ABC News and the Washington Post are out with their first post-primary poll, and, as should not be surprising, it is fairly identical to the results found by CNN, Fox, USA Today, Gallup, CBS News, NBC News. (These polls are the gold standard; with Gallup tracking daily, wouldn't it be better if the networks put their resources into state polls?).
There is a remarkable consistency across all these polls, one that helps us draw certain boundaries around the electorate. There will always be variation, either random or events-driven, but the rough plot lines of the next few months are clear:
(1) McCain runs better among Republicans than Obama does with Democrats. The difference is not that big -- eight points in the CBS News survey, if I recall, and five points here -- but it is noticeable. This is probably an after-effect of a contested primary; it may also have to do with racism, with unease about Obama's resume, and with unease with the content of his message (butter versus bread.) There are more Democrats than Republicans, so Obama comes out about even, if a little bit ahead. Given the composition of the electorate, he should be doing a little bit better among Democratic women, among white Catholics in the Midwest and among national security-conscious swing voters.
(2) Independents are split almost evenly among the two candidates, suggesting that McCain's reformer/unorthodox branding is sticky. In this environment, Obama should outperforming McCain among independents, and he isn't. This raises a question: is the primary contrast argument of the Obama campaign -- that a McCain presidency is tantamount to a third Bush term -- not yet credible to independents? Maybe -- not yet working? I know that the Obama campaign and the DNC have survey data about McBush and have run focus groups about it, but so far, it persuades the choir, not the congregation.
(3) McCain's tricky balance. Democrats who support Obama are more enthusiastic than then are Republicans who support John McCain. The risk for McCain is not that these folks will switch, it's that, convinced he won't win, they'll stay at work on Election Day because they have no special motivation to vote for him. How does McCain give them the motive? Several options: he changes positions and becomes more of an orthodox Republican and ignites some sort of brand loyalty. Or he could argue that electing Obama represents a clear and present danger to the security of the country, to the prospect for economic growth, to the status of the family, etc. The campaign seems to be halfway there, arguing that Obama is untested and inexperienced and therefore he represents an etc. etc. etc.... but
(4) The economy isn't working well as an issue for Obama. Yes, Americans think he speaks more their concerns, yes, they are more comfortable with Democratic policy positions, yes, they say that the economy is the most important issue to them (Dems, independents, Republicans), yes, the objective condition of the economy is poor and consumer anxiety is manifest... but still. It should be the wave issue of this election, and it's not. The Obama campaign assumes that the election will be a referendum on the Bush economy, but it may well be that, as Obama himself has said, voters don't believe that the president has much control over the economy and therefore, when those 10 million or so independent/swing voters select the attributes that will guide their choice, economic stewardship isn't one of them. Put another way, it's much easier for an election in 2008 to be a referendum about the war -- politicians made choices that led directly to the war -- but it is objectively difficult for voters who have a basic knowledge of economics (even if it's intuitive) to blame the Bush tax cuts. The economy is working for Obama, but it's not working as well as it ought to be. Does he need a new argument? Is a new argument out there?
(5) Obama is in a better position to do much better. There are general questions about who Obama is, what he wants, what he's done, and what he will do, but as ABC News polling director Gary Langer notes, "for all these challenges, Obama retains strong fundamentals on issues and attributes, with highly motivated support and broad general appeal." Americans think he'll win the election; a major of adults want him to win the election; Americans like him and trust him personally. This tells me that they are ready to be persuaded, as opposed to waiting to be dissuaded.