The recent national polling top-line numbers are bad for Barack Obama. But when you look closer, things are even worse. Two key elements of the electorate on which Obama is banking either aren’t sold on or are becoming wary of The One.
The first problem is those Hillary Clinton voters. No problem, the Obamaphiles said. These Hillary groups are GOP-front organizations, we were told. All the real Democrats will embrace Obama, they assured us. Not yet and not by a long shot. According to the NBC/Wall Street Journal‘s poll, almost 50% of Hillary Clinton’s voters are either supporting McCain or are undecided. That may change at the Convention, but Obama–despite the wishful thinking of his supporters–is a long way from nailing down his base.
The second big problem, as Guy Benson, details is the youth vote. Obama’s success in the primary in large part rested on this slice of the electorate. And because he does so poorly with older voters, he is very dependent on the under-30 set to turn out in large numbers and support him by a large margin. But wait. His lead there is a puny 11 points and he’s dropped 16 points with this group, according to one poll. The level of enthusiasm, according to an earlier ABC/Washington Post poll, had already dropped even more dramatically–lowering the potential turnout of young voters from a staggering 66% to a more normal-looking figure below 50%. As Benson explains:
Obama’s endless parade of flip-flops — from FISA, to public financing, to offshore drilling, to handguns — may play a central role in the mass exodus. Young voters entered the 2008 election cycle desperate to reject and abandon the tired politics of bitter partisanship and cynical calculation. A naive ambition perhaps, but a pervasive desire nonetheless. They initially embraced Obama as someone who appeared to genuinely share that goal. As the weeks rolled on, though, the once-blinding luster of Obama’s “new politics” has been systematically sullied and tarnished. As more young voters begin to perceive Obama as just another politician, his flowery speeches and rhetorical acrobatics are not wearing particularly well. They may even be getting a little lame. . . If the latest round of polling data is any indication, many young people who originally bought what Obama was selling are asking for their money back.
Marc Ambinder has it exactly right:
But think of this development as simply a beachhead growing a few inches taller against a very powerful wave. Eight years of Republicans and President Bush. A Democratic advantage on the economy — an economy which is not improving. A Democratic GOTV advantage. A Democratic enthusiasm advantage. A Democratic down-ballot advantage. And McCain was always, inevitably going to grow stronger as partisanship set in. A segment of Obama’s independent and Democratic vote was an anti-Clinton vote; Obama looked good in comparison to Clinton. Without Clinton, Obama was just a personality. The campaign has struggled to find a way to reset those impressions, and some folks have probably drifted.
McCain has given them something to think about this summer: Obama. And Obama hasn’t returned the favor. He hasn’t defined McCain in a visceral way, yet. He hasn’t demonstrated that he can connect with working class white voters, although voters do find him empathetic enough. He can do both of these at the convention, and there are indications that he’s doing the former in states with advertising.
A smart senior McCain official put it to me a bit differently a few weeks back: “They ignore us; we take them seriously. Like a heart attack.” Now we can see what comes from reading your own press clippings and ignoring the opposition.