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Obama on course for a comfortable victory

October 24, 2008

Obama leads by 7.22

My new projections are (my methodology is here):

Barack Obama 51.11
John McCain 43.89

McCain’s punch on taxes has clearly failed to land. It is probably too late to dump Palin and run an honourable campaign and his former supporters, and surrogates, are starting to jump ship. Unlike many other pundits, I still can imagine a scenario whereby McCain wins, centered around a last minute negative blitz or a scandal, but unless something happens then Obama looks likely to be President.

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Are Obama and Biden plagiarising Labour’s 1992 defeat?

October 19, 2008

Could John McCain pull off a surprising victory?

In the 1992 British General Election the Major government was trying to get re-elected in the context of a bitter recession brought on by a housing bubble, an unpopular predecessor and a monetary crisis revolving around the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Bush and Major’s decision to leave Saddam in power, and to betray the Kurds, had largely removed the successful War in Iraq as an issue. Labour, led by Neil Kinnock, had not fully recovered from its excesses in the 1980s but was largely back in the mainstream. After a largely inept campaign run by the Conservatives it seemed that Labour’s victory was inevitable.

However, the final two weeks of the campaign were to prove Labour’s undoing. A viciously negative fusillade of criticism and innuendo from many in traditionally conservative print media, a concerted attack on their tax policies and a celebratory rally in Sheffield that badly backfired all damaged the Labour campaign and planted doubt in the minds of voters. This meant that Labour’s small lead in the final poll of polls, and small deficit in the exit polls turned into a seven point loss in the popular vote, although the electoral system meant that the parliamentary majority that the Conservatives won was so small that the Major government was a lame duck from day one.

It is not difficult to see parallels between Britain in 1992 and America in 2008. McCain removed National Security and Iraq as an issue by choosing Sarah Palin over Joe Lieberman. The American economy is about to experience a recession and there is clearly a financial crisis, though both have been wildly overhyped by the media. More importantly, both Obama and Neil Kinnock had a domestic agenda that, while worthy, was just a bit too left-wing for the population at large. At the same time they failed to respond to the inaccurate and hypocritical distortions of their opponents (after claiming that Labour would hike sales tax, the Conservatives ended up raising it substantially after the election).

Of course there are also differences, I was devastated when the Conservatives won and I am pretty much neutral between Obama and McCain (and I clearly agree with Obama on tax). However, there are enough parallels between the two campaigns to make me wonder if McCain has a decent chance of winning at least the popular vote if Obama doesn’t hit back hard enough. It would be ironic for McCain to win for the wrong reasons, but it is clear that “Joe the Plumber’s” intervention rattled Obama during the debate and raised some questions about why his tax plans paradoxically raise the marginal rates of those on low to middle incomes, even if they lower their effective tax rates.

In any case one can expect the conservative media to follow in the footsteps of their British counterparts and to go after Obama with increasing vehemence in the final seventeen days. We can also expect the Republicans to continue to push the “Joe the Plumber” story as far as it will take them. None of this should matter had the Obama campaign either built up a big enough lead to insulate themselves from these attacks or if it possessed the tactical edge to deflect Schmidt’s attacks. However, with the exception of Obama’s Philadelphia speech and Bill Clinton’s gaffe in South Carolina, the Obama campaign has been essentially passive, never initiating the attacks and failing to respond effectively to them.

Plouffe and Axelrod might be organisational geniuses, and Obama should still be considered the favourite to win, but I wouldn’t rule out the idea that the fabled double-digit Democratic landslide that some people seem to be expecting might come under Mark Warner, Hillary Clinton or Ken Salazar in 2012, rather than in just over a fortnight’s time.

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Obama leads but could McCain pull off an upset?

October 18, 2008

Obama leads by only 4.84

My new projections are (my methodology is here):

Barack Obama 49.44
John McCain 44.60

Linear regression analysis of polling trends since the selection of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate suggest an Obama victory of 9.15 in the popular vote. However there is about a 25% chance of McCain winning in the election. Although the selection of Sarah Palin has destroyed the argument that John McCain is the most experienced candidate and has produced an unwelcome distraction, for the McCain campaign, from some of the more pressing questions about Obama, there are several reasons why the betting markets are underestimating John McCain’s chances.

1. Complacency – The Obama campaign seems to have been extremely complacent. Although Obama has talked about the experience of New Hampshire they seem not to be trying that hard. Even in the 1997 election when Labour where ahead by huge amounts, they were fighting for every news cycle and trying to win over as many swing voters as possible. The Obama campaign have allowed McCain to browbeat the media into dropping any further investigation of Palin and they are focusing on turnout rather than undecided voters.

The Boston Globe’s suggestion that Bush should stand down immediately after an Obama victory is eerily reminiscent a similar call the Chicago Tribune made in 1948, regarding President Truman and Thomas Dewey. In that case a passionate underdog pulled off a surprise victory against the calm, and complacent, favourite.

