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Posted by on Jul 16, 2008 in Politics | 11 comments

Obama Versus McCain: Will The Most Optimistic Candidate Win?


In yet another poll in the never-ending daily Hometown Buffet of polls, a new ABC-Washington Post poll finds Democrat Senator Barack Obama 8 points ahead of Republican Senator John McCain in the race for the White House. But is there an underlying issue: will the most optimistic candidate win?

First, the poll:

Sen. Barack Obama holds his biggest advantage of the presidential campaign as the candidate best prepared to fix the nation’s ailing economy, but lingering concerns about his readiness to handle international crises are keeping the race competitive, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Overall, the Democrat has a lead of 50 percent to 42 percent over Republican Sen. John McCain among registered voters nationwide, lifted by a big edge among women, and he has also regained an edge among political independents. But it is Obama’s 19-point lead on the economy that has become a particularly steep challenge for McCain.

A Zogby Reuters poll we noted earlier had almost the same results in the overall polling, but didn’t show Obama being ahead by whopping margins on the economic issue.

But is there an underlying issue in campaigns? Is the winner the one that voters perceive is not only best suited to handle the job, but the one voters feel who is more hopeful and less doom-and-gloom? NBC’s Political Director Chuck Todd notes a couple of things about the ABC/Washington Post poll:

One, it appears that a bigger turnout benefits Obama. While the Illinois senator has an eight-point lead among registered voters, his edge is much smaller when you reduce the race to likely voters (49%-46%). (And right now, pollsters will tell you that with older voters leaning McCain these days, any likely voter model is going to favor McCain for now. If Obama moves younger voters as well as many observers assume come October, the likely voter numbers could change). In this poll, when you expand it to include all adults, Obama’s lead is 12 points (51%-39%).

And two, 79% in the poll believe that Obama is an optimist versus 54% who say that about McCain. How many times has the more pessimistic candidate won a presidential election?

And, it’s true: think about Presidential elections. In most cases, the more optimistic candidate won. Obama has been talking about hope and change.

But it may not be as simple as it appears at first glance.

One Obama problem that could offset perceptions that he is the more optimistic of the two candidates is that he and his supporters rightfully or wrongfully are getting the reputation of being a bit thin-skinned or humorless, although there is no danger that Obama will morph into someone as humorless as Ralph Nader (who is only hilarious when he asserts there is no difference between the two main political parties). It’s not just the fuss over the New Yorker magazine cover, which has been widely condemned by some media types and political scientists as well as by Democrats and Obama fans.

Maureen Dowd notes in her most recent column:

Certainly, as the potential first black president, and as a contender with tender experience, Obama must feel under strain to be serious.

But he does not want the “take” on him to become that he’s so tightly wrapped, overcalculated and circumspect that he can’t even allow anyone to make jokes about him, and that his supporters are so evangelical and eager for a champion to rescue America that their response to any razzing is a sanctimonious: Don’t mess with our messiah!

If Obama keeps being stingy with his quips and smiles, and if the dominant perception of him is that you can’t make jokes about him, it might infect his campaign with an airless quality. His humorlessness could spark humor.

Campaign 2008 could hinge on not only who has the best image as the candidate independent and strong enough to lead the U.S. out the mess created by 8 years of George Bush style Republicanism, and who’s the most optimistic candidate — but on who is the most insufferable candidate.

As time goes on, the polling results on that issue may be closer than overall polling results….

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