (Obama this year) almost always polls better early in the election year, and then the race narrows and narrows. Sometimes, the challenger can keep the incumbent (practically McCain) at bay, sometimes they can't.

2) Clinton has run a terrible, terrible, terrible campaign. I don't know how anyone could deny this. Almost ever move has backfired and only made her look bad and make Obama look good in comparison. This has greatly helped Obama, which should be obvious, but I think a lot of people are overlooking it. His popularity is just as much due to Clinton's bungling campaign as it is to his well-run campaign.

3) Liberals won't agree, but this remains a center-right country. There are several indicators of this, which I would go into, but I have clients to bill. (If the Democrats win this year, it is not because of a large shift in outlook, but it is because of the unpopularity of Bush.)

4) Many of Obama's primary victories have come in states he simply is not going to win in November.

5) Obama has not really faced the heat yet.

With all this in mind, I can't see how anyone could say that Obama is headed to an easy victory. I think it is at least a 50/50 proposition right now, and frankly, if I had to I would pick now, I would pick a McCain victory. Obama is not far enough ahead to overcome the things mentioned above. If Obama were ahead by McCain by more than 10 points in a head to head poll, I would call it even.

Posted by: alex at February 25, 2008 3:34 PM

I think it's probably wrong to compare how Kerry and Obama were/are at the same point. Few people in memory ran a campaign as poorly as Kerry did. If they were identical in everything else, Obama would have won in 2004. However, the 900 pound gorilla nobody is talking about is Obama's race. Not his name; not the bullshit sent about his "religion" but his race. The real factor that doomed Harold Ford, as decent and honorable a person who would be senator.

Has it narrowed? Yes I think so. Twenty years ago, Ford would have lost, with all the factors the same, by 20 points or more, not the few he did lose by. Will Obama lose big? I think less than Hillary Clinton. The prejudice against women is still larger than against blacks. But there is still a group of people who don't want to say they won't vote for someone black, or female, or whatever group they are that the polled person is not, but a voting booth is very private after all.

Obama is very smart; he really does seem to run a campaign very well, so of course, nobody knows, but the damn gorilla is still there.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at February 25, 2008 3:45 PM

I'm a huge Harold Ford fan, but I do not think he was doomed by race. That name carries a lot of baggage in Tennessee, as sloppy as the advertising got I believe that was the difference. Wasn't one of his uncles, a state pol, on trial at the time?
Nice of Hillary to get that picture out today, no?

Posted by: abe at February 25, 2008 4:28 PM

I would think that as long as Hillary is in the race, Obama will be underrated in national polling, since Hillary supporters are likely to be tempted to say they won't vote for him, when most of them actually will.

That being said, I certainly think McCain has a very solid shot at winning. Especially since McCain and Obama both strike me as candidates who could potentially implode as the race wears on.

Posted by: Jerry at February 25, 2008 4:35 PM

Abe: What Daryl is referring to is well known by indpendent professional pollsters as the "Bradley effect", referring to afro-american Tom Bradley's consistent poll leads prior to losing the Calif gubernatorial race to George Deukmejian. Some voters are dishonest when questioned about who they might vote for, preferring not to reveal their racial insecurities until they rise to the fore before pulling a lever. It's like a union voting openly by a show of hands in a ballroom versus voting by secret ballot; the absence of social pressure often leads to somewht different results. I'm not as cynical as Daryl about Obama's chances nor am I as positive about McCain's as Crank, but I acknowledge that racial insecurity or its close proxies help to give McCain a legitimate shot at winning. Republicans don't like to admit that openly though; they like to say the gap will narrow once Obama's issue positions become better known.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at February 25, 2008 4:54 PM

I think if a real Conservative stepped up today and said they would like to run for President, they would win going away.

Posted by: maddirishman at February 25, 2008 5:33 PM

Seth, thanks. I was commenting, slightly off topic, on Ford. Corker was leading in the polls at the end, the final result was tighter than indicated. A reverse Bradley perhaps? Both links below discuss the role of race in that contest. My contention, in response to Daryl's post, is that Ford did not lose because he is black.

