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Posted by on Sep 12, 2008 in Politics | 14 comments

Palin and the Polls

The CW at the moment is that McCain is surging in the polls. (And, indeed, he is ahead of Obama nationally, up by 2.8 points in the RCP Average.) But what are the polls really saying? Specifically, what are the state-by-state polls saying? Here’s the indispensable Nate Silver with yesterday’s numbers:

[T]he popular vote and the Electoral College are significantly diverging. Although the Republicans seem to be polling stronger than they were in the pre-convention period almost everywhere, the differences are much larger in traditionally red states, particularly in the South and the rural West (Colorado and Nevada, by the way, are not rural states). Basically, I think the Republicans are getting the evangelical vote, and a significant fraction of the Perot vote.

Unfortunately, these are not particularly useful votes for them to have in terms of the electoral math.


McCain’s gain in our popular vote projection has been 2.1 points. Note, however, that his gains have been less than that in essentially all of the most important swing states, including Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Colorado, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Only Virginia is on the other side of the line, and then only barely so.

As a result of all this, the Electoral College remains too close to call, even though McCain has a 1-2 point advantage in the popular vote.

In other words, Palin has provided a huge boost for McCain, just not as much of a boost as the CW suggests. While she’s helping him pull further ahead in the states he should be win anyway, many of the key swing states remain close.

The question is, has McCain-Palin peaked? They seem to have unified the party and consolidated its support, particularly among conservatives, and especially the social conservatives of the religious right, many of whom were suspicious of, if not downright hostile towards, McCain prior to the Palin pick. They are evidently going after centrist independents with their (substance-free and largely insincere) calls for change and reform, but it’s unlikely they’ll be able to win many over given their extremist platform and warm embrace of the religious right, which is the very purpose of Palin’s presence on the ticket. (She’s one of them. They now like McCain.) Indeed, while Palin is undeniably popular at the moment, a media celebrity, she is popular mainly among conservatives in the Republican base. Centrist independents have not liked what they have seen and heard from her.

Another question is, can Obama rebound? I addressed that question on Tuesday. Quick answer: Yes, he can, but he’ll need to fight for it.

Both the narrative and the momentum have been on McCain’s side pretty much since the Palin announcement the day after Obama’s speech at Invesco, and it has been tough for Obama-Biden to break through in any meaningful way. But, despite all that, and despite McCain’s surge into the lead, the polls show a much more nuanced picture of the race than the CW would lead us to believe.

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