Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 7, 2008
POLITICS: Yes, We...Can?

So far as I can tell, nobody in the history of modern polling has won a presidential election from as big a hole as John McCain now stands in, at last check a national polling advantage in the neighborhood of 5 points for Obama. Now, if you are a betting man, surely you like your odds on Obama. But does that mean that the race is over? Perhaps, but not necessarily. While the circumstances are of course different, we have seen two past Republican campaigns, neither of them headed by the most dynamic of campaigners, provide examples of strong closing-month performances.

The most obvious recent example was 1996. The Gallup poll, which admittedly is one of the more volatile polls (Obama presently leads it by 8) on October 6/7, 1996 showed Bill Clinton with a commanding 22 point lead, 56-34 over Bob Dole with 5 points for Ross Perot (the first of two debates was on October 6). Four days later, after the first debate and the Vice Presidential debate, that lead was 57-34 (Clinton +23). In an October 14-15 poll, conducted on the eve of the second, October 16 debate, Dole pulled much closer (48-39, Clinton +9), but as late as October 20-21 the poll showed Clinton up 19, 52-33 with 8 for Perot. Dole then began his serious charge, pulling above 40% for the first time on November 4-5, to finish at Clinton +11 (52-41-7), and ended up at Clinton +8 on Election Day, 49-41. Dole thus ended up shaving as much as 15 points off Clinton's lead in less than a month.

Then there's 1976. Jimmy Carter had, of course, famously led by 34 in one midsummer a poll conducted September 24-27 (the first debate was September 23), Carter led 51-40 (+11), but in one conducted September 27-October 4, that lead dropped to +2, 47-45. Carter widened his lead to +6 on October 8-11 after the famous "Democrat wars" gaffe by Bob Dole in the October 6 VP debate, led +6 (47-41) on October 15-18 (the second debate, with Ford's Poland gaffe, was October 15), was still at +5 on October 22-25 (the third debate was October 22), but an October 28-30 poll for the first time showed a Ford lead, 47-46. On Election Day, Carter won 50-48.

Polling today is more sophisticated, of course, and there are other distinguishing factors as well. On the one hand, the 1996 election had a third party candidate who surged up to double digits in late October, and Dole was running so far behind a still-strong GOP Congressional brand (Republicans held both Houses of Congress through that race) that a good deal of his late surge was just natural Republicans coming home. Some of the same was true of Ford's surge. On the other hand, the 1996 race should have been much less volatile than this one - it matched a 3-decade Senate veteran with a sitting president in a time of peace and prosperity - yet the polls showed significant movement late in the game. 1976 was more similar to the present race, as it pitted a moderate Republican running in a time when the GOP brand was as destitute as it has been since the New Deal, matched against a relatively green and unknown opponent. And of course, this year's race involves not only an unprecedentedly inexperienced and far-left presidential candidate and times of economic uncertainty and foreign war but also the triple complicating factors of no incumbent, Obama's race, and McCain's age coupled with Palin being not a whole lot more experienced than Obama. Those are all reasons why we might expect more, rather than less, real underlying volatility in voter preferences in addition to the possibility that the polls themselves are having trouble measuring the race. And at the end of the day, while it may at first glance seem harder to push upward in the polls against the headwind of a bandwagon once the media has (correctly) called the race for the frontrunner, as in 1996, there is a difference in the degree of difficulty between pulling up close to 50 and breaking through it.

Again: none of this should be reason for Republicans to celebrate - as I said, nobody in a hole like this has actually won a race. But history tells us that voter preferences can still shift in the last month, and if Obama's lead now is accurately reflected by the RCP average of +5.3, it is still very much worthwhile for McCain-Palin and their supporters to fight on to the end.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Politics 2008 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (31) | TrackBack (0)

The problems with polls are the same reason Gore won in 2000. What do they say in Ohio? In Pennsylvania? Plus, trying to compare election dynamics no vs. 1996 is probably misleading. We were prosperous and at peace. So much of the electorate: a nice way of saying the far right found something they could hang on to: abortion. Which is a powerful subject when you can eat and have shelter. When you can't, the "character" issues fall back, as they are here.

Family values, one of the big topics of the last 15 years suddenly isn't so important. Not when your candidate of choice is not the one on the original wife and all. Clinton won in 1992 not because Bush raised taxes but because it really was the "Economy, Stupid," And the economy was not great (it's all relative isn't it?). So now we are staring 1933 in the face, and it's really The Economy, Stupid. If W was running again the elective slaughter would be insane. But it's a Republican who, no matter how he says it, can be linked to Bush. It's closer than it should be because McCain is not a Bush clone. But look for the commercials featuring Palin first demanding government keep out, then minutes later calling for regulation.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at October 7, 2008 11:05 AM

Unless the Obama campaign does something stupid (or have something egregiously stupid pinned on them), which isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility, the Republicans need some other major event to occur in the next month to win, e.g. another terrorist attack, a near-miraculous economic recovery. I don't think McCain can do it on his own.

