McCain takes back FL lead, gains nationally and in NC: How significant is this summer tightening?

[Updated with new Indiana poll!] It’s a good thing for Democrats that their convention is just around the corner and that they will soon regain control of the race with Obama’s vice-presidential pick. While none of these polls are particularly alarming - Obama is ahead in both national surveys within the margin of error in Florida and leading outside of it in Pennsylvania - they certainly don’t stop the storyline that McCain has had a strong few weeks:

  • A national poll released by Quinnipiac finds Obama leading 47% to 42% - down from the 9% lead he had last month. That includes 79% of Democrats, versus 83% of Republicans for McCain, and a 6% lead among independents. Obama has a strong lead among women, 53% to 39%. Respondents say they would trust McCain more to deal with Russia - confirming that Obama has work to do on national security.
  • In a second national poll released by the LA Times, Obama is up 45% to 43% (by only 1% when Barr and Nader are included), but he was leading by 12% last month (15% when leaners were included). The poll also finds that 35% “have questions” about Obama’s patriotism. In another sign that McCain’s month of negative ads is working, Obama’s favorability rating has dropped from 59% to 48%! But there are worrisome signs for McCain as well: Obama is more trusted on the economy, 75% think the country is on the wrong track and his supporters are far more enthusiastic.
  • UPDATE: SUSA released the very first poll from Indiana in two months this evening. The previous survey (also taken by SUSA) had Obama up 48% to 47% - a stunning result that had not been confirmed by any other poll. Today, McCain leads 50% to 44% - but considering that we had gotten no confirmation that the race in this very red state was that tight, it would be unfair to consider this SUSA poll as McCain gaining.
  • A month after Obama inched ahead in Florida (polling history) for the first time in Rasmussen polls, John McCain is back in front - but within the margin of error, 46% to 43% (48% to 46% with leaners). Obama might be alone on air, but his favorability rating is very weak (49% versus 48% unfavorable), especially relative to McCain’s very strong numbers (61% to 36%!). Obama needs to improve his share of the Democratic vote (78%).
  • In North Carolina (polling history), McCain also posts some gains in Civitas’s latest poll. Leading by 3% last month, he is now ahead by 6%, 46% to 40%. To the extent that African-Americans only represent 18% of the sample, a bit lower than the 19-20% they represented in 2004, it is not surprising that Obama is trailing.
  • In Pennsylvania (polling history), Susquehanna finds Obama holding on to a lead, 46% to 41% despite getting only 73% of Democrats. The institute’s last poll was taken in May and had Obama leading by 7%. Obama’s numbers among African-Americans are outstanding (98%-0%) but McCain is very strong in the Southwest (up by 18%); that’s a region Hillary Clinton did well in and where McCain is hoping to appeal to white working-class Democrats.
  • Worrisome news for Obama in Minnesota, where SUSA finds him ahead within the margin of error 47% to 45%. SUSA’s previous poll from the state had a 1% race, so it is not technically a tightening - but most polls had found Obama leading by healthier margins up until the past few weeks.
  • In Louisiana, there is no surprise in Rasmussen’s latest poll: McCain leads 55% to 38% (57% to 39% with leaners).

Both the Quinnipiac and LA Times national poll have Obama falling from the double-digit region to the 2-5% leads that most polls have shown him hovering around over the past few weeks. That’s the good news for Obama - he has been pounded by McCain over the past 5 weeks, took a 6-day vacation, and he is now preparing to enter a period in which his financial dominance will be more useful; yet, McCain’s gains are still leaving him short in national surveys. And Obama is confirming his good dispositions in Pennsylvania - a crucial battleground state in which he has led by at least 5% in every July-August poll.

That’s the good news Democrats can take out of this, but there is plenty of things to worry about as well: McCain’s gains in the LA Times poll and the Rasmussen results with leaners are outside the MoE and they seem to be accompanied with a successful redefinition of Obama, as concerns about the Democrat’s patriotism now appear to be definitely part of the political conversation. Furthermore, this is the third straight MN poll to find McCain pulling stunningly close - after Quinnipiac and Rasmussen. Finally, and this is something we have been talking about for a while, McCain is not even on air in Florida and North Carolina while Obama is spending millions in advertising; yet, here are two new polls finding McCain inching ahead there (this is the 5th straight FL poll released in August, and all have shown McCain ahead; Obama led in every FL survey taken in July).

As for Indiana, the release of that SUSA poll is sure to be among the highlights of this week’s polling: Obama has been spending money here but we had no indication of the state of the race. Given that Bush won the state by 20% in 2004, it was difficult to trust that SUSA poll without any further confirmation. While this survey’s result isn’t as good as that from June, it confirms that Indiana will be a battleground state and that Obama is not wasting his money here.

To sum up: on the one hand, Republicans were worried Obama would take a dominant lead over the summer, that did not happen. On the other hand, the Obama campaign believes it has laid the ground to take the lead in the fall; it knows it has a superior ground game and that it will dominate McCain financially, something it has not really tried to do over the summer months - but how much should there be worried that numbers are not moving in their direction in FL and NC?

