Yesterday, Matt wrote about how Obama's slow, downward trend began around the same time that he began tack to the right a bit. That is roughly the same thesis I posted last month, in my article "Timeline Of The Moving To The Center Meme." This afternoon, I don't exactly want to challenge that meme, but instead to explore some other, more structural possibilities than the current messaging theories we have used to date.
Specifically, my thesis is that mid-June was sort of a stolen season--or a wake--that provided a temporary, inflated lead for Obama. This was due to a variety of structural factors in media coverage and the end of the nomination campaign. As I explain in the extended entry, we shouldn't be surprised that Obama's lead has dropped over the last two months. As the memory of the nomination campaign faded, the number of Democrats was always going to decline, the amount of attention paid to McCain was always going to increase.
More in the extended entry.
|Consider the following:
- Fewer Democrats than in June: According to Rasmussen's monthly tracking, the number of Democrats in the electorate has dropped by 2.5% since the start of June. That change is eerily similar to Obama 2.0-2.5% national net drop against McCain since mid-June.
- Fewer people paying attention to the campaign: According to Pew, the number of people paying close attention to the presidential campaign has dropped since the start of July. In four of the five weeks measured since the start of July, the number of people closely following the campaign has averaged about 63%, down from over 70% during the first five months of the year. Lowered attention to the campaign could be disproportionately affecting the supporters of one candidate or the other, thus causing a change in most likely voter screens.
- Increased Visibility for McCain: While Obama still leads in paid media, free media, and voter contacts, his proportional lead over McCain has dropped considerably since the end of the Democratic primary campaign. According to Pew, about seven times as many people report hearing more about Obama since the end of the primary campaign than hearing about McCain. Before June 13th, Obama's advantage was about 15-1 or greater. Also, while Obama had run TV ads in all 50 states before June 3rd, McCain hadn't run many ads at all since Super Tuesday. In other words, while Obama still leads in all visibility categories, before June 3rd his lead was uncontested.
Combining all three of these structural changes leads to an obvious hypothesis: the Democratic nomination campaign was good for Obama. It increased the number of Democrats, kept all focus away from anything McCain said, while still engaging a higher number of people than the current campaign. The one problem with this thesis is that Obama was either tied with, or losing to, McCain from mid-March through early June. Basically everyone confirms this, from 538 to Pollster to mindgeek. It was only when the nomination campaign ended that Obama shot out to a statistically significant, even substantial, lead over McCain.
The key, I think, is that being in the nomination campaign was not very good for Obama, but winning the nomination campaign was very good for him, albeit temporarily. The two or three weeks after the nomination campaign, which was also the time when he enjoyed his largest lead, were a sort of post-primary bubble that was almost bound to burst. At the start of June, no one had heard from McCain for months, but that was about to change. Also, the number of Democrats was at a generational high, but that was largely due to the intense national focus on Clinton vs. Obama, and thus also prone to disappear. Further, it was inevitable that attention paid to the campaign would drop between Clinton's withdrawal and the conventions, which is probably hurting Democrats in likely voter screens.
Obama wasn't ahead of McCain before June, and the temporary, structural events that led to his June lead have worn off. So, mid-June was sort of a stolen season--or a wake--that provided a temporarily inflated lead for Obama. the bad campaign messaging hasn't helped, but it also isn't solely responsible. It is true that Democrats should be crushing Republicans this year, but Republicans nominated easily their most electable candidate, while we are banking on a "historic" candidate who has never be in a competitive general election. We should expect a close campaign between McCain and Obama, no matter the Democratic advantages this year. I don't know if Clinton would have been any better, and I don't really care. This is the matchup we ended up with, and it is the only reality we have to work with.