Posted by: MVH at October 7, 2008 11:12 AM

If anything, I think the question of character is more important when you are running in dangerous times behind a candidate with no experience. People won't be asking themselves what would happen to Obama if a crisis arose; I think most voters assume he'll face multiple crises, just as Bush has.

As for social issues, at the end of the day the economy is obviously issue #1, but it's not as if the Democrats have tabbed some anodyne, status quo figure; Obama's every inch a left-wing culture warrior. (Since the unborn don't vote, they do of course depend on the electorate to give a damn whether they live or die). I do agree with Ross Douthat that social issues and character issues have been most successful when they raised issues having a tangible connection to people's well-being. I don't agree with Ross that the Ayers story is a non-story - certainly the shrieking from the Obama camp every time it's mentioned should confirm that - but I do agree with him that the core focus should be on the Fan/Fred stuff (and on Obama's promise to jack up taxes and add tons of new spending), which relate directly to the bread and butter issues.

Posted by: Crank at October 7, 2008 11:15 AM

MVH, as the saying goes, you gotta be in it to win it. It's certainly still worth McCain going full throttle to put himself in position to benefit if anything breaks his way.

Posted by: Crank at October 7, 2008 11:18 AM

All one needs to do is look at the NH Democratic primary, where every poll had Obama up by double-digits. The Clinton camp was calling anything below an 8 point loss a 'victory'.

Then, Hillary won.


If Obama isn't above 4 in the RCP averages, his supporters should be worried. VERY, very, worried. If it's over 4, then the McCain backers should start preparing for a sharp turn to the left.

Posted by: RW at October 7, 2008 11:23 AM


It's absolutely worth it. He just might need a little help. I'm still undecided, for what it's worth. Of course, even if I vote for McCain, I doubt it will make much of a difference in Connecticut.

Posted by: MVH at October 7, 2008 11:30 AM

I think McCain really needs to move the needle tonight, which would require reframing the perception of the financial mess. I'm not sure if he can do that, since the default assumption is that financial calamity always sticks more to the party that controls the White House. But there is plenty of blame that ought rightly to affix itself to either party, so I do think McCain has something to work with.

Posted by: Jerry at October 7, 2008 11:32 AM

Clinton won in 1992(with oh yeah 43% of the vote and breaking 50% in exactly one state) because of 1) the conservative base was turned off
with the Republican candidate 2) In the post WWII period, 4 consecutive terms for the same party is next to impossible 3) the Dems nominated a moderate Southerner, which took away a number of states that had been voting Republican 4) Ross Perot took a disproportionate amount of republican voters 5) the politically based indictments issued by the Special Prosecutor on the Friday before the election, that were all later dismissed if I remember correctly, stopped any late movement to Bush 6) 24/7 media pimping for Clinton.

In reality, the economy was doing fine and by the time Billy Boy was sworn in , the economy was in its 2nd year of growth.

I always find it interesting when Dems try to explain their losses away using DNC talking points. ex-Dukakis lost because of the Willie Horton ads ( which btw no one ever saw), Gore lost because Florida was stolen from him ( no mention that he would have had just won his home state he would have won, that Florida was called while people were still voting in the republican panhandle or people were just fatigued with the Clinton Admin) or Kerry lost because of the lies of the SBVT- all 240 of those vets that served with him lied.

Two days ago, I wrote here about how the Dems are being ridicuosly oversampled in poll after poll. The question you should be asking yourself is why is the race still so close.

Posted by: dch at October 7, 2008 11:35 AM

no one saw the Willie Horton ads?
They were on EVERY "news" and political show on television for 3 months.
This is how it works: The RNC leaks an accusation about the Dem candidate, Limbaugh and Hannity echo it, Drudge picks it up, and soon even the fake liberals like Matthews, Russert, etc talk about it for weeks. The public hears the talking and figures there must be something to it, or (fake) "liberals" like Matthews, Russert, etc wouldn't be talking about it.

C'mon dch, don't just stand there. Pick up a shovel and help America bury the rotting corpse of Conservatism. The body is starting to smell.

Posted by: Berto at October 7, 2008 1:40 PM

I read an article online yesterday which detailed the workings of private groups headed by billionaires who, over the last few elections, have created quasi-think tank organizations which then went on to run ads in key areas against certain candidates (usually Democrats) very late in the game, normally in the last month of the election cycle. Anyone else know about this? I spent about two minutes on it and had to get back to work. If these guys get their mojo workin', it could spell big trouble for Obama indeed.

