Democracy Corps has a new report about the state of the election:
Barack Obama has slowly moved up to a 4-point lead over John McCain in the race for president (49 to 45 percent) in this special 2,000-sample Democracy Corps survey, a margin consistent with the most recent national poll estimates.� In an important step following a difficult primary, he has consolidated about half the Democrats he will need to match earlier presidential runs.� He achieved that by diminishing some of the polarization around his image and providing key reassurances that have more voters saying he “has what it takes to be president.” There is every reason to believe that Obama will continue to elevate his support as he chooses a vice-presidential nominee and as he more boldly defines the choice in the election.
It is important to note that this progress has been accompanied by some diminished enthusiasm and few gains among independent voters. In contrast, McCain has been able to improve his image after a period of slippage and has recently found a way to get heard on the economy, energy and Iraq. Obama’s campaign has only just begun to engage with the big issues before the country and to define the choice boldly in a way that engages voters, fully consolidates Democrats and wins over independents – though he clearly has the opportunity to do all three.
Obama and McCain have both emerged with comparable, modest net-positive images at the outset of the general election battle, but the shifts in the latest Democracy Corps survey set off some warning signals.
Obama has become less polarizing (intense positives and intense negatives each down 2 points) and he has improved his overall favorability significantly with white non-college Democrats, white Democratic women, white older Democrats and moderate and conservative Democrats. That no doubt contributed to his vote gain among Democrats. Overall, he has made some modest headway on reassurance: 59 percent say he is a strong leader, 54 percent say he has what it takes to be president (up 2 points), and a minority of 47 percent now says, “just too many questions to take a chance on him as president” (down 2 points).
But that has come with a price worth noting. Not surprising is the drop in intense positives among liberals, liberal Democrats and white young voters, as we can see in the graph below. More worrisome is the broader drop in intense responses on key attributes –“on your side” (describes “very well” dropped from 27 to 21 percent), “strong leader” (dropped from 31 to 26 percent), and “will bring the right kind of change” (dropped from 28 to 24 percent). Overall, only 51 percent say Obama is “on your side” (down 4 points) and only 52 percent say he will “will bring the right kind of change” (unchanged). Obama seems to have lost some definition in this transition, and he has only just begun to articulate the change in ways that engage voters.
This may not matter all that much by November. But I have long thought that the Democratic advantage in this election would be found in enthusiasm, intensity and turn out rather than conversion of the alleged Obabacons or winning hugely among people who still identify themselves as Independents at a time when a large number have already converted to the Democratic party. As dday noted a couple of weeks back when comparing the lackluster emotion the GOP base has for McCain to Obama's motivated base:
It's more than whether or not individual GOP voters will come out. Enthusiasm matters. It finds the voters that don't always cast a ballot. It drives cars so that those with special needs can get to the polling place. It helps knock down the inevitable scandals and furors that come with a national campaign. And all of that enthusiasm is on the Democratic side. I don't want to sound complacent, but that's a tremendous advantage.
It's possible that the intensity will come back before November as the last couple of weeks of repositioning are forgotten in the heat of the battle. But I think it's a mistake to assume that the key to winning is "reassuring" voters that he isn't too liberal. If I had to guess the voters are more in need reassurance that he is sure of himself and his own beliefs.
I would just point out that the public's opinion of the Democratic congress, among the base of the party as well as everyone else, is dismal. And it's not because it is too liberal. It's because they don't seem to believe in anything or be able to hold the line against the most unpopular lame duck president in history. It's unlikely that Obama could lose his base as dramatically the congress has, but dampening enthusiasm leads to other unpleasant consequences. The younger, first time voters who are his most ardent supporters are also the demographic with the worst track record of follow-through in November elections.
The consultants and the gasbags all insist that politics is about character. So I'm not sure why they all think that Democrats going out of their way, in showy fashion, to distance themselves from the voters who brought them there is a good way to show that. I guess that's why they get paid the big bucks and I don't.