These are among the last pre-convention polls that will be released. Soon, it will be a whole new ball game, and the VP picks and conventions will set the tone of the fall campaign. The state of the race on September 5th will surely be very different than that of August 24th - but voters’ impression of the candidates during the summer will surely play a large part of the fall dynamics. We will have to wait a few more weeks to know the significance of this summer tightening.

16 Responses to “McCain takes back FL lead, gains nationally and in NC: How significant is this summer tightening?”


  1. 1 mikeel

    I wouldn’t be surprised if McCain is up double-digits by mid-September. Just like in the primaries, Obama’s ads aren’t moving the numbers. A strong ground game won’t work if there isn’t a lot of support behind him.

    His only chance, I think, is to improve among independents. It may be that he’s only getting 80-85% of Democrats.

  2. 2 Jaxx Raxor

    I would be extremely suprised if McCain is up by double digits by mid September. If that happens, then that would be indidcative of an Obama meltdown. Fortunately for Democrats, there is almost no chance that Obama will be behind McCain by double digits unless Obama makes a serious gaffe. And Mikeel, Obama’s supporters are very enthusatistic and does have alot of support. Although McCain may be gaining, nearly all of these voters aren’t motivated enough to go volunteer for him, which is a negative.

    The Minnesota numbers in particular are a bit troubling, but to me it seems that this tightening is coming to late. Unless several polls after the convention show McCain with (even an insignifcant) a lead in Minnesota, McCain probably won’t bother to spend his limited post-Convention funds in Minnesota; not at the expense of Michigan, in which polls have shown is more winnable.

  3. 3 Mike

    Mikeel - please try and not be too partisan. Neither candidate will win by double digits. America is too finely balanced for that to happen - look back and it is very rare for a 55-45 or greater victory.

    Obama behind by 6% in NC is still a vast improvement over 2004 and FL is only a 2% game, again much less than 2004 and Obama did not campaign in the primaries here so I think his advertising there has made it tight. It will force McCain to spend in FL. Remember Obama does not need FL. McCain has to win FL.

    Also Obama is leading with Independents even after all these attacks. I think McCain being resurgent now will actually help Obama because it will force his campaign to raise its game and it will increase expectations on McCain for his debate performance. Sometimes having low expectations work (see Bush!)

  4. 4 Guy

    I remember the CW was that PA would be the weakest Dem state for Obama what with it being blue collar and supporting Hillary. Seems pretty safe to me now.
    Lets see what happens in the next frew weeks, polls change quickly.

  5. 5 miked

    Obama keeps running to the far right to try to get people that will never vote for him and turning off more & more on the left. No wonder Mcsame is climbing up. 20-30%? will never vote Obama cause he’s “black” though they’ll say he’s a muslim, not ready, unpatriotic, etc. Will be very close come Nov.

  6. 6 Guy

    Miked I agree 20-30% would never vote for Obama but then I think 30% of the population at least would never vote Democratic just as 30% would never vote for the GOP. Each party has a solid base of support - hence no successful third parties.

    Obama has not run to the far right by any stretch of the imagination. He may have reiterated some centric ideas like faith based initiatives etc but that doesn`t make him a right wing nut.

  7. 7 Jim W

    Obama is now getting back to the game. He was tired, and he needed some R&R for the home stretch. He was in NC yesterday, and people I’ve talked to who saw him mentioned that he looks reenergized. The toll of the campaign could have gotten to him.

    I expected that McCain would catch up with Obama. I don’t believe it will last once the conventions are over.

  8. 8 bmc

    Oh, pardon me, but he is only 47, and McCain is 71. But, Obama was “tired” from the “toll of the campaign?” Honestly, that’s rich. McCain didn’t feel the need to take a vacation for a week. Is Obama/Soetoro really up to being president, if he can’t handle the “toll of the campaign” for one year? The President NEVER gets to take a real vacation, you know.

    The problem with Obama is that people don’t trust him on the right, and people no longer trust him on the left, either. It’s nobody’s fault but his own. He tries not to take a stand on anything, proving only that he has no moral convictions and no policy convictions. His only conviction is that he is the best thing since sliced bread, and that anyone who doesn’t bow down to his annointed-ness will be subject to dismissal. I’m a Democrat. But, I’m not voting for Barry Soetoro or Barack Obama, or whatever his name is this week. He is hiding behind a facade, refusing to release his birth certificate, blocking access to the Annenburg Foundation/Woods Fund records, and he purposefully destroyed his Illinois Senate files. There are questions about what citizenship he has held during his lifetime; he refuses to answer those questions. The American people deserve better. I’m either voting for an independent candidate, or I’m voting for John McCain. The DNC failed my party.

