Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Which Poll To Believe--the 12 or the 3

There's a couple of new polls out that pose a little bit of a conundrum. LA Times/Bloomberg has Obama ahead by 12 (15 with Nader and Barr added) while Gallup has Obama up by 3 which is within the polls margin of error.

Hopefully, the Obama people are taking Gallup as the real number.

That's not because Gallup is the more accurate survey because there's no way to predetermine the accuracy of the polls for this election. The accuracy of any election poll depends on its ability to project the size of voter turnout among various segments of the population. But nobody knows the extent to which Obama's candidacy is going to bump up turnout among African-Americans or 18-25 year old voters. There's also no way to be sure about how much conservative disenchantment over John McCain is going to depress Republican turnout.

Another monkey wrench is the impact of race on polling. As much as 10% of the electorate is willing to lie to pollsters about their willingness to vote for African-American candidates. That number might be down in this election, but nobody knows whether and to what extent that will be the case in 2008.

In other words, there are so many unknowables that nobody can have much faith in either the LA Times/Bloomberg or Gallup.

That's why the Obama campaign should go by Gallup and assume they have a 3 point lead at most. That will keep Obama's top staff anxious, edgy, and seeking ways to seize the initiative.

Here's what I think the Obama campaign needs to do.

1. Maintain Its Focus. McCain and his people are throwing out a lot of gimmicks, the most recent of which is the idea of a $300 million award for the person who invents the next big leap in the kind of automobile battery technology that would lead to lower fuel consumption. When the Obama campaign responds to these gimmicks, they need to do so in a way that reminds voters of their main themes of bringing people together, lessening the influence of corporate money on politics, and developing a new approach to foreign policy. Don't let McCain get them off track.

2. Overcome the Surrogate Deficit. I'm not sure that McCain asked Bush to do this kind of thing, but Bush started serving as a McCain surrogate as soon as he referred to Obama's foreign policy ideas as "appeasement" and called for more off-shore drilling. McCain has Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and Carly Fiorina talking for him as well. These guys might not be doing McCain any good yet, but Obama needs to recruit some heavy duty surrogates of his own. Tom Daschle and Wesley Clark are both pretty good at going after McCain, but people like Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher just don't have the zing needed to be effective political surrogates. Obama's already started to use Jon Corzine to talk about the economy. Hillary Clinton and Robert Rubin can also be very effective and it wouldn't hurt Obama to recruit a number of fresh new faces--some Barack Obama types--as well.

3. Take the Initiative. As already mentioned, the McCain camp has been able to take the political initiative through its gambits about traveling to Iraq, holding 10 Townhall meetings, and off-shore drilling. The Obama campaign should start thinking of ways to take the initiative themselves, challenge McCain, and force him to respond. One way would be for Obama to challenge McCain to end the Bush administration's efforts to politicize the federal government. The Bush administration is drowning in scandals. The Obama campaign should challenge McCain to demand that the Bush administration allow Karl Rove and Harriet Meiers to testify before Congress. Over the last couple of days, a new Justice Department scandal has emerged over the efforts of Bush appointees to favor conservatives. Obama should challenge McCain to spell out what steps he would take to de-toxify federal agencies if he is elected.

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