Tabula Rasa

A new Gallup Daily Tracker starts us off this week with some interesting trends, yet I would be remiss if I didn’t note that if the hyperventilating poll parsing is already starting, it’s going to be a very long five months.

According to the GDT,Obama still maintains a lead over John McCain, but he does so now within the boundaries of statistical error.  Further, the number of undecided voters combined with “neither” voters has jumped up to fifteen percent, perhaps injecting more volatility in this race than what existed before.

Are the bitter enders vindicated in thinking Clinton should have been the nominee?  Or is Andrew Sullivan right in thinking that people are starting to back up now that it’s down to two; just taking a breather?

To be sure, one thing that should be fully understood is that about thirty-six million people voted in the Democratic primaries, while considerably less voted in the Republican primaries.  Even if we were to be generous and say that there was about equal participation on both sides, compared to the total popular vote of 2004, that would make up only about half the electorate.

And, considering just how many people did vote in the primaries, specifically the Democratic primaries, there’s all the reason to believe that voter participation in November will outstrip that of four years ago, making the total participation in primaries in the first half of this year a smaller fraction of the whole share.

Thus, while many of us have treated multiple headlines a day as though they would define who would or would not be president with breathless zeal, the fact of the matter is, chances are most of the people who are going to vote in the general election this fall have not been paying attention as avidly as those of us who were making odds a year and a half ago.

Nor should one be of the mind that this single poll spells the beginning of doom for Team Obama; as Joe Gandelman is fond of saying whenever he provides poll coverage, this is just a snapshot, folks, and other polls may disagree.

Indeed, a quick look at RCP’s running scoreboard shows the GDT to be slightly out of sync with the rest of the field, with Rasmussen showing it’s daily tracker for the same time period to have Obama up by six points.  RCP’s average gives Obama just a tad under four.

The general sense that I get from taking a look at these polls, and the general volume of news items that have hit, I think it’s a matter of political tabula rasa coming at a time when other news stories are making bigger waves.

For much of this year, the big horse race news has been Obama vs. Clinton.  That story is now over.  Obama did get a bump from the coverage of his being named the presumptive nominee, but now we’re looking at a new game, and one that has only just barely begun.

We have not had a whole lot of time to see how the candidates are going to address each other, especially outside of the context of a bitterly fought Democratic primary, and we have yet to get a feel for how this thing is going to ultimately play out.  Both sides have taken jabