Palin’s VP Performance Was Good, but Probably Not a Game Changer in PA
Sarah Palin obviously exceeded most expectations in last night’s vice presidential debate with Sen. Biden. She held her own, showed a good command of the issues, wasn’t afraid to call Biden/Obama on the carpet, and reminded voters of her working class roots that Americans remembered from her debut to the nation during the GOP Convention. However, her performance probably won’t do enough to close the gap with Obama in the state. Obama currently maintains an average 7 point lead in the state based on the cumulative average of recent polls from realclearpolitics.com. This surge for Obama came after a wave of support for McCain that peaked the week of September 19th when our last statewide poll (conducted jointly with the Republican State Committee) showed McCain with a 2-point 46/44 lead in the state. At the time McCain’s support was cresting after enjoying a couple of good weeks prior to the fallout on Wall Street. In this 9/19 poll, McCain’s biggest gains were in the West, where he was virtually tied with Obama in Allegheny County (a big deal since Kerry won by 14 points in 04), and the Central PA region, where he was beating Obama by more than 40 points (a region Bush carried by 26 points). In the latest polls, Obama’s recent surge has come largely from Democrats in these two same regions – and reflects the fact that some of these Democrats broke for Obama after the bottom fell out on Wall Street, further reminding voters that under Bush’s watch, the economy is out of control, and that change is coming to Washington under an Obama presidency. This surge for Obama mirrors a similar dynamic nationally. So it is precisely these gains in the West and Central regions where Obama has made up ground. In the recent (independent) polling that has come out, McCain now holds a narrow lead in the Central region, and Obama is again winning Allegheny County by a huge margin (similar to Kerry numbers in ’04). However, Republican support for McCain is still in the mid/high eighty percent range, so even Palin’s shabby performance in interviews prior to her VP debate didn’t cost McCain GOP support. On VP night, almost all the females in our focus group conducted jointly with The Bartlett Group and Channel 27 News the same night as the VP debate concluded that Biden won the debate. This surprised me. Most said Biden stuck more to the issues, and connected with them more on an emotional level. Most said that Palin came across as superficial, and that the down-home folksy charm thing was over the top. None of them said they switched their minds as result of her performance. Anecdotally, Republicans I talk to now say they are reinvigorated by Palin’s performance, so all it may have done was reenergize the base. Ultimately, how this impacts the race in PA is still anybody’s guess, but we don’t think it was the game changer McCain needed either in PA or any of the other battleground states. This means we’re not convinced her performance was enough to win back some of McCain’s support from conservative, white working class Democrats he seemed to be enjoying in the polls “pre-Wall Street bailout”. This is the reason why temporarily they are breaking for Obama. However, since many of them are the same types of voters who probably voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries, we don’t get the sense that they are solid for Obama, so if McCain can reconnect with them, or if the focus of the campaign shifts to issues other than the economy in the remaining few weeks, he may be able to win back the hearts and minds of some of them.