Tuesday, September 09, 2008

There Really Are Two Americas

I was checking out the aggregate national poll averages at RealClearPolitics when two editorials linked below the statistics caught my attention. The titles of the two essays couldn't have been more directly opposed. The titles are "McPalin rattles Team Obama" and "Obama is Still in the Driver's Seat". Fascinating. Here are a few excerpts from the pro-McCain editorial by Jonah Goldberg.
The Real Clear Politics average of national polls since Friday shows McCain ahead by a razor-thin (and statistically meaningless) 2.9 percentage points. The USA Today-Gallup poll has McCain leading by a whopping 10 points among likely voters (and four points among registered voters), though that's almost surely an overstatement.

The McCain-Palin convention bounce also all but closed the ticket's gender gap. According to Rasmussen, Obama had a 14-point lead among women; now it's three. According to the latest ABC/Washington Post poll, McCain now has a 12-point lead among white women.

Still, there's a lot of pressure on Sarah Barracuda. Called up from the political minors, she could yet wilt under the hot lights. But that's looking less and less likely.
The first part of essay deals with poll results, with an emphasis on Sarah Palin. That is not surprising. The polls have brought good news to the Republicans as of late so it is to be expected that a conservative author would stress them. Goldberg also writes:
The most unsportsmanlike conduct in the days to come will be the search for Palin gaffes, of which there undoubtedly will be many. The media will call fouls on her that they never call on the other candidates. Over the last week, Obama misspoke and referred to his "Muslim faith" on ABC's "This Week" and told a rally how excited he was to be in "New Pennsylvania." Perhaps that's one of the 57 states he once claimed to campaign in?

And let's not forget Biden, whose gaffes are the unavoidable byproduct of his limitless gasbaggery. Biden could shout on "Meet the Press," "Get these squirrels off of me!" and the collective response would be, "There goes Joe again." But if Palin flubs the name of the deputy agriculture minister of Kyrgyzstan, the media will blow their whistles saying she's unprepared for the job.
So he brings up media bias. This is another hot topic and data suggest a majority of people see it as a major issue during this campaign.

Now, let's turn to the pro-Obama editorial by Douglas Schoen. First, I'll note the title changed from when RealClearPolitics picked up the piece. It is now "For now, Barack Obama's the man in the middle, not John McCain." Here are some selections from this essay.
In an election that is increasingly about who can win over moderates, Obama is still the candidate to beat. And as both candidates make their cases to voters in the coming weeks, Obama's strategy of targeting the middle is likely to prove more effective than the McCain camp's courtship of the conservative base.

These opposing strategies have become apparent recently. Witness the single biggest decision that Obama has made thus far: choosing Joe Biden as his running mate. The pick helped squelch concerns about Obama's perceived lack of experience and foreign policy savvy. More importantly, it signaled to moderates that when it matters, Obama makes sensible, pragmatic choices.
This election, as with almost all elections in the modern era, is indeed about attracting the votes of moderates and independents. So Schoen is correct to highlight that point. He continues:
Obama's appeal to independent voters was only helped by McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. The news was met with great fanfare by McCain's conservative base, but left many independent voters rather disappointed, if not a bit perplexed. It was a pick to excite the base - almost 90% of whom view Palin favorably, according to a recent Washington Post/USA Today poll - in a year where Democrats are much more popular than Republicans.

If McCain was determined to shake up the race with a risky pick, he would have been much better served by Joe Lieberman. A McCain-Lieberman ticket would have nullified any claim Obama had to nonpartisan pragmatism, while also showing off McCain's ability to make bold decisions when the stakes are high.

Choosing Palin, on the other hand, was interpreted by many as a political ploy demonstrating that McCain is more than willing to pander to his base, even if it means putting the security of the nation in jeopardy by anointing a relatively inexperienced politician as his possible successor.
At this point, symmetry would dictate I say something positive about the last excerpt. I find that I cannot.

A Lieberman choice would have been disastrous. The conservative Republican base was already unenthusiastic about McCain because he was "the Maverick" and I don't use that label in a positive sense. He had turned his back to the Republican base on a number of issues and many were unable to forgive him for it. Picking a Democrat as his VP would have been the last straw.

Schoen also says that the Palin pick left independents perplexed and disappointed. Recent polling data from Gallup suggests the opposite:

A 52%-37% advantage among independents for McCain is so large I question the accuracy of the Gallup data. But to suggest it is so wrong that the advantage is actually in the other direction is beyond questionable. It is one thing to hope or believe in how the Palin choice played with independents. But I'm looking for evidence, not hopes and dreams.

I think it is clear that both authors clearly believe what they are saying. As much as I try to consider both viewpoints equally, I can't help but be drawn toward the arguments of Goldberg. To convince me that Obama is a centrist, I need to know who is to his left. Just saying it can't convince me. But then I am biased to begin with so maybe that is an unfair expectation.

Regardless of how I feel of course, in the next two months we will find out who was right--Goldberg or Schoen. I would be fascinated to see their reaction no matter who ends up winning in November.

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