Posted by: abe at February 25, 2008 5:34 PM

McCain is licking his lips over facing Obama. He'd do worse against Clinton but she's doing all she can to make sure McCain is president. With the electorate still split 50/50, Obama will have to resort to mudslinging in the presidential race (McCain's age, infirmity). The Great Black Hope will face a backlash that will help lead the Staright Talker into another squeaker election win for the GOP.

Posted by: splinter at February 25, 2008 7:25 PM

Another wildcard in the race between McCain and Obama is obviously age. Obama is too young and McCain is too damn old. Right now McCain is combating the charge of being too damn old by running a very vigorous campaign and trotting out his 95 year old mother as a testament to his family aging well. However, if he has anything happen between now and November that hints at diminished health then Obama's youth will stand in stark contrast.

As far as the race and gender stuff, I do think Obama would be easier to beat in the general election than Clinton. A certain number of women who wouldn't vote normally would make the time to show up and vote for the first woman running. This likely would include some who might otherwise vote Republican. Obama would have a hard time increasing the percentage of African-Americans voting for the Dem nominee since it is already over 90%. Additionally, he would lose the votes of a percentage of Dems who would never vote for a black man.

Posted by: Largebill at February 25, 2008 8:31 PM

I rarely find myself agreeing with Crank's political posts (the baseball posts much more so!) but I think this is pretty accurate. At the very least, I find it amusing that fellow Democrats are basing votes today on theoretical matchups in November. That's nine months from now -- plenty of time for Obama to commit major gaffes, dynamics to change in Iraq, the economy to either tank or hold on, and for McCain to wear down. Who the hell knows.

In regards to the Harold Ford thing, I have a lot of family in Tennessee, including an uncle in (non-partisan) politics. He adores Ford, voted for him and still thinks he'll have a major future on the national scene. But he also likes Corker, thinks he's an honorable guy and REALLY RESENTS the idea that Ford lost because he was black. He acknowledges on a state level what alex argues is a national phenomenon: that it tilts right of center, and it's actually a compliment to both Ford and Tennessee that a center-left Democrat could make it that close.

Not sure I fully agree with Alex about the country as a whole being right of center -- I think things may be drifting leftward a bit. But a posteriori, national elections and self-identification polls seem to bear out what he says.

Posted by: Lash at February 26, 2008 12:14 AM

No opinion as to who'll win in November. I have no idea.

But these "stats" are pretty silly, Crank: Democratic turnout in the '80 and '88 primaries was higher than GOP turnout for the same reasons it will be this year: the Dem races remained unresolved longer than the GOP races. In '80, Kennedy kept up his fight with Carter longer than Bush did with Reagan. Hell, Kennedy won the NY primary that year and didn't concede until the eve of the convention.

And in '88, when Bush was pretty much a fait accompli, Dole's challenge notwithstanding, Dukakis, Gore, Gephart & Jackson ran a tightly contested race.

I'm not sure primary turnout means anything, one way or the other.

Posted by: Mike at February 26, 2008 7:14 AM

McCain is essentially running as "Bush's 3rd Term".
The war, the economy, you name it.

It's a losing proposition.

If he runs away from W's policies, the Right deserts him. If he hews to them, Indies are out reach, and rightfully disgusted fiscal-minded Republicans will stay home or switch this cycle.

The Republican Brand is in the toilet and voters know what to do when they see a turd.

Posted by: El at February 26, 2008 12:07 PM

I think given that McCain has anchored himself to the war, and Obama has anchored himself to opposing it, either one of them could pretty easily get steamrolled by a change in conditions in Iraq.

Posted by: Jerry at February 26, 2008 12:57 PM

From the sounds of things, given McCain's sudden re-emergence of his shuck and jive past, that Romney may not be out of this thing yet.

Posted by: jim at February 26, 2008 1:01 PM

I don't think it's given that McCain has anchored himself to the war

He thinks so:

GOP Frontrunner Says He Won't Win If Americans Don't Believe U.S. Policy In Iraq Is Succeeding;
Later Backs Off Remark

Posted by: El at February 26, 2008 1:09 PM

Here's the thing to the idea that McCain loses if he runs as the third terms of Bush: Bush has not been a conservative on many domestic issues. There I'll say it and face the wrath. He cut taxes, but he escalated government spending, he passed liberal education reform, he pushed liberal immigration bills, etc.

