Saturday, March 15, 2008

File under self-inflicted wounds

Al Giordano and Mark Schmitt have made some interesting observations in the last 24 hours. First Al takes a look at the Gallup poll numbers on Clinton's and Obama's favorable and unfavorable ratings that Jon Chait briefly blogged about at TNR. Al comes to a different conclusion than Jon.

The drumbeat has been so steady since last year from the Clinton campaign and its surrogates: that Obama is naive, galobamafavinexperienced, not vetted, with a constant drip-feed of racial innuendo. Enough time has passed that we can get a good look at how this strategy has worked.

Here’s a graph of the Gallup poll’s data on how Obama is perceived by the general (November) electorate over the past year as he’s become known to more voters.

Al goes on to analyze ups and downs during the time period represented by the graph, concluding with:

The attacks on Obama - particularly since the New Year, which have included negative TV ads - have only served to drive his popularity higher. That is a sign of a “Teflon candidate” of the kind that the USA hasn’t seen since President Reagan.

galhrcfavNow, what has happened to public perceptions of Senator Clinton during this same time period? Here’s the money graph:

Clinton partisans like to say that their candidate has already been “vetted” and withstood attacks to the point where her negative ratings have hit a hard ceiling. Not true. The facts don’t bear that out. Since a year ago, a little over five percent of the electorate has gone back and forth on Clinton: they liked her in May, they didn’t like her in July, they liked her again in September, and since then they’ve liked her at decreasing levels, and held increasingly negative views to the point where, in early 2008, for the first time in a year, more voters now view Senator Clinton negatively than favorably.

While the attacks by Clinton and surrogates against Obama - now including the likes of Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing Republicans that want to give Clinton oxygen and salvage her flagging campaign - have put Obama at center stage again and again, caused worry among some Obama supporters (particularly of those new to electoral political campaigns who he has brought into the process by the millions), and given the ambulance-chasing mass media lots of red meat for trumped up controversies du jour, few have noticed that the net effect of so much negativity has been not harm to Obama’s popularity, but, rather, that of Clinton.


But keep your eyes on Clinton’s favorable-negative rating from here on out: She’s bleeding popularity from the sharp blade of her campaign’s own knife. And a large part of that has to do with the public’s increased savvy in understanding that surrogate attacks are part of a top-down strategy from the candidate herself.

I would even go so far as to say that Chait - who thinks, like many pundits, that the Clinton campaign’s attacks “may” work “by the time the convention rolls around” - is going to be proved wrong by the voters. In fact, I’d be willing to wager some money on it, tied to the favorable-negative ratings of both Democratic presidential candidates. Anyone out there care to part with your hard-earned cash?

File under: self-inflicted wounds.

I believe that Al has nailed it in his analysis and this post by Mark Schmitton the Tapped blog just adds confirmation to what Al says; in fact, Mark comes to the same conclusion via a different route.

There aren't many windows into a strongly pro-Clinton/anti-Obama view in the blogosphere, making TalkLeft invaluable, where "Big Tent Democrat" (the former Armando of DailyKos) has been focused like a laser on the issue of how to deal with the Michigan and Florida Democratic delegations. The claim made there... has been that it is Obama who is blocking re-votes in Michigan and Florida, raising legalisms or obstructing agreement, but that the Clinton campaign should be more aggressive in pushing for revotes. Big Tent Democrat puts it in the context of the argument about the popular vote:

[T]he problem with the Clinton campaign's refusal to fight for revotes in Florida and Michigan [is that] to be perceived as the popular vote winner, Clinton needs revote wins in Florida and Michigan. I do not understand the Clinton campaign strategy at all on Florida and Michigan.

But it's actually easy to understand. What would happen if an agreement were announced today that there would be re-votes in Florida and Michigan? Immediately, the previous primaries in those states would become dead letters. Instead of being 200,000 votes down in the popular vote (by her campaign's count), or 500,000 down (by my count, which gives Clinton her Florida votes), Clinton would be down in the popular vote by almost 1 million. And 193 delegates that they are currently counting would suddenly disappear.

And at that point, the magnitude of Clinton's deficit would be too obvious to spin away. Yes, there would be two additional large-state contests in which to win back the million popular votes and hundreds of delegates. But unless she did significantly better in both states than she did in the illegal primaries, she would lose, not gain, ground, by her own calculations. Since she was on the ballot alone in Michigan before, it's highly unlikely that she will do better there. It's very possible that she could do better than the 50 percent she won in Florida in January, but since it would now be a two-person race, it's a dead certainty that Obama would do significantly better than the 32 percent he got in January, thus adding to his total popular vote margin and delegate count even if he lost again, and so it would be a net loss for Clinton. Re-votes cannot help Clinton be "perceived" as the winner of the popular vote.

Contrary to the gullible media's belief that "time" is a "powerful ally" on Clinton's side, in fact, Clinton's only ally is uncertainty. The minute it becomes clear what will happen with Michigan and Florida -- re-vote them, refuse to seat them, or split them 50-50 or with half-votes, as some have proposed -- is the minute that Clinton's last "path to the nomination" closes. The only way to keep spin alive is to keep uncertainty alive -- maybe there will be a revote, maybe they'll seat the illegal Michigan/Florida delegations, maybe, maybe, maybe. In the fog of uncertainty, Penn can claim that there is a path to the nomination, but under any possible actual resolution of the uncertainty, there is not.

...the specific resolution doesn't matter, because whatever it is, it will introduce certainty and finiteness, and without the comfort of ambiguity, the Clinton spin-campaign cannot survive. The Clinton campaign began -- unwisely -- by spinning inevitability; it ends, equally unwisely, by spinning cosmic uncertainty. In between the two spin campaigns, they apparently forgot to give people enough of a positive reason to actually vote for Senator Clinton.


At 12:33 PM, Anonymous Kerstin said...

Thanks for putting this into perspective. To listen to the media the last couple of days, you'd think Obama was about to breathe his last. But judging by the math, the only way Clinton would have a shot at the nomination would be if a. Obama were forced to drop out due to the pastor issue - unlikely, or b. Clinton managed to convince ALL superdelegates that Obama was damaged goods and unelectable. Also not very likely.


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