Voters Love Obama, Trust McCain

Panelists at the third component of the American Enterprise Institute’s Election Watch series agree that Barack Obama and John McCain will likely face one another in the 2008 general election.

According to stats by the Hotline and Diageo, 79% of Republican primary voters would be satisfied with McCain as the Republican nominee and a Gallup/USA Today poll showed that 66% of voters believe Barack Obama will do more to unite the country than Hillary Clinton.

Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at AEI, said the “context of this election is a very unhappy country” but voters will look at the “comparative ground” depending on who would protect them best when the “barbarians are at the door.”

According a February 2008 Gallup/USA Today poll, Americans trust McCain most on issues regarding Iraq but Ornstein noted that “even his body language shows” he doesn’t want to talk about anything else.

Ornstein also believes Obama carries an 85% chance of winning the nomination unless he “fall[s] flat on his face.”

He said it is “virtually impossible” for Clinton to get the nomination without a “stunning turnaround.” But with Obama’s virtually error-free campaign since entering the race, it’s not likely he will do anything significant enough to deliver the nomination to Clinton.

Clinton frequently talks about  the “Republican attack machine.” But by emphasizing her differences with the right, she also contrasts herself with the “post-partisan” politics Obama supporters talk about. According to the Gallup/USA Today poll, 70% of party-leaning Democrats believe Obama will be the Democratic nominee.

Clinton’s negative campaign and attacks “are not resonating well” for her, said Ornstein. With Obama apparently gliding toward the nomination, Orstein said he must now “segue” to the middle from the hard left positions he took while competing against Clinton.

A February 2008 CBS News/NYT poll shows that Democratic primary voters believe Obama has a 59% chance of beating McCain, while Clinton has only a 28% chance.

Syndicated Columnist Michael Barone, a resident fellow at AEI, noted McCain beats Clinton in national polls as well but Obama beats McCain overall in this “close presidential race.”

Barone said the “Red State-Blue State” theory is often inaccurate. He said that the “battle of ideas” has yet to play out because it has taken a backseat to “personal characteristics.” He said crossover voting will be “considerably higher” in this election as well.

Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at AEI and public opinion and polls researcher, agreed. She said that McCain and Obama have “significant crossover appeal” that reaches beyond party identification.

McCain’s lackluster conservative appeal has caused strife within the Republican Party but AEI Research Fellow John C. Fortier said this will “not be as much of a problem for McCain” because “conservatives will come to him.” He mentioned this week’s New York Times’ smear piece against McCain, causing an outpouring of Republican support for him.

Ornstein said conservatives — lacking an alternative — will support McCain in order to defeat Obama. McCain’s credentials on national defense and experience in the Senate have caused even moderate Democrats to seriously consider him. Obama was named the most liberal Senator of 2007 by the ACU. It’s questionable how moderates will turn out and vote given the choice between the hard-core liberal Obama and the perceived conservative, McCain. 

But demographics may play a larger part right now, according to Bowman, who noted that “it’s still early” and we should “expect fluctuation” especially with the predicted increase in the youth vote.

The Gallup/USA Today poll finds the economy as America’s number one issue but as Ornstein pointed out, concern for national security will only increase with “real events in the world.”

“People will focus on the economy….unless the house is on fire,” he said. “And that could happen very easily.”

Negative media coverage of the Iraq war still predominates. According to the poll 43% of Americans believe the surge is making the situation better and 35% believe it makes no difference. Reports in the past year show that sectarian killings are down 90%, suicide bombings down nearly 70% and IED attacks were down by half.

The poll also showed that only 18% of Americans want to withdraw troops as soon as possible, which is the Obama position, not far from Clinton’s. McCain is the only candidate in line with the thinking of the American people. The majority of people agree that McCain would handle the situation in Iraq better by 15% than both Obama and Clinton.

The panel also addressed the immigration issue, a point on which none of the candidates are strong. McCain, who sponsored last year’s failed amnesty bill, claims he has “heard the American people” on the issue and supports border security first. But, for those hardcore anti-immigration constituents, this is not good enough.

“There are two unpalatable candidates for the staunchly anti-immigration voters,” said Ornstein, adding there could be an “effort to get an anti-immigration candidate on an independent ticket.”

As time draws shorter, the opportunity for another viable candidate dwindles. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he will not run and Ralph Nader’s entrance into the race is likely to only cull a small amount of votes from the Democrats. Fortier said “[Nader] will not be any factor” this year because Democrats are “not eager to throw away their votes.”