Monday, July 28, 2008
Obamessiah: We hardly Know Ya
Why is Obama not improving in the polls?
By Adam Nagourney
Monday, July 28, 2008
WASHINGTON: It is a question that has hovered over Senator Barack Obama even as he has passed milestone after milestone in his race for the White House: Why is he not doing better?
It shadowed him as he struggled against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in many states through the primaries - results that sometimes stood at odds with the huge, enthusiastic crowds that turned out to see him. It was there in the exit polls that suggested that many Democrats were uncomfortable with Obama, putting an asterisk next to some of his biggest primary victories.
And it is back again as he returns from an overseas trip that even Republicans have described as politically triumphant. In this case, the question is why, given how sour Americans feel about President George W. Bush and the Republican Party, about the Iraq war and the ailing economy that Bush will leave to his successor and about the perception that Obama is running such a better campaign than Senator John McCain, the senator from Illinois is not doing even better in national opinion polls
Most polls show Obama with a lead of 6 or 7 points over McCain nationally, and he rarely breaks the 50 percent mark. Those are statistics that have given Republicans, who are not exactly feeling joyful these days, a line to grab onto and has fed some underlying anxiety among some Democrats.
[Polls out on late Monday show McCain ahead, although these polls were taken up until Obama touched down in the US.]
"They've known John McCain for years," said Bill McInturff, a pollster for McCain. "But people say in focus groups, 'Who the heck is Barack Obama? Had you heard of him before six months ago?'
"And he's 46 years old. He's somebody nobody knows about."
[We have heard more about him - for the last year Obama has been running for the presidency - where do people get off saying we don't know him. If we knew him any less, he'd be our insurance salesman.]
McCain is "running ahead of where he should be based on the environment," McInturff said.
Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster, said the statistics should serve as a reminder of the particular obstacles that Obama faces.
"Here's a 46-year-old African-American with a narrative that is very unusual and that few other Americans can relate to," he said. "Add to the fact that he has had four years in the United States Senate and very little international experience. That's a large leap for the American public to make."
Beyond that, Obama faces an opponent in McCain with a history of appealing to independent voters and defying his party on occasion. McCain's advocates argued during the primaries that he was the strongest candidate the party had in a general election contest for just these reasons.
"I believe had Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney been our nominee, they'd be 10 or 12 points behind right now, they'd be much closer to the generic vote," McInturff said.
Yet for all that, is Obama really struggling? Are these summer polls truly evidence of underperforming or fundamental weaknesses in his campaign?
The truth of the matter is, given the history in open presidential elections over the past 50-years - not to mention the recent polarization that has marked politics in the United States - a seven-point victory by Obama, or by McCain, in November would have to be considered substantial in a contest where there is no incumbent on the ballot.
"If you look at this historically, presidential elections are close," said David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager.
In the elections of 2000, 1968 and 1960, with no incumbent president on the ballot, the two candidates were separated by less than a percentage point. George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in 1988 by seven points, and suffice it to say that Obama is no Dukakis. Bill Clinton defeated Bush four years later by six points, and that was in a three-way election with H. Ross Perot.
Some analysts said that Obama could be like Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan was up against an unpopular incumbent, President Jimmy Carter, who for all his weaknesses was a known quantity. Only after Reagan convinced voters that he was credible as a president did the polls break in his direction.
Even Obama's advisers say they are uneasy at his difficulty at breaking the 50 percent barrier, a reminder - in poll after poll - that there are a lot of Americans who are not ready to cast their lot with him and may never be.
Yet in a multi-candidate race, as this one is - though Bob Barr and Ralph Nader so far are having minimal effect - victory can be claimed with less than 50 percent of the vote. Other than Bush in 1988 and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, presidents have been routinely strolling into the Oval Office without a majority of the vote - or barely: Reagan drew just under 51 percent in his three-way race with Carter.
And finally, this is July. There are two conventions and three debates to go; many Americans will not even begin really paying attention to this election until early September.
Voters may be holding back because they have all kinds of apprehensions about Obama. Or they might just not be ready to make a decision quite this early.
[It is this last sentence or two that state the issue more correctly. It isn't that we don't know him. I have heard too much from him for over a year. Rather, we have all kinds of apprehensions about him. Four years in the senate - not exactly phrased correctly. He won, served a year, then began running for the presidency and was rarely around to vote or get involved. He is working on his 3rd year, not 4th, although the individual above who stated four years is trying to squeeze in a couple more years of experience. That person (Peter hart) understands that voters have an issue with someone who has less federal experience than their mailman running the country. ]
THAT is the single issue, plus Obama demonstrates everytime he speaks that he is naive and would be quite dangerous as president.