Thursday, July 31, 2008
THE INEVITABLE DECLINE OF POPULARITY FOUNDED ON IGNORANCE
In most recent Presidential contests, the Democratic contender fell from a modest or even large lead in the summer to a tight race or even sound defeat in the November election.
Two factors are at work here in my opinion. One is the fact that later polls are based increasingly on "likely voters," while early polls tend to be registered voters or even "all adults." The latter two measures overstate the Democratic vote by 4-7 percent historically. So early "leads" may not be quite as real as the media hypes them to be. But, second, the basic characteristic of the American electorate has time to emerge. Americans, even with the decline in the GOP "brand" (so widely reported), are still two to one self-identified conservatives over self-identified liberals. Liberals generally cannot even run as liberals anymore, now they call themselves "progressives" even in their own circles. As their liberal positions become know, the appeal as alternative candidates loses its luster. This often occurs despite frantic rushes to the center, as we are now seeing done at an unprecedented pace by Barrack Obama.
Running as an alternative to Bush, Obama could use "change" and "hope" and lofty rhetoric to mobilize voters. The Left knew he was liberal and admired his deft ability to get "the message" out without alienating people. The average voter thought that this sounded like a good idea, change something......when people are unhappy, it sounds right.
Two things happened next. First, Obama finally beat Hillary, despite losing 9 out of 14 of the last state contests in the Democratic primaries. I am not sure that anyone can remember the "presumptive" nominee losing in big, important states by high double digits late in the race. Obama's weaknesses started to show as a candidate, more than on policy. Second, what is now occurring in cumulative over the Hillary hang-over (the dimunition of his "brand"), that is the growing realization by many voters that his "change" is more liberal solutions from the past. In you do not believe that this is a real political problem for Obama, look at the fact that he dodges being called a "liberal" and that his media pals try to remake the liberal-conservative split in the country as now out-dated and being replaced by something else (an ill-defined and confusing "thing" that remains an ambitious liberal theory of selling a wolf in sheep's clothing).
There is a liberal-conservative divide that remains the biggest feature in American politics. It is clear on energy-policy. It is clear on foreign policy. It is absolutely clear on national defense. It is a bright red-line on social issues. While the issues and dialogue changes over time, it is premature at best to say that the Left-Right characterization of the electorate has been replaced by something, still undefined and amorphous.
The "wrong direction" polls and the disapproval polls are also misleading. Democratics in 2004 had pretty strong disapproval polls on George W. Bush and lost bigger than in 2000. A lot of the disapproval was and still is from the right. A vague "change" candidate can benefit from this confusion (you still see a poorly-informed voter in an interview making stupid statements about Obama and change, which you know to them means something completely different than to Obama). But as the campaign wears on and gets to reach more Americans that the party loyalists who pack the primaries and especially the caucuses, slogans are less important and positions, proposals, and individual candidate's personal style's become more important. When voters do not understand the issues, they reflexively look at character.
Obama operates in a niche that is the losing side on most public issuers of the day. This celebrity coming from almost unknown to presumptive President is finally, slowing, and inevitably getting to be known by the public. Even the media with its one-sided coverage has had to start running story-lines that raise issues about him.
What emerges is a self-absorbed glib guy with no personal achievements, other than writing a best-selling about himself. A guy who takes every criticism as unfair and outside the rules. A guy who hides behind his race to try to embarrass the other side into softening their criticism. This "brittleness" shows up repeatedly in the campaign in the encounters that cannot be scripted. When the teleprompter is broken or runs out of text, the guy loses his cadence, runs out of lines, and often makes horrendous factual mistakes. He is so full of himself that he makes things up as he goes along. [His over-inflated tire theory for oil savings being a classic example].
Obama will overwhelmingly carry the black vote and they will turn out. He will carry the under 25 vote but they will not turn out in huge numbers. He will lose the Hispanic vote and get crushed by the white voters. I think that the Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia Democratic primaries will prove to be prophetic. Obama cannot "close the deal" when he has an adoring press, an unpopular President, economic woes and a 10 point generic Democratic polling advantage. Once the real campaign starts, Democrats will be reminded on all of the doubts and fears that lurked in the back of their minds about this nomination.
It may end up being a close election, certainly history would seem to predict that result, but it also could be another McGovern or Dukasis collapse by the Democrats. If the election is about Barrack Obama, which seems to be what "the One" is pitching, it may be very disappointing for his party.