Polls Show the Race Between Obama and McCain Is Tightening

Democrats still have a more favorable party identification position.

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My Creators Syndicate column for this week takes a look at the polls in the presidential race and notes evidence that the balance of enthusiasm no longer favors Barack Obama. Written late last week, this seems somewhat prescient. Monday's Gallup tracking poll shows Obama leading John McCain 46 percent to 43 percent, while Monday's Rasmussen tracking poll shows McCain ahead 47 percent to 46 percent—a statistically insignificant margin, to be sure, but the first time McCain has been ahead in this poll since Obama clinched the Democratic nomination June 3. The realclearpolitics.com average shows Obama at 46.6 percent and McCain at 44.3 percent.

Two items from Rasmussen I didn't have room for in the 750-word column format.

First, some 14 percent of voters in Rasmussen's polls are undecided in the presidential race, nearly twice as many as the 8 percent in presidential polls four years ago. This fortifies me in my conviction that we have moved from one kind of politics to another, from trench warfare politics in which almost all voters are committed to one side or the other to open-field politics in which many more voters are movable—and more Americans are at the cusp of voting or not voting.

Second, Scott Rasmussen's monthly recalculations of party identification show a 2 percent drop in the share of voters identifying as Democrats in July. This is not hugely good news for Republicans. Democrats still have a 39 percent-to-32 percent advantage in party identification—a much more favorable position than in November 2004 (39 percent to 37 percent Democratic) and about the same as in November 2006 (38 percent to 31 percent Democratic). (Actually, the Democratic share given in tenths is 37.5 percent, but since the Democrats' October and December 2006 numbers round off to 38 percent, I'm rounding in this direction for November, too.) The peak advantage for Democrats, 42 percent to 32 percent, was in May 2008.

Finally, in Monday's Wall Street Journal, Juan Williams, my sometime colleague at Fox News (and my predecessor in office space when I started on the editorial-page staff at the Washington Post in 1982) has a piece headlined "The Race Issue Isn't Going Away." He takes a look at recent polling evidence and concludes that many white voters don't know what to make of Obama. In his last two paragraphs, he reaches an original conclusion (and quotes Jodie Allen, who also worked on the Post editorial-page staff back in 1982 and was a colleague at U.S. News):

Jodie Allen, a senior editor at Pew, wrote recently that a poll Pew conducted last November showed clearly that "the black community is at least as traditional in its views as the larger American public." Blacks in the Pew poll were just as likely as whites to take a hard line opposing crime (as long as black neighborhoods are not unfairly targeted), to condemn the shocking number of children born out of wedlock and express disgust with the violence and misogyny in rap music.

Mr. Obama needs to hammer home these conservative social values to capture undecided white voters. He might lose Mr. Jackson's vote. But he won't lose many black votes, and he will win the undecided white votes he needs to become America's first African-American president.

In my view, expressed in this column last month—and I think Williams's analysis is similar—there are a small number of voters who will not vote for any black presidential candidate—who would not have voted for Colin Powell had he run in 1996 and/or will not vote for Obama this fall. There are a much larger number of voters who will not vote for Obama for reasons specific to Obama—that he is a Democrat, that he has taken left positions on many issues, that he is inexperienced, that his background is too unusual.

Back when I was starting out in politics in the Detroit area, we had state representative races in which one candidate had a Polish name and another had an Anglo-Saxon name that strongly suggested he was black. Almost all white voters voted for the Polish guy, and almost all black voters voted for the black guy; they didn't know much about the candidates personally, but they preferred someone who shared their background and, they presumed, their views. This was generic ethnic (or racial) voting. I don't think that's what's going on in this presidential race. Voters know a lot more about Obama than the fact that he's black, and they're making judgments on the basis of what they know—or what they consider to be problems in his background (lack of executive experience, lack of the experience of living outside a university community in his adult life). These are, even if mistaken, judgments specific to Obama and not just a response to a generic black candidate.