Monday, April 07, 2008

We Don't Know Steve Lombardo, And We're No Political Strategist, But His Analysis Of The State Of The '08 Presidential Makes Sense To Us

Mr. Lombardo's memo in full (h/t Jon Martin):

While the talk this morning will be about Mark Penn’s exit and another Hillary story fabrication, we want to focus on the general election matchup.

There has been much discussion about the fact that John McCain is running essentially even (or, in some cases, slightly ahead) of either Obama or Clinton.

Don’t be fooled by these general election head-to-head polls...they are a mirage. We believe that once Clinton withdraws from the race or wrestles the nomination from Obama, there will be a substantial electoral swing away from McCain to the Democrat. One week after the Democratic nomination is settled, we would not be surprised to see polls showing the Democrat with a double digit lead. This is more likely if Obama is the nominee but it is nevertheless a probable outcome. Here is why:

1. We are mired in the most protracted period of voter discontent since Watergate. Voters are angry and they want change. The latest NYT/CBS poll has the “wrong track” number at 81%. You almost have to keep repeating that number over and over for it to sink in.

2. The key drivers of voter dissatisfaction are the economy and Iraq, and neither is likely to improve substantially in the next 6 months. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe the country is worse off than 5 years ago and only 4% say it is better (NYT/CBS poll March, 2008). Only 21% of the respondents in that poll say the economy is in good condition. That is the lowest number since late in 1992. Median household income has yet to return to inflation-adjusted 1999 levels. Voters believe we are in a recession.

3. While Congressional approval numbers are extraordinarily low, voter antagonism is focused almost entirely on President Bush. As pollster Mark Blumenthal notes, Bush’s approval rating has been below 50% for 3 years and below 40% for two years. The LCG average of the President’s approval rating has it somewhere between 20%-31%. The downward slope of the trend line is startling. This is a big problem for Republicans and, by extension, John McCain.

4. Dissatisfaction with the President and the direction of the country has driven the erosion of the GOP brand. Brand association weakens when people are disappointed with the product (or service performance) and confused by the brand attributes. All of the above has happened to the GOP. Voters are less inclined to trust Republicans on a host of issues and are unsure about what they represent (the old hallmarks of lower taxes, social values and national security strength have all but disappeared). The Pew Research Center released a study last week showing that Democrats have an 8-point advantage in Party ID.

A January Gallup poll showed Democrats with an 11-point Party ID lead (51% to 40%). Additionally, there is data to suggest that Democrats are holding a double-digit lead in key swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. In terms of party identification, all three were essentially even in 2004 and Democrats now have at least a 10% margin in each.

5. The generic presidential ballot polling shows a generic Republican presidential candidate running anywhere from 10-15 points behind a generic Democratic presidential candidate. A poll taken by NBC/WSJ in March showed the generic Democrat with a 13-point lead (50% to 37%).

We believe that once the Democratic race is settled, Clinton voters will move to Obama (or vice-versa) and independents will split 2-to-1 in favor of the Democrat. This will give the Democratic nominee an immediate 10-12 point lead.

This is not to suggest that John McCain cannot win. We believe he still can. However, GOP strategists should be prepared for the inevitable swing to the Democrat. The question will be whether it swings back.