Dan Balz, in his blog "The Trail" at The Washington Post, states a reality that we cats are certain is at the root of whatever skittish feelings Democrats may have about the 2008 Presidential election:
"The McCain campaign can point to national polls that show the race with Obama is still close. Most polls have the margin in single digits."
Surely, the political junkies say, with the economy so bad and with more than 80 percent of respondents telling pollsters that the U.S. is "on the wrong track," Senator Obama should be leading by 20 to 25 points — right? After all, that's what we heard Pat Buchanan ask on MSNBC this morning.
Well, wrong. Like so much of the other conventional assumptions about the 2008 election, this one should be turned right on its head.
Here are some reasons why Senator Obama is "only" leading Senator McCain in the single digits:
- Senator McCain has done an okay job, so far, of distancing himself from the White House. Look for this to change come Republican Convention time. (What are they going to do, lock Bush and Cheney in the closet? Banish the Republican brand? We think not.)
- At this point, most people are not necessarily expressing preferences based on issues but, rather, on image. And Senator McCain has been The Anointed One for two years — except for his little swoon in the summer of 2007. Meanwhile, Senator Obama had to fight a long primary duel with Senator Clinton.
- Senator Obama is up by 60 to 40 points in many of the base Democratic states. But in national polls, the overwhelming GOP preference in hard-core red states — in the South, plus places like Oklahoma and Utah — drags Senator Obama's overall number down to "just" 12.
- We have to pay attention to what pollsters are asking. For example, the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll had Senator Obama's winning margin at 12 in a straight-ahead match-up. But with Ralph Nader and Bob Barr added to the equation, the Obama margin matched the Newsweek margin of 15 points.
- What is the sample that pollsters are taking from? Are they over-sampling older, Christian, white voters, based on voter turnout in 2004 — even though it looks like many of those voters may stay home this year? Conversely, are they under-sampling young people — particularly those who do not own a single, land-line phone number and, therefore, can't even be polled?
Finally, make no mistake: The fact that Senator McCain consistently comes in second in every poll — with margins ranging from five to 15 points — has an effect. It depresses enthusiasm for him among donors, volunteers and ordinary voters.
So, take heart from all this, Democrats. Keep vigilant, and keep your shoulders to the wheel. But be confident — just like Senator Obama. (As he told Rolling Stone, "We're going to get this done.")