I think McCain has a better chance if he runs as a conservative and not as a centrist. If he runs as a centrist, the moderates and independents vote for Obama, because they won't see any difference between the two and they'll go with the younger, more charismatic man.

So, I don't know if I agree with the "Republican brand in the toilet" idea. I think there is still wide appeal to a solid conservative candidate regardless of the unpopularity of Bush. Bush's unpopularity is not due to his conservatism because a) he's not a true conservative, and b) Iraq.

These are just thoughts. Haven't given them much critical thought. Would be interested in some thought-out responses.

Posted by: Alex at February 26, 2008 1:30 PM

McCain is Bob Dole, Obama is Bill Clinton 1992. National polls mean nothing in Presidential races, for they tend to over emphasize the popular vote and not electoral college.

Just as Obama won states he won't in Nov, McCain has done the same (anyone really think California is in play? I didn't think so)...primaries don't tell you much about the national election...right now the voters aren't really faced with real choices...Most Democrats frankly don't care whether it is Hillary or Obama, they just want to start rooting for someone to change this Bush imcompetency and polarization into something resembling a functioning government.

I think Obama has what Gore and Kerry did not...charisma. Say what you will, dude has it, and I think people will tend to defend him when attacked, unlike Gore and Kerry in the same place. Bill Clinton had that, JFK as provides for very effective leadership and a phenomenal "ground game" when it comes to the election.

Posted by: AstrosFan at February 26, 2008 3:46 PM


Posted by: jim at February 26, 2008 3:53 PM

Likewise, Obama has lost big in states in the primary(New York for example) with significant EC votes that he will most likely carry in the general. Don't know that McCain can say the same.

Posted by: jim at February 26, 2008 3:57 PM

I'd wait until the voters have heard both sides of the story before polls mean anything. Voters have heard only the left for 3 years now.

Posted by: stan at February 26, 2008 4:19 PM

No one mentions that many of the Democrats' primaries are open primaries where anyone--Dem, Ind, undeclared, even Repub--can walk in and ask for a Democrat ballot, while most of the Republican primaries are closed to Republicans only. That has to create a bit of a difference in the vote numbers.

Posted by: joated at February 26, 2008 6:05 PM

Openness...Republicans should try that for once.

Posted by: AstrosFan at February 27, 2008 11:13 AM

"primaries don't tell you much about the national election"

This does.

The Rasmussen Reports Balance of Power Calculator* currently projects:

154 Electoral Votes “Safely Dem”
84 Electoral Votes “Likely Demo”
238 Electoral Votes Safely & Likely Dem
46 EV “Leans Democratic”

168 Electoral Votes “Safely Rep”
21 Electoral Votes “Likely Rep”
189 Electoral Votes Safely & Likely Rep
40 EV “Leans Rep”

Safely Dem:
California (55), Connecticut (7), District of Columbia (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (21), Maine (4), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), New York (31), Rhode Island (4), and Vermont (3)

Likely Dem:
Delaware (3), Michigan (17), Minnesota (10), New Jersey (15), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (21), and Washington (11).

Leans Dem:
Iowa (7), New Hampshire (4), New Mexico (5), Ohio (20), and Wisconsin (10)

Toss-Up: Colorado (9), Missouri (11), and Nevada (5)

Safely Rep:
Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arizona (10), Georgia (15), Idaho (4), Indiana (11), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (9), Mississippi (6), Montana (3), Nebraska (5), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (8), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (11), Texas (34), Utah (5), West Virginia (5) and Wyoming (3)

Likely Rep:
Arkansas (6), North Carolina (15)

Leans Rep:
Florida (27), Virginia (13)

* This Calculator aggregates data from a variety of sources to provide a comprehensive assessment of the state-by-state race for the White House. Data inputs include the latest Rasmussen Reports poll in a state, an average of the latest polling from other firms, Rasmussen Markets data, Intrade market data, the aggregated rankings of selected analysts, the state’s voting history, and national party identification trends. The weight given to each variable will vary over time (i.e.—polls will be counted more heavily in October than today, a state’s history will be counted more heavily today than in October).

Until the Democratic nominee is determined, the polling data used for each state will be based upon an average of the results for Barack Obama vs. John McCain and Hillary Clinton vs. John McCain.

Posted by: El at February 27, 2008 11:29 AM
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