Gallup has an interesting new poll out that asks people who they least want to see elected President and, in a move rarely made by pollsters, why:
When Americans are asked which of the leading candidates left in the race for president they least want to see elected president this year, 40% name John McCain, 36% Hillary Clinton, and 20% Barack Obama.
McCain's lead isn't surprising, given that Republicans split their choices between Clinton and Obama. It is somewhat interesting that Clinton still leads Obama in this category among Republicans, but really, could 20 years of national attacks on Hillary Clinton ever be surpassed by a few months of vicious, national attacks on Obama? For my money, it is the follow-up "why" question for the poll that is really worth a look, since it provides insight into which media narratives are sticking, and which ones are not:
A follow-up question asking respondents for the reasons they least want to see their named candidate elected finds the overwhelming criticism of Obama is his lack of experience. The main rationale for spurning a Clinton presidency is the perception that she is untrustworthy, while the knocks against McCain are threefold: his associations with the Iraq war, with President George W. Bush, and with the Republican Party.
Looking further into the details, it appears that the Muslim smear against Obama is still just as salient than the Rev. Wright stuff. In a multiple response, open-ended follow-up question, 12% of those who said they would least want to see Obama become President listed "Muslim" as a rationale, while 8% listed his religious affiliation and 5% said that he was a racist. Obviously, anyone who thinks that Obama is a Muslim, even after the Rev. Wright story, is both as dumb as rocks and was never going to vote for a Democrat anyway. Further, three times as many people list Obama's "inexperience" (39%) as the major flaw they find in him as list the two potentially Wright connected reasons combined (8% and 5%). And as far as inexperience goes, I don't think that is a big negative, given that it is the line Clinton has more or less ineffectively used against Obama in the primary, and since Americans are hungry for change.
Obama appears to have done an excellent job weathering the Rev. Wright storm, even though it was the sort of attack that would have mortally wounded some other candidates. That he was able to turn the story around with a dramatic speech and make it about a new era of race relations in America is as strong an indication of his ability to handle Republican general election attacks as one will ever get from a candidate in a primary. Obama just faced the sort of attack he will face in the general election campaign, and he weathered it brilliantly. In that sense, the story was actually useful for Obama and Democratic primary voters, since it demonstrated that Obama met an important threshold for a Democratic presidential nominee: the ability to stand up to the Republican Noise Machine. Now, Hillary Clinton isn't the only candidate who can make that claim.
The narratives on McCain are also revealing. McCain is disliked because he is a republican, because he is close with Bush, and because of his views on Iraq. While the main punchline on McCain these days is his age, only 7% of those opposed to McCain listed his age as the main reason. It is essential that the punchline be changed to his views on Iraq and general desire to continue Bush policy. Instead of being portrayed as old, McCain needs to be portrayed as psychotic--the crazy old relative who wants to bomb everything and let God sort 'em out. Instead of being portrayed as a reformer, McCain needs to be portrayed as more Bush during an election when 70% of voters want something new.
The "old" narrative against McCain is insufficient: we need to turn him into a Bush-loving, bomb-Iran, Iraq fo-ev-ah version of Grandpa Simpson. While I love the "Iraq is hurting the economy" line, when it comes to branding McCain, a psychotic Abe Simpson seems to be the way to go.