  9. 9 Mike

    bmc - I really doubt you are a democrat, because you should pull crap like Obama’s birth certificate etc. What a load of s**t. Focus on issues, like healthcare, taxes etc. Not Fox News manufactured issues like lapel pins, birth certificates etc.
    McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone - not part of the US, can he run ???? McCain committed adultery many times shoudl we discuss that???? McCain has 6 houes, $100 million in the bank, should we mention that???? NO but if GOP’ers want to bring up crap about Obama then we can bring plenty up about McCain.

    Also Bush has had plenty of holidays - cutting brush at his “ranch”, going to the olympics and playing around with the female beach volleyball team.

  10. 10 Jim W

    bmc, why all the anomosity? I didn’t mention anything about McCain, only Obama. There are more than one variable in regards to stamina. In addition, Obama’s primary season didn’t end until 3 months after McCain’s.

    Instead of insulting, maybe you should be willing to listen to a different opinion.

  11. 11 Guy

    McCain holds a town hall in Las Cruces, NM before leaving for his vacation in Sedona, AZ.
    Taken from msnbc - so EVEN McCain has a holiday!!

  12. 12 Anonymous

    bmc,

    Watch out, the voices are coming for you.

  13. 13 bmc

    What does it matter whether I’m a Democrat or not? If that’s your argument, you have a big problem. Obama can’t win if he can’t win over people who are not Democrats; he needs a great number of Independents and Republicans to win. Just because you don’t like to hear the facts, doesn’t make those facts any less relevant. The fact remains: Barack Obama refuses to answer questions about his life, including providing records that should be public–like his health records, his birth certificate, and his former citizenship in other countries. At the same time, he is pandering to faith-based voters, undermining the Constitution’s 4th amendment, and supporting privatizing our elections. I’ve worked long years for the Democratic party, canvassing, phone-banking and running party headquarters in Florida, where I was also a Precinct Chair in my district. Not to mention giving great sums of money to both the DNC and to previous Democratic presidential nominees. I don’t have to prove my party bona-fides to retain my ability to think independently or engage my brain in its critical thinking tasks. Obama doesn’t get the right to hope Americans won’t ask questions about his life or his history; and when questions are raised, Americans, including Democrats, deserve answers. Obama’s history doesn’t speak well of his character or his judgment. He’s hoping you won’t notice. But, I notice, and judging by the polls, other people notice too. Trying to swat away the reality by attacking me won’t help you in November.

    So, sure, focus on issues that matter: Healthcare for instance. Obama isn’t for universal healthcare. He’s for a privatized system of healthcare, which keeps costs high because everyone is not mandated to pay into the system. His FISA vote alone should be a serious warning to you. He rejected public financing of elections. He weakened legislation for Exelon, which put consumers at risk of nuclear leaching into water supplies in Illinois. He voted for Bush’s pet agenda in the Class Action Fairness Act, which gave even more power to corporations to deny victims just compensation. His record of mendacity is becoming legendary, and his pandering to evangelicals is ludicrous. He is still trying to imply that he actually VOTED on the Iraq War. Now, he has to take a vacation because he’s “tired” from the “toll of the campaign?”

  14. 14 Guy

    bmc - it doesn`t matter if you are a Dem or not but Obama doesn`t need many Reps or Independents (although ahead of McCain with this group) because more Americans identify as Democratic than Republican.

    Everyone takes a vacation, so whats the big deal. Doing it during summer and spending time with his wife and two children (I assume you accept they are his children and that he isn`t gay - there is a smear out that he is gay, of course you wouldn`t agree with that!) is a good thing.
    Hillary and Obama had very similar healthcare plans - the main difference was on mandates for adults. No-one outside Kucich and Gravel advocated a single payer (i.e UK) system. So Obama isn`t uniquely bad on this issue and we all saw how healthcare reform worked in 1994!
    His health records are out there - he is obviously a very fit person. Whats the issue??

    I like to hear facts, I don`t like false smears obscuring the larger picture of this election.

  15. 15 Guy

    bmc - it doesn’t matter if you are a Dem or not but Obama doesn’t need many Reps or Independents (although ahead of McCain with this group) because more Americans identify as Democratic than Republican.

    Everyone takes a vacation, so whats the big deal. Doing it during summer and spending time with his wife and two children (I assume you accept they are his children and that he isn’t gay - there is a smear out that he is gay, of course you wouldn’t agree with that!) is a good thing.
    Hillary and Obama had very similar healthcare plans - the main difference was on mandates for adults. No-one outside Kucich and Gravel advocated a single payer (i.e UK) system. So Obama isn`t uniquely bad on this issue and we all saw how healthcare reform worked in 1994!
    His health records are out there - he is obviously a very fit person. Whats the issue??

    I like to hear and discuss facts. I don’t like false smears obscuring the larger picture of this election.

  16. 16 Jim W

    bmc,

    I’m not following you. Obama did, in fact, release his health records. The records total 8 pages, as opposed to the novels that exist for McCain.

    If you want to discuss Obama’s positions, then let’s have that discussion. If you want to sensationalize about Obama’s “character”, you can probably find several conservative blogs on the subject.

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