The assumption among most observers seems to be that Barack Obama will get a bounce in the polls from his trip to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East, and western Europe. But it's not apparent in the polls that have come in to date. Gallup tracking shows him with a 46 percent-to-42 percent lead, about what he's had since clinching the Democratic nomination June 3. Rasmussen tracking shows him ahead by just 47 percent to 45 percent and the day before had the race at a 46 percent-to-46 percent tie. The Detroit News poll shows Obama leading in Michigan by only 43 percent to 41 percent, and there is some good news for John McCain in the recent Rasmussen poll in Ohio showing McCain ahead 46 percent to 40 percent. This last is a contrast with another poll in Ohio, showing Obama ahead 48 percent to 40 percent, conducted by the North Carolina Democratic firm PPP, whose record this cycle seems to me to have been erratic.
I put more weight on the Rasmussen poll, and I also think there is something to this interesting post from blogger Sean Oxendine saying it is going to be difficult for Obama to carry Ohio. Oxendine is arguing that Obama's weak primary showing in southern and southeastern Ohio will make it hard for him to carry the counties that enabled Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to carry the state narrowly in 1976 and 1992. That thought occurred to me on the night of the March 4 Ohio primary, when I noticed that Obama lost Scioto County (Portsmouth, on the Ohio River) by an 81 percent-to-16 percent margin. Carter carried Scioto County 57 percent to 41 percent in 1976, and Clinton carried it 44 percent to 35 percent in 1992.
If McCain is competitive or leading in economically ailing Michigan and Ohio, something interesting is going on. The old political rule is that economic distress moves voters toward the Democrats. But that may not be operative in Michigan, which John Kerry carried 51 percent to 48 percent, and Ohio, which George W. Bush carried 50 percent to 48 percent. If the polls I cited are correct (and that's an "if," because there are others showing McCain not doing so well in those states), voters in those states have moved toward the Republican nominee or have not moved at all.
Another interesting result from Rasmussen. He now shows that voters believe the United States is winning rather than losing the war on terrorism by a 51 percent-to-16 percent margin. A year ago, in July 2007, the numbers were 36 percent to 36 percent. That's a big change. It could mean that voters will want to continue something like the current approach, which would be good news for McCain. Or it could mean that voters will decide that we don't need to worry about terrorism much anymore, which would be good news for Obama. Stay tuned. I don't think the voters' decision-making process is complete yet.