TO: McCain Strategy Team
FROM: Bill McInturff, Lead Pollster, McCain-Palin 2008; Partner, Public Opinion Strategies
RE: State of the Race and Ballot Position
DATE: October 28, 2008
First, lets be clear: This is a hard election to predict.
The historic nature of the candidates on both tickets, the huge influx of unregulated money by the Obama campaign, the dour public mood, and the unique level of voter interest all suggest an historic level of turn-out, not witnessed in over 40 years.
Our models/understanding of what is coming is therefore necessarily projective, but, here is what we know for sure:
The McCain campaign has made impressive strides over the last week of tracking.
The campaign is functionally tied across the battleground states with our numbers IMPROVING sharply over the last four tracks.
The key number in our mind is Senator Obamas level of support and the margin difference between the two candidates.
As other public polls begin to show Senator Obama dropping below 50% and the margin over McCain beginning to approach margin of error with a week left, all signs say we are headed to an election that may easily be too close to call by next Tuesday.
1. We are witnessing a significant shift across the battleground states.
The race has moved significantly over the past week, closing to essentially tied on the last two-day roll. These gains are coming from sub-groups it should be possible to sustain over the next week, including:
- Non-college men;
- Rural voters, both men and women;
- Right-to-life voters;
and most encouragingly;
- We are beginning to once again get over a 20% chunk of the vote among soft Democrats.
Importantly as well, our long identified target of Walmart women - those women without a college degree in households under $60,000 a year in income are also swinging back solidly in our direction.
Finally, in terms of critical improvement, even as this track shows more Republicans voting for us than Democrats supporting Obama, we are witnessing an impressive pop with Independent voters.
As I said during our Sunday briefing, we do substantially more interviews per day than any public poll, but, given the shift we were witnessing, it was my expectation that by Tuesday/Wednesday multiple public polls would show the race closing. A quick glance at Real Clear Politics would indicate this is happening by today, Tuesday, and thats good!
2. It is not surprising we are witnessing this closing as we are finally having an opportunity to run a campaign that focuses on Senator Obamas record on taxes and his lack of experience.
We are tracking how much people have seen, read, or heard about a number of thematic elements from both campaigns, including the false charges about Senator McCains health care plan, being out of touch on the economy, and the Obamas campaign charges about Medicare. At the same time, we are testing awareness of Joe the Plumber, Senators Bidens quote about his own running mate being so inexperienced it invites being tested by our enemies around the world, and Obamas proposals that will raise federal spending by a trillion dollars.
This has been the week where Joe the Plumber has literally become a household name. An astounding 59% of voters in these battleground states have heard a lot about this story, 83% have heard a lot or some about this episode
The 59% a lot dwarfs the other stories/thematic elements we are tracking this week.
The campaigns relentless focus has helped strengthen our margins on the issue of taxes and broadened as well to the attribute of handling the economy and jobs.
3. Our opponent is being correctly perceived as the most liberal nominee in modern times.
In our tracking, now 59% of battleground voters describe Senator Obama as being a liberal, a percentage that is higher than previous Democrat losers Gore/Kerry, and significantly higher than for President Clinton and President Carter.
A majority (54%) of voters profile as saying Senator Obama is more liberal than they see themselves politically.
As Senator Obamas profile as a liberal increases, it has helped further erode his support among key sub-groups.
4. Turn-out IS going to go through the roof.
Public Opinion Strategies has been using a 1 to 10 scale to help look at self-described interest in the election since 1993. In 1996, in our last track, 48% of voters described their interest in the election as a 10. In 2000, the last track was 54% saying 10. Remarkably, in 2004, our last track had self-described 10s at 75% of the electorate.
You need to understand we are witnessing a day-to-day trend of serious magnitude as self-described 10s increase in every roll.
Last night, 81% of voters described their interest in this election as a 10! Wow.
Here is the importance of this number: We have watched as turn-out has gone up in the last three presidential elections from roughly 96 million voters in 1996, to 104 million voters in 2000, to a whopping 122 million voters in 2004.
I now believe turn-out will begin to approach levels not seen since other comparable presidential campaigns in 1960 and 1968.
In todays terms, that could mean breaking the barrier of 130 million voters!
There is simply no model that begins to know or predict the composition of the electorate at this level of turn-out.
My own view and our own weights in our surveys reflect a belief that African American turn-out will be at historic levels, there will be a significant boost with voters 18 to 29 years old, yet the overall high level of turn-out will begin to mute the increase in the percentage these sub-groups represent in the overall electorate.
5. There is more elasticity in this campaign than is imagined.
We have merged all of our interviews over the last three plus weeks to identify undecided and respondents who refuse to respond on the ballot question. This can be as high as one out of ten voters, but is generally about eight percent (8%) of the electorate in battleground states.
These voters might generally be non-voters in most cycles. But, in this cycle, 61% describe their interest in the election as a 10. This is higher than the last track among ALL voters in 1996 and 2000.
These voters are older, downscale, more rural, and are certainly economically stressed. They are quite negative about the direction of country and seek change. They voted for Bush over Kerry by a margin of 47% to 24% and this partisan advantage is a critical element to understanding our capacity to get these voters.
They have significant hesitations about Senator Obamas experience and judgment.
Given an Obama TV media barrage we have not witnessed since the last candidate to run without public financing, Richard Nixon in 1972, and the daily drumbeat about Obamas chances, given their demographics, it is my sense these voters WILL vote in this election and WILL break decisively in our direction.
These undecided/refuse to respond voters breaking decisively against Senator Obama mirrors the pattern of the last two months of the Democrat primary season.
When they do break, I believe they will add a net three plus points to our margins.
6. I am becoming more and more convinced Senator Obama gets what he gets in the tracking.
Typically a Republican candidate trails among African Americans on a survey by a margin of something like 78% to 14%. As a firm, we consistently warn our clients that on Election Day, they will underperform their polling margins with African American voters. If their tracking says 78% - 18%, they should expect to only carry 8% of the African American vote, as the Democrat candidate will typically carry more than 90% of the African American vote.
Senator Obamas numbers are different than anything we have ever seen before among African Americans.
In most polls, McCain is losing these African American voters by margins like 97% to 1%.
This means when you see Senator Obamas number in a survey, it already reflects his significant and full support among African American voters.
Functionally, this means the only undecided/refuse to respond voters are white and Latino.
So, in a state like Indiana where he has recently led Senator McCain, in most tracks, Senator Obama is at 46% to 47% of the vote.
I am becoming increasingly persuaded it will be very difficult for Senator Obama to perform much above his percentage of the vote in a state.
This puts any number of historically red states very much in play and MUCH more competitive than is generally believed by the media. But critically, as Obama drops below 50% in other blue states, some of these states may also becoming back in play as well.