Wednesday, 18 June 2008

How should Obama play it?

A really interesting poll appeared in the Washington Post yesterday on the Obama-McCain head-to-head. Two features particularly stood out: (i) Independent support for Obama and McCain is split evenly between the two candidates; (ii) Eight out of ten Democrats support Obama but nine out of ten Republicans support McCain. So there seems to be a challenge for Obama: shore up the base, pitch for the centre-ground or can he pull off both?

Actually, from the detailed poll data there is evidence that Senator Obama is very well placed: leads on the economy (the most significant issue by a 14-point margin), gas prices, age is more significant that race according to these poll findings, levels Iraq War policy (though underlying attitudes seem to be more in his favour), ties leadership, crucifies McCain on change in an election where voters want change and a massive number believe the country is headed in the wrong direction (85% or so.) In fact, if one were to induce Obama's poll rating from the these factors, you would expect a much greater lead than the 6% lead that he has.

So there is something holding back Senator Obama. Something which is not revealed in these polls. It could be the overhang of Hillary support from the primary campaign which he hasn't yet been able to dislodge. Maybe voters just like John McCain despite their ratings of him when its broken down into sub-issues. Maybe they just haven't quite taken to Senator Obama yet. The one area where Senator McCain enjoys a significant lead over Senator Obama is on counter-terrorism. Perhaps, despite misgivings about his economic policy, they just feel a bit safer with John McCain.

Looking at these polling data, Obama may be able to pitch both left and centre by driving home his advantage on economic and gas price policy. This feels like an economy election with the normal caveat of 'events, dear boy, events.' He will have to accept a score draw on foreign policy I suspect (which given where John Kerry was is a monumental achievement if he can pull it off.) On the economy, that is where he can build a real coalition of support. Given it is area of self-confessed weakness for John McCain also, the sun could well be shining on such a strategy.

Post script: I have changed the Electoral College counter to Real Clear Politics data. The www.electoral-vote.com data seemed to be too generous to Senator Obama and I'd rather go with the cautious assessment. Nothing scientific, just a hunch.

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