Posted by: macsonix at October 7, 2008 1:45 PM

Berto, Hannity and Drudge weren't around in 1988 and Rush was only a month into national syndication. The ads with Horton in them ran only in South Carolina and nobody on the Right ran them anywhere else. If Democrats ran shrieking to CBS/NBC/ABC about them, well, whose fault is that?

Posted by: Crank at October 7, 2008 1:53 PM

Thats right Berto-no one saw the Willie Horton ad. The real Willie Horton ad was played on, either I believe a suburban tv station or cable station in Maryland-once or twice by a PAC. What has metamorphosed, due to the usual media/DNC reinventing of history, over the last 20 years, into the "Willie Horton ad' was a totally different ad that dealt with Dukakis' crime policies. The first person to bring Wille Horton up btw during that 1998 campaign....rightwing zealot Sen. Al Gore during the primary.
BTW-Sean Hannity and Rush were not around in 1988.

When you people figure out the actual reasons Republicans keep winning the White House and why only once in the last 40 years have the Democrats broken 50% of the Presidential vote (Carter 1976 50.5% and that is after Vietnam and Watergate) you will get a truer version of reality. Finally, I love hearing everyone talking about the death of conservatism, if thats true why do the Dems run from the liberal label, hmmmm?

Posted by: dch at October 7, 2008 2:11 PM

At some point, the bad economy becomes a problem for Obama. As long as things are only "bad", he can sit back and blame Republicans for the problems, and he can coast to electoral victory.
If things really get to meltdown stage, which is not entirely out of the realm of possibility, then Obama's lack of experience begins to hurt him.
It is one thing to hand things over to the Democrats if things aren't going well; it's another to hand things over to a rookie when things are in freefall.
Obama is the one who benefits most from the market stabilizing at this point.

Posted by: Tab Vazquez at October 7, 2008 2:31 PM

Well, Dems are not running with a candidate with "no experience", he has experience, and he certainly has intellect. Say what you want about his policies, but Obama is a very smart individual. I don't think anyone thinks of McCain as being particularly sharp, and the same is true of America is left to guess who is really going to be running a McCain White House, and I think they're about done with that kind of White House.

If Obama is so "inexeperienced", why does every poll taken show Obama won the first debate on foreign policy? You guys want it to be so, but dude has game in a big way. And for whomever was wavering on that issue, Obama failed to fall for the rope-a-dope of Hillary selection and Biden is really helping in PA, MI, and elsewhere, and has very high ratings for competence. No one is looking at Obama's camp and thinking he is anything but in control and a man with a plan.

McCain, on the other hand, has been all over the place; an erratic, bumbling, Bob Dole-like campaigner...dissing Letterman? C'mon...that's like first grade politics...never diss the comedian that prints jokes by the yard.

Posted by: AstrosFan at October 7, 2008 5:17 PM

If you Dems are half as smart as you continually (I mean, it never ends) tell us you are, then why is it that you always need government programs to take care of you?

Posted by: RW at October 7, 2008 9:16 PM

C'mon dch. Tell us all about the good that Conservatism has done for the citizens of Main St. USA.
I know Hannity and Drudge weren't around in 1988, but Rush, the other liars, and the (fake) liberals like Russert and Matthews were.

RW, you are confusing Dems with Fortune 500 corporations when you mention the need for government programs to take care of them.
Of course, everyone knows Gramm was talking about Wall St. scions when he mentioned America being a nation of "whiners".

Posted by: Berto at October 8, 2008 10:27 AM

No, Berto, I'm talking about folks like you, wanting tax hikes on people more successful than yourself in order to pay for (a) your retirement; (b) your health care; (c) your job training; (d) your failing schools, etc.

I could go on all day.

Why is it that you're always eligible for the signup sheets for your social programs? A question Ezra Klein refuses to answer, so maybe you can: Why should I pay for your doctor bills?

Tell us all about the good that Conservatism has done for the citizens of Main St. USA.
Liberty is a pretty good start. There's a reason we're not Cuba (yet) and it sure ain't liberalism, which seeks to mimic as much of Castro's regime as possible.

Careful, don't confuse "Republicanism" with "conservatism". Quite different.

Or are you really just seeking a drive-by flame war? The Matthews part (you've heard about the thrill up his leg, right) is quite the red flag.

Posted by: RW at October 8, 2008 11:20 AM

RW, Berto's a socialist. Guys who worked for Tip O'Neill, Jimmy Carter and Pat Moynihan are too right-wing for him.

Posted by: Crank at October 8, 2008 12:10 PM

RW, you could go on all day, but who would really be listening?

