Tuesday, October 14, 2008

American voters grow antibodies

The top line in the NYT/CBS poll is stunning enough: 53-39 among probable voters. But the Times very aptly chose a headline highlighting an astonishing internal: "Poll Finds Attacks by McCain Turn Off Voters." Here's the key data:
Voters who said that their opinions of Mr. Obama had changed recently were twice as likely to say that they had gotten better as to say they had gotten worse. And voters who said that their views of Mr. McCain had changed were three times more likely to say that they had gotten worse than to say they had improved.

The top reasons cited by those who said that thought less of Mr. McCain were his recent attacks and his choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate.
Prior to this presidential campaign, conventional wisdom had hardened that you could not win a hotly contested U.S. election without going viciously negative. The primaries gave off some encouraging signals that voters were, as the Times says, "turned off" by negative ads -- such ads seem to have backfired on Romney in Iowa, for example. Obama's got the right mantra this year: not this time. Eight years of disastrous leadership enabled by Rovian tactics seem to have schooled the electorate to a degree.

The reaction to Palin is in more than one way of a piece with the reaction to negativity. First, she's the rabid point-dog in the character assassination campaign. Second, her very selection is the ultimate in false advertising - as her two unscripted interviews made clear to anyone who's ever faced a test with inadequate knowledge. (My conversations with undecided voters in Pennsylvania bear out a savvy Huffington Post OfftheBus reporter's field dispatch: Sarah Palin is the magic bullet. Undecides do not like her, and they'll tell you about it.)

Democracy in America: not dead yet.

UPDATE: just picked up a similar thought from Joe Klein, posted today:
It has been striking to me this year that the public seems far more serious about this election--far less tolerant of diversions--than some of my colleagues in the media. In this particular case, with Palin's support evaporating in the polls as people get to know her better, the public (with the exception of the Republican base) has proven that it is taking this election more seriously than the Republican candidate.

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