Election 2008: Political Prognostication
The choice between John McCain and Barak Obama could not be more clearly defined along the lines of ideology, health and welfare policy, foreign policy, age, race, and experience. Recent polls have reflected this clarity of choice as they have shown a wide difference that has favored Obama. People are faced with myriad problems, both real and imagined, and both camps have capitalized on fear in an attempt to steer voters to their ticket. Promises are made as charges and counter-charges press the hot-button issues of taxes and national security. McCain has relied heavily on his conservative appeal to the status quo of polar politics, while Obama's campaign has stuck to its message of change and unity. Clearly, the Obama strategy seems to be winning out. According to most of the major polls, if the election were held today the Democrats would sweep the series in a shutout of the executive and the legislative branch. However, polls do not elect the president as was seen in the 1948 Truman victory over Dewey, the inaccuracies of the Ohio exit polls in Kerry's 2004 loss, and the Clinton victory over Obama in the 2008 New Hampshire Democratic primary. While the polls give us some reason to believe that Barak Obama will be the president elect, the secret ballot brings into play the psychology of the thoughtful voter.Obama's substantial lead and apparent looming victory is at risk due to the unreliability of the polling data and the psychology of the American voter that will shift votes to the McCain column on Election Day.
Analyzing the polls from the recent past indicates that Obama is the clear favorite, as well as illuminating specific issues that may have the most significant impact. According to the Newsweek polling data, Obama and McCain had been running statically tied from March through September 10th, with each getting approximately 45 percent plus or minus a 3 percent margin of error (Byran, Barnes, and Gibbs). Obama got a slight post convention bump of 5 percentage points in June, but that advantage dissipated and was tied again by the second week of July. The Washington Post has published similar results and indicates that Obama's lead had narrowed from 12 percent to 7 percent during the week of October 18-25 (Byran, Barnes, and Gibbs). The Gallup poll confirms the current 7 percentage point lead by Obama, while the Pew Research poll of likely voters shows Obama with a 14 percent lead (Byran, Barnes, and Gibbs). An average of 11 leading national polls shows Obama with a 6.7 percent lead (General Election: McCain vs. Obama). Among all leading polls, McCain has not held a lead outside the margin of error since September 11, 2008. In addition, all the polls agree that there are between 6 and 8 percent of the voters that are still undecided, and these voters will be critical to the outcome. This figure has remained relatively constant and could indicate that there could be a last minute shift in the polling data.
As the economy has worsened and the importance of national security has taken second place in the voters' minds, voter confidence in Obama has fuelled his lead in the polls. According to Hayes, "In a New York Times/CBS poll taken in mid-October, 57 percent of respondents cited the economy as their top issue. Only 9 percent cited terrorism, and 7 percent cited the Iraq war". In Ohio, a typical battleground state that has been hit hard in the economic downturn, "voters polled said they trusted Obama more than McCain to make the right decisions about the economy, 50% to 38%" (Hook). Meanwhile, national security and the Iraq war, McCain's strongest areas of expertise, have faded from public importance, and "on the Iraq war, 47 percent want Obama as commander-in-chief, while 45 percent choose McCain" (Newsweek