Thursday, March 13, 2008


There's a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll out today. The Journal's poll story carries the headline "McCain, GOP May Have Cause for Hope."

Well, I've been saying that for a while -- without the "may."

The problem has long been the discrepancy between the Democrats' "generic ballot" advantage and their much smaller advantage when real flesh-and-blood candidates are substituted for party labels. And that's true in this poll:

...By a 13-point margin, 50% to 37%, registered voters say they would prefer a Democrat to be elected president. When asked to choose specifically between Arizona Sen. McCain and either Democrat, the results in each case are a statistical tie....

Illinois Sen. Obama edges Sen. McCain by 47% to 44%, while Sen. Clinton, of New York, beats the Republican by a near-identical 47% to 45%....

What's the problem? Well, this is a big problem:

Sen. McCain evokes positive responses among voters generally -- by 47% to 27% they say they have a favorable view of him, with the rest mostly neutral. Those with positive feelings include seven out of 10 conservative voters who otherwise say they are unhappy with Sen. McCain as the nominee. Fewer than half of Democrats have unfavorable views.

Let me repeat that last sentence: Fewer than half of Democrats have unfavorable views. Is there any possibility that someone might be batting around some ideas to, y'know, turn that around?

And no, we shouldn't count on widespread Limbaughnista anger -- elsewhere, we're told that "even dissatisfied Republicans would vote overwhelmingly for Sen. McCain against either Democrat."

It's not as if McCain represents what voters say they want in the next president:

Three-quarters of voters say they want the next president to govern differently from Mr. Bush, the poll shows, yet just as many say Sen. McCain would "closely" follow the Bush program.

A lot of this is because McCain is McCain -- voters find him familiar, non-threatening, an old shoe. But I think we might well have gotten to this same point with Romney or Thompson or Giuliani or maybe even Huckabee -- Republican presidential candidates are always safe, and Democrat presidential candidates are always weird and scary (even when, as now, voters identify themselves much more as Democrats than as Republicans).

The full results are here (PDF). One finding of note: 13% of voters think Obama is a Muslim.


Oh, and I think this gives the lie to theory that all this focus on the Democratic battle is good for the party because it draws attention away from McCain.

(Cross-posted at If I Ran the Zoo.)

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