You ultra-flame-happy-hardcore-right-wingnut mofos love to:

give all that lip service to "free markets" when you really want the middle class to pay for bullshit like corporate buyouts, golden parachutes (hey, it's legal), and Mr. McNasty's little $300B mortgage renegotiation. You and the rest of these economic geniuses probably think those losses are going to trickle up. What a hoot!

Keep preaching to the converted with that old saw routine. The rest of us are moving on.

Posted by: macsonix at October 8, 2008 12:32 PM
pay for bullshit like corporate buyouts, golden parachutes (hey, it's legal), and Mr. McNasty's little $300B mortgage renegotiation.
Er, actually, I'm not in favor of any of that. But, thanks for creating a position with which you wish to argue against (makes it easier for you to win, I suppose). I abhor much of McCain's approaches.

That often times happens when individual thought is introduced into the mix, by the way. I wonder how shocked you'd be if you ever had an actual discussion with a conservative, instead of getting your views from their opponents (no, don't try to deny....too obvious and wouldn't reflect well on your presentation).

RW, Berto's a socialist.
Ah, thanks. In theory, of course, not in practice. Reminds me of the Rage Against the Machine guys, who preached the workers' party screed and praised Marxist/socialist mantras, then urging you to pick up their latest CD at your nearest retailer.

Something tells me that Berto isn't taking his cashed paycheck home, throwing the money in a pile and letting every member of his family (and his neighbors) take their any REAL socialist would.

C'mon, Berto, fight the power.

Posted by: RW at October 8, 2008 12:49 PM

Talk with a conservative? Please. I live in Houston, Texas, pal. I can't talk in my sleep without a response from a conservative.

Posted by: macsonix at October 8, 2008 2:11 PM

Oh, my apologies. I forgot that Texas was the hotspot for conservatives who love the idea of the federal gov't bailing out corporations and buying overvalued mortgages. [/eyeroll]

I think you realize that you went a tad overboard with your hyperbole.....

Posted by: RW at October 8, 2008 2:55 PM

When in Rome...

Posted by: macsonix at October 8, 2008 5:34 PM

You have me confused with your buddies on Wall St. I'm not a socialist.
I'm a DFH (Dirty F'n Hippie). You know, the kind who was right about Vietnam, Iraq, the abuses caused by allowing spying on American citizens without oversight, etc.
You can always tell us DFHs, we're always proved correct when facts make it into the ledger.

Posted by: Berto at October 9, 2008 12:16 PM

Just to be clear. I'm in no way saying Obama is a DFH, just because he said the US military bombs villages and kills innocent Afghanis and a military investigation supports his assertions.

Posted by: Berto at October 9, 2008 12:37 PM


"You have me confused with your buddies on Wall St. I'm not a socialist."

I'm not exactly sure what you are, Berto. In earlier posts, you talked vaguely about "giving power to the people" and creating something other than a two-party system, without being real specific of what you had in mind.

What I do know is that you are willing to let the economy collapse so that millions of innocent Americans will have to "eat gruel," to use your words.

So what do I call someone who is willing to starve his own countrymen for the sake of some undefined, utopian political philosophy? I'll just call you crazy and irresponsible.

Posted by: MVH at October 9, 2008 7:29 PM

"What I do know is that you are willing to let the economy collapse so that millions of innocent Americans will have to "eat gruel," to use your words."

Are you saying you don't support the "free market" system?

Posted by: Berto at October 10, 2008 8:30 AM

Of course I support the free market system. But I'll support emergency government intervention in order to make sure that a few bad apples don't spoil the bunch.

I certainly won't pray for its downfall in order to make way for . . . uh . . . you still haven't told us what system you want.

Posted by: MVH at October 10, 2008 3:09 PM

So true. I shudder to think we end up with a system where the government condones torture and spies on its citizens, where corporations write the laws, where profits are privatized and losses are socialized, where protesters are rounded up and held without charges, where habeas corpus can be suspended, where we attack sovereign nations to steal their natural resources, and the "few bad apples" who bring down our economy won't spend a minute in jail.
God forbid the greatest nation in the history of the world ends up like that, just because "millions of innocent Americans" were lulled to sleep by the thieves, liars, and media.

Posted by: Berto at October 10, 2008 3:24 PM

Currently, those "sleeping" Americans have jobs, housing and food, which apparently, you are willing to see them lose in a economic meltdown.

I ask you again, what kind of system do you want in place of the current one? Are you a socialist, like Crank says? Or do you wish to clarify what you mean by "power to the people" and moving beyond a "two-party system"?

Posted by: MVH at October 10, 2008 4:07 PM

That means nothing until the actual votes are counted. The mainstream media are working hard with their liberal illuminati alliances to show the race over. If that were the case, we wouldn't need to go out and vote in 10 days.

Posted by: Ms. Know at October 25, 2008 1:20 AM
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