Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Obama Tanking




All my friends will be aghast, but the truth is that Barak Obama is tanking. His campaign is in trouble, and he is serious danger of losing the U.S. presidency to John McCain.

Always fascinated by numbers, I have been following the polls religiously. Not only do they show that Obama cannot (so far at least) "close the deal", despite an objective situation that should make it a cake walk for any "non-Republican" challenger, he is in fact losing ground to John McCain over the past few weeks. At this rate, he will lose the Electoral College - even if he managed to squeak out a victory in the popular vote. And even that is not assured.

The chart above shows Obama's edge in the popular vote. It is based on the RCP average of polls published daily. It shows that Obama’s lead is only 3% (as of August 19). More importantly it shows a downward trend line since his high water mark in early July.

More significantly is the chart below. It shows Obama’s Electoral College votes. Here too Obama is sinking. Comfortable ahead in July, he is now in "too close to call" or outright loosing territory. The blue line is based on the RCP average of polls. As of August 19, it shows Obama with 275 electoral votes - 271 electoral votes are needed to win. As you can see, this line has been dropping. More importantly, however, is the pink line. This is based on the most recent state-by-state polls published by RCP. While sometimes an individual poll can be an anomaly, the pink line is a good "leading indicator" of where things are headed. When the pink line started rising in June and July, the blue line soon followed. Today the pink line is falling faster than the blue line - according to the "latest polls" Obama has only 234 electoral votes in his column: a clear loss! We can reasonably assume that the blue line will soon follow, as more polls confirm what the latest polls are showing.

More particularly, Obama is now trailing - although only slightly - in Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado - swings states he hopes to win, and where he was leading just a few weeks ago. Other Obama "must win" states - like Michigan, and New Mexico, are really too close to call, although he still holds a slight lead. Even Democratic standby states - like Minnesota, and Oregon - show Obama losing ground, and are falling into the "in-play" category.

Why is this happening? Well, four factors come mind:

1) There is a structural problem with Obama's vote distribution. He could - as things stand now - win the popular vote by 3% and still lose the election. (Al Gore did the same, but by less than 1 %.) He has too many "wasted votes" in states where he is guaranteed to win by large margins (NY, California), and in states that he will probably lose by small margins (Georgia, North Carolina).

2) He is black.

3) He is not as good a campaigner as he was though to be.

4) He is too smart and too thoughtful for the American public. (This may be a variation on #3)

I saw an example of this on the interviews the candidates did with Pastor Rick Warren, of Saddleback Church. These where widely broadcast (and re-broadcast) over the past week on American TV. Warren asked each candidate identical questions in separate 1 hour interviews. Obama answered in long thoughtful and nuanced 'mini-speeches', often weighing the pros and cons and speaking to his personal experience. McCain answered in short emotional sound bites, and then went on to state how something he would do in his presidency would promote whatever it was Pastor Warren was asking about.

One memorable example, that sums up Obama's problem and McCain’s advantage:

Warren asked (and I am paraphrasing) "In your opinion, is there evil in the world, and if so, should we: ignore it, protect ourselves from it, negotiate with it, or defeat it.?"

Obama hesitated at first - perhaps trying to think if "evil" should be personified in the way that the question implied, and trying to sort out the overlapping - and not mutually exclusive - options presented. Then he answered to the effect that evil did exist, and that it should always be confronted; that various tactics should be used, depending on the situation; and that we should resist the hubris that tell us we can rid of evil in the world, once and for all – that is God's job, according to Obama. Finally he warned against doing evil in the name of defeating evil - as had happened so many time in human history. He got a polite round of applause from the several thousand in the church hall.

McCain was asked the identical question: Without a moment’s hesitation he said: "Evil exists, and we should defeat it." - He got wild applause. He then when on to say how he would promise the American people that he would bring Osama Bin Laden to justice. "No one will be allowed to kill innocent Americans and get away with it"

Who would you vote for? The thoughtful guy who says we must use different approached in different situations, who recognizes the limits of power, and who warns of its abuses. Or the guy who promises that “justice” will be done no matter what - even if he can't say how he will pull that off.

It seems that most Americans prefer the simple feel good answer, rather than the more thoughtful - and truthful - one.

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