Tags: obama | mccain | pollsters

Can 'Buyer's Remorse' Give McCain a Surprise Victory?

Thursday, 23 Oct 2008 04:44 PM

By Dave Eberhart

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With more and more poll-watching pundits ascribing the word “landslide” to Barack Obama and “fading” to John McCain, can last minute “buyer’s remorse” be the Arizona Senator’s last best hope for victory in November?

Vin Weber, a leading Republican forecaster, as quoted in the Financial Times, sees a potential eleventh-hour lifeline for McCain. “We saw in the primaries that voters can get ‘buyer’s remorse’ about Obama as the end game approaches. That may be something to watch out for.”

Of course, Weber is referring to Obama’s own experience of fading in the waning weeks of the Democratic Primary season.

Hillary Clinton had lost a heartbreaking ten straight races, propelling the media to perceive Obama as nothing less than the “inevitable” candidate.

But rather than generate a rallying around Obama, Sen. Clinton’s lot brightened.

After February 19, Clinton’s percentage of the vote rose in nearly every demographic. A surging Clinton defeated Obama in the primaries in March, April and May in most of the major categories, leading to speculation about what could have happened if the primary season had gone on a while longer.

But Weber’s theory may have a fatal flaw — beyond the obvious fact that McCain is down to days rather than months — and that is early voting.

Millions of citizens voting early in the presidential elections may be locking in Barack Obama’s lead in the polls, analysts and commentators suggest, according to several media reports.

With citizens already casting votes in 31 states from Florida to California, the Obama campaign is hoping that their candidate’s poll advantage has already cemented a vote count that John McCain can’t overcome.

Political analyst Charlie Cook in his recent column in the National Journal ominously put it this way:

“In Florida, North Carolina and Nevada registered Democrats have outnumbered Republicans two to one in early voting so far. With as many as one-third of voters likely to cast their ballot before election day, every day more are cast and the campaign is effectively over for them. The longer Obama has this kind of lead and the more votes are cast early, the more voters are out of the pool for McCain.”

Also throwing some sobering cold water on the “buyer’s remorse” phenomenon is Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s Chief strategist during the primaries.

As quoted in the Financial Times, Penn says: “Even if those who tell pollsters they are still undecided suddenly broke two-to-one in favor of John McCain, Obama would still win a clear victory with poll leads as high as this. This race increasingly resembles Clinton versus Bob Dole in 1996, with McCain looking out of touch and incompetent to deal with the economic crisis facing America.”

“With polls as high as this” may be a key qualifier to Penn’s take.

The Associated Press has reported that the presidential race tightened after the final debate, with John McCain gaining among whites and people earning less than $50,000.

The maverick Associated Press-GfK poll shows McCain and Barack Obama essentially running even among likely voters in the election homestretch — with Obama at 44 percent and McCain at 43 percent.

But even Weber with his latent “buyer’s remorse” spoiler theory wonders if there is any real likelihood that the majority of the polls showing a double-digit national lead for Obama may somehow be tainted.

“To have any optimism about McCain then you have to cast some doubt on the methodology of the pollsters, Weber is quoted in the Financial Times. “I am not foolishly optimistic about this. If I had to predict a result it would be an Obama victory – possibly a big victory.”

Improbable tainted polling and “buyer’s remorse” aside, there may yet be a third wild card in the McCain deck.

According to the Financial Times, Tom Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, has opined: “There aren’t any examples of a candidate coming back this late in the game with a deficit this big.

“The only potential straw for McCain to clutch on to is that this race is unprecedented in many respects and that the man in the lead is black.”

This, of course, is an allusion to the so-called “Bradley Effect,” an election calculus that hasn’t gotten much play recently.

The “Bradley Effect” is the legacy of Tom Bradley’s unsuccessful run for governor of California n 1982. Consistently ahead in the polls, Bradley, the black candidate, lost — giving birth to the theory that voters have a tendency to say to pollsters they’ll vote for a black candidate but then do not in the privacy of the polling booth.

But there’s some cold water to be tossed here as well. A recent report in the Kansas City Star notes that many pollsters say the “Bradley Effect” hasn’t been a factor in any election for the last decade.

If remorse, faulty polling or Bradley Effect prove too little too late, there’s always the one axiom that most can’t disagree with: Anything can happen in politics.

Although in these fast-paced final days, October 11 may already seem ancient history, it was on that day in a rally in Philadelphia that Obama came closest to admitting his own vulnerability:

“Who knows what can happen in the next 25 days?”

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