Clinton’s Chinese Finger Trap

I think it very interesting that the day after I mentioned that the Gallup Daily Tracker might be tracking something big on the rise, a new Gallup Daily Tracker points to the biggest lead of either candidate since early February. Back then it was Clinton with the double digit lead over Obama, but now the roles have reversed.

This reversal of fortune for Senator Obama is not locked in, of course. This is a relatively new trend and the analysis of the Gallup poll even points out that Obama did particularly well in the March 29th survey. Given this poll is weighted over three-day segments, that means that the first poll to look at that discounts that particular survey will come the day after tomorrow.

So this could very well be statistical noise; still, we’ll have to wait and see. But for now it is beginning to look as though we could be seeing the front-runner actually put some real distance between himself and Clinton for the first time in national polling and I think I have an understanding as to why.

Interestingly enough, the possible answer comes from a different poll that caught some buzz over the weekend because it showed that over ten percent of voters actually still believe Obama is a Muslim. While that was what netted headlines, there was a plethora of other knowledge to be mined in the poll. Allow me to paint a picture (The format didn’t convert well from the pdf file, so for clarification the numbers after the answers represent yes, no, and don’t know or don’t care):

Q.48 As I name some traits, please tell me whether you think each one describes Hillary Clinton. First, [INSERT

FIRST ITEM; RANDOMIZE; ASK ITEM f LAST] do you think of Hillary Clinton as [FIRST ITEM] ornot? Do you think of Clinton as

[NEXT ITEM] or not? [INTERVIEWER INSTRUCTION: IF

RESPONDENT SAYS THEY DON’T KNOW CANDIDATE WELL ENOUGH ENTER AS DON’T

KNOW AND EMPHASIZE THAT IS A LEGITIMATE ANSWER]

BASED ON REGISTERED VOTERS [N=1,248]:

Yes, describes Don’t Know/

Clinton No Refused

a. Patriotic 76 19 5=100

b. Phony 46 50 4=100

c. Honest 48 46 6=100

d. Inspiring 49 47 4=100

e. Down-to-earth 45 50 5=100

f. Hard to like 51 45 4=100

Q.49 Has Hillary Clinton ever made you feel [INSERT FIRST ITEM; RANDOMIZE; ASK ITEM d ALWAYS

LAST] or not?

BASED ON REGISTERED VOTERS [N=1,248]:

Don’t Know/

Yes No Refused

a. Hopeful 44 53 3=100

b. Proud 40 58 2=100

c. Angry 42 57 1=100

d. Uneasy 42 56 2=100

Q.51 As I name some traits, please tell me whether you think each one describes Barack Obama. First, [INSERT

FIRST ITEM; RANDOMIZE; ASK ITEM f LAST] do you think of Barack Obama as FIRST ITEM] ornot? Do you think of Obama as

[NEXT ITEM] or not? [INTERVIEWER INSTRUCTION: IF

RESPONDENT SAYS THEY DON’T KNOW CANDIDATE WELL ENOUGH ENTER AS DON’T

KNOW AND EMPHASIZE THAT THAT IS A LEGITIMATE ANSWER]

BASED ON REGISTERED VOTERS [N=1,248]:

Yes, describes Don’t Know/

Obama No Refused

a. Patriotic 64 27 9=100

b. Phony 27 66 7=100

c. Honest 65 25 10=100

d. Inspiring 70 26 4=100

e. Down-to-earth 67 25 8=100

f. Hard to like 17 78 5=100

Q.52 Has Barack Obama ever made you feel [INSERT FIRST ITEM; RANDOMIZE; ASK ITEM d ALWAYS

LAST] or not? Has Obama ever made you feel [NEXT ITEM] or not?

BASED ON REGISTERED VOTERS [N=1,248]:

Don’t Know/

Yes No Refused

a. Hopeful 54 43 3=100

b. Proud 42 53 5=100

c. Angry 26 71 3=100

d. Uneasy 38 60 2=100

 

These numbers should be far more disturbing to Team Clinton than the daily tracker puts up because while the daily tracker may show Hillary behind in the national polls, these trait numbers illustrate just what kind of a situation she’s in.

When I was a child, I used to love Chinese finger traps. You probably know what I’m talking about, but in case you don’t, Chinese finger traps are little more than little tubes that are made from strips of bamboo woven together. They look like this:

 Chinese Finger Trap

You stick a finger in each end, and then you try and pull your finger out. The harder you pull, the narrower the trap gets and the tighter it grips at your finger; the more you struggle, the harder it is for you to escape. And that’s the kind of situation that Hillary faces right now.

She’s behind Obama in the measure that really counts: delegates. In order to win, despite all the other talk you hear out there, Hillary Clinton is going to have to beat Obama in total delegates. The problem is, she can’t out-wonk him because step for step Obama is at least able to keep up with her. She’s nowhere near the kind of orator he is, so she can’t expect to win by out-dazzling him. The only path for her to take is to go dirtier.

The problem this poses is that voters already have a negative view of her, and anything less than campaigning on rainbows and roses for her is going to actually drive those negatives up. The worse those negatives get, the less likely it is voters are going to find her to be a candidate for whom they would be willing to vote.

The trick to negative campaigning is to damage your opponent so badly that no matter how badly damaged you are yourself, you still look better by comparison. Thus, if Obama had modest trait rankings, then I could see how Hillary might be able to pull off an all-out mud campaign against Obama. Problem is, you go back and look at his rankings and he has positive room to spare.

Thus, I think for a small amount of time negative campaigning will work, but I think that there is also a brief threshold before it backfires, and indeed we’ve seen this with the Wright controversy; apparently people didn’t take very kindly to Mrs. Clinton weighing in on it at all.

I think we can expect to see more and more of this as time goes on, and indeed it may get to the point where Obama’s greatest asset would be a highly caustic Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race and refusing to get out. This because she is increasingly turning into poison, which is eating her own candidacy away. There is a chance that that poison may eventually creep into the Obama campaign, but for now it is looking more like the longer Hillary stays in the race, the better Obama will look by sheer contrast.

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