2. Taxes – When the Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg interviewed a bunch of ‘Reagan Democrats’ in Michigan he found that “The tax attack raised more doubts than the Reverend Wright one (68 versus 55 percent) and produced marginally more voters pulling away from Obama. Frankly, these financially pressed Reagan Democrats were more concerned that their taxes would be raised than with Obama’s relations with Reverend Wright.”

Samuel “Plumber Joe” Wurzelbacher may be unlicensed, in trouble with the IRS and a Republican (rather than genuinely undecided) , but it seems to have connected with swing voters and forced Obama on the defensive. While the Republican party may be too far to the right of the general population of this issue there are real flaws with Obama’s tax proposals as well that the McCain campaign can exploit.

3. Sarah Palin – It is likely that, after her appearance from Saturday Night Live, Governor Palin will take a much lower profile. At the same time both McCain and Palin seem to be distancing themselves from each other. While this may be cynical in Palin’s case (she doesn’t want to be held responsible for the likely defeat) and too late on McCain’s part, having Palin at arm’s length can only be a positive for the Senator from Arizona and will help him with undecided voters.

4. The current polls – In the last few days McCain has experienced a “mini-surge” going from over eight points down on October 10th to less than five points behind as of yesterday. This may be a blip or it could be the start of a fight back. However, if the polls are being biased by absentee and early voter lying about who they voted for (the exit polls overestimated the Obama-Clinton margins by about five points during the primaries), then the two candidates could be virtually neck and neck.

5. Swing states – Obama seems to have broadened his focus to solid red states, such as Indiana and North Carolina, and solid blue states, such as California. While expanding his lead in the electoral college and pumping up the popular vote may give him a stronger mandate than George W Bush had in 2000, he is being arrogant in not prioritising states like Ohio and Colorado. In contrast, McCain’s decision to spend time in the swing states is the strategy of a candidate who is more interested in winning the election, rather than merely reducing the margin of defeat.

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Obama has a healthy lead

October 15, 2008

Obama leads by 6.40

My new projections are (my methodology is here):

Barack Obama 50.25
John McCain 43.85

The McCain campaign might be imploding, with people already starting to apportion the blame, but he still remains within striking distance, for the time being at least. I’d give him about a 20% chance of victory but it is really down to an ‘October surprise’, having the guts to dump Palin or an astounding performance tonight. I just hope that if he loses in 2008, Tom Ridge (or even Joe Lieberman in a third party) is able to pick up the pieces. After all, the graph is pretty clear on what (or who) is to blame for McCain’s downfall.

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Obama leads by 6.24%

October 12, 2008

Obama leads by 6.24%

My new projections are (my methodology is here):

Barack Obama 50.41
John McCain 44.17

The negative attacks now seem to have run their course in the polls, although McCain/Palin remain about 2% above their trend. My basic view of the campaign, that McCain needs to do something to stop Palin destroying what little chances he has left, remains although I am holding on to the few Obama shorts that I have left.

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Wright, Ayers and Palin

October 12, 2008

My take on Palin and her comments

I’m not American so my judgement may be biased, but ever since ‘Wrightgate’ came to light I believe that John McCain and Hillary Clinton made a huge mistake in not attacking Obama over it. I believe that anyone who is willing to tolerate repeated rants about America’s responsibility for September 11th, is not someone who is prepared to make the tough foreign policy decisions that America (and the rest of the Western world) must make in the next four year. From a strategic perspective there is clear evidence that such a line of attack would have resonated with voters, especially ‘Reagan Democrats’ in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

As the pollster Stan Greenberg put it, ‘The Reagan Democrats’ recollection of the 1960s is not of the race riots and busing but much more of the Vietnam War, the hippies and protestors, and humiliation of America and our soldiers. These are strong-defense Democrats who give Obama remarkably low marks on national security and have great trouble dismissing what Reverend Wright said about America’. Clearly, dealt sensitively, in an issue focused way by someone who had good national security credentials (such as Joe Lieberman or Rudy Giuliani) this attack could have been extremely effective and was perfectly legitimate.

However, as a last ditch measure and from the mouth of Sarah Palin, the issue can only be counterproductive. Trying to claim that Obama’s tenuous links with Ayers equates to him ‘palling around with terrorists’ skirts the line between hyperbole and race-baiting. Coming from someone who has far more sinister associations (Murthee, Chryson etc) it is also deeply hypocritical. The fact that it seems to have boosted McCain’s poll numbers (for the time being) indicates how effective such an attack would have been had it been put in its proper context and handled appropriately. However, the resulting hate and vitrol her rants have produced, should force even the amoral Steve Schmidt to conclude it is not a price worth paying.

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McCain now set to carry Missouri

October 11, 2008

But not any of the other ‘Big Six’

Some statewide projections for all six swing states are below (my methodology is here):

Michigan: Obama + 14.81
Pennsylvania: Obama + 13.19
Wisconsin: Obama + 8.37
Florida: Obama: Obama + 5.5
Missouri: McCain + 1.54
Ohio: Obama + 3.03

It’s good news for McCain that he is now ahead in Missouri as that state has always gone with the Electoral College winner since 1956. However, the potential loss of Florida and Ohio would almost signal an Obama presidency. I just hope that if McCain has to lose, Palin’s career is brought down as well.