Wednesday, August 27, 2008

McCain, Obama and Clinton Favorability

A little interesting movement in views of the candidates has taken place since the end of the primaries in June. All three candidates, McCain, Obama and Clinton, have seen rises in their favorable ratings and an initial decline in unfavorable views though with a slight upturn recently. McCain and Obama are enjoying essentially identical ratings, with 60% favorable and only 35% unfavorable. Even after a significant amount of negative portrayals of him in RNC and McCain ads, Obama's rating has risen over the summer, and so has McCain's. (According to the Wisconsin Advertising Project, which monitored and coded all 100,000 ad airings in June and July, one third of McCain's ads contained negative information about Obama and 100% of RNC ads were negative. In the same two months, 10% of Obama's ads mentioned McCain.)

Whatever happens after the conventions, both candidates enjoy an enviable standing with voters as attractive figures instead of a pair of lesser evils. The fall capaign may alter this, but even after a hard fought primary season the nominees remain attractive figures.

Meanwhile, Senator Clinton has also enjoyed an upturn in favorable ratings and a decline in unfavorable ratings since the end of the primary season. While improved, Clinton remains a more polarizing figure than either McCain or Obama, with slightly lower favorable but noticeably higher negative ratings.

Senator Clinton is far more popular among Democrats than among either Independents or (especially) Republicans. In that sense, her speech to the Democratic Convention last night was an example of speaking primarily to the party and her supporters, rather than to the broader public. The contast between former Virginia governor and now Senate candidate Mark Warner's speech and Clinton's is a good example of this difference. Warner stressed unifying themes and appeals across political groups, which was greated warmly but which fell short of electrifying the Democratic delegates. In contrast, Clinton played to the party and produced a predictably enthusiastic response within the DNC convention hall. Conventions contain both elements. Monday, the party celebrated Sen. Kennedy's life and family legacy, primarily an inside the family affair, perhaps touching some independents but not likely to attract Republicans. In contrast Michelle Obama's speech could have easily been given at the Republican convention, with its themes of family, hard work, pulling oneself up from working class circumstances. Hers was a speech designed to reach out beyond the party.

The one remaining question from the Clinton speech is whether her supporters also resepect her enough to follow her lead. For Clinton to be a power in the party includes the requirement that she be able to deliver her supporters for Obama. If any significant number of her supporters refuse to be delivered, they reduce her status as a result. This is hard to judge from the cable news coverage, who can easily find individual delegates willing to say they are unpersuaded. But what effect the Clinton speech has with her supporters outside the convention hall will be critical.