Our previous bounce watch came in the days following Barack Obama’s final victory against Hillary Clinton, and Clinton’s concession speech. That week, Obama inched narrowly ahead of John McCain and has maintained his slight lead ever since, as McCain has not led in a single national poll in that period. Yet, the GOP was clearly worried that Obama could jump to a double-digit lead, and that did not happen. Now, we are on to a second bounce watch: Will Obama benefit from the wall-to-wall coverage of his international trip?
A few days ago, I argued that the long-term impact of this trip is likely to be under-the-surface changes in voters’ perception of the Democratic candidate - shifts that might not immediately be obvious to polls. Today, the Gallup tracking poll shows enough movement to warrant our attention:
- In the past three days, Obama has moved from a 2% lead to a 6%, then 7% and then 9% lead. In today’s release, Obama is ahead 49% to 40%.
I do not report the results of the tracking polls every day, but a 7% swing in three days is a statistically significant swing that gives Obama his largest lead in the history of Gallup’s tracking polls (since March). Obama falls just short of the double-digit barrier, but the poll’s timing - the first Gallup tracking released after Obama’s return to the United leaves little doubt that the past few days have generated enough positive coverage for Obama to see him bounce upward. However, the Rasmussen tracking poll finds the race remaining stable today:
- Obama leads 49% to 44% with leaners, 46% to 41% without. His favorability rating (56%) is comparable to McCain’s (55%). Obama had inched upwards five days in a row but he enjoyed a 6% lead two days ago. Unlike in Gallup, Obama did not widen his advantage in Rasmussen as his trip concluded.
Beyond the size of the bounce, the question is whether or not the bounce will last. As media coverage of Obama’s week abroad is now ceasing, what will voters remember, and did this trip matter enough to shift the race towards Obama all by itself? After all, with the candidates’ vice-presidential picks probably coming up in the next 10 days, the political conversation will soon shift to a completely different topic. And as McCain is dialing up his attacks on Obama’s national security credentials, we will soon see how solid Obama’s armor is on this issue.
Meanwhile, two state polls were released this week-end - though neither is from a battleground state:
- In California, Rasmussen finds Obama leading 50% to 38%, 52% to 42% with leaners. That is actually quite a gain for McCain who trailed 58% to 30% last month. Previous Rasmussen results showed a result more in line with this week’s. Obama’s favorability rating is also a bit superior - 60% to 54%.
- In South Carolina, Research 2000 shows McCain ahead 53% to 40%. Obama only gets 15% of the white vote while McCain gets 4% of the black vote (31% of the sample) - as great a racial polarization as we have seen in Southern polls.
While some Democrats are talking about picking-up Georgia and Mississippi, South Carolina is mentioned even more rarely and with good reason: The share of the black vote is lower than Mississippi’s, but the white vote seems to be as locked for Republicans than in Mississippi (in 2004, Kerry’s share of the white vote was slightly better here, 22% versus… 14% in Mississippi), an impossible equation for a national Democrat to resolve. Note, however, that the most recent SC poll, released by PPP two weeks ago, had McCain leading by only 6%.
As for California, McCain enjoyed a big swing in his favor here, but remains distanced in a state that would cost so much to invest any effort in that McCain would be unable to contest it even if he wanted to. Unless McCain gets a national landslide, California is off-limits for him. However, the margin of Obama’s victory in the Golden State will be key to determining the totals of the national popular vote. If Obama builds up a huge win in California, it might not help him in the electoral college but it will tremendously boost up his numbers
in the symbolic popular vote.