Oh, right, there’s an election…

Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

I adore politics. My job is politics-related. I’ve been watching this election cycle closely from the very beginning.

So it’s kind of hard for me to remember that there are a whole lot of people out there who just don’t care very much about politics. Now is when they start to pay attention.

And Barack Obama has shown over and over again that when people pay closer attention to him, he benefits (and his opponent suffers).

Take these three graphs from Pollster, indicating voter preferences in the lead-up to the Democratic primaries in Ohio, Wisconsin and Missouri.






See how that orange Obama line goes up-up-up, but especially in the very last stretch before the primary? For Wisconsin, the upward trend seems to start back in 2007, but you can see that the dots are connected between two very different poll results. In Ohio, it wasn’t enough to win, even though the gap was narrowed significantly — in Wisconsin and Missouri, it was enough to win.

Back when the primaries were happening, I thought that that people tended to make up their minds when their state had its primaries. But of course more people vote in presidential elections than in primaries. This year, there were approximately 36 million voters in the Democratic primaries. (I say “approximately” because it’s impossible to get an exact tally — caucuses and other weirdnesses of the Democratic primary process complicate things.) Edwards, Richardson and others also got votes — while I don’t think they got 4 million (as of January 30th, Edwards had received about half a million votes), let’s knock the total up to 40 million just to be sure we’re covered.

I checked how many people voted for Kerry in 2004 — it was about 60 million. Therefore, by a conservative estimate (all indications are that there will be greater turnout this year than in 2004), about 20 million people didn’t vote in the primaries but will vote in the general election. That’s a lot of people!

This means that while I tended to think during the primaries that the work was done then, a whole lot more work is being done now. And I think that this work is being reflected in things like this:

This 10-day stretch of a significant Obama lead is the longest since [Obama] became the presumptive nominee back in early June, and the longest for either candidate at any point in the campaign. — Gallup

Of course the economy has a lot to do with what is happening here. But I don’t think that’s the only thing.

I have noticed a sharp spike in interest among my friends and acquaintances — people I’d thought of as apolitical are asking me questions about the candidates’ positions, and expressing interest in volunteering for Obama, and generally paying attention in a way they haven’t thus far.

Of the people I’m thinking of, none of them voted in the primaries. They just weren’t interested at that point. Now they are.

Now, another thing we learned from the Democratic primaries is that negative campaigning does have an effect. And the McCain campaign is clearly ready to take those gloves off. Just how ugly will it get? And how will voters react?

I do tend to think that people are tired of this stuff. We’ll see where the polls go in the next week or so, after the attacks have had some time to sink in. I predict a dip — but I think Obama will hold on to his lead.

Another possibility is that as McCain’s attacks get wilder and less and less reality-based, Obama will actually open up an even bigger lead.  I think McCain’s performance in the next couple of debates could have a lot to do with which way things go.  A strong, restrained, and knowledgeable McCain performance will make the first possibility more likely; while an agitated, aggressive, and condescending performance will make the second possibility more likely.  Focus groups in the first two debates seemed to NOT like the attacks.

And if McCain absolutely blows his stack (something that he’s seemed close to doing a few times lately) — hello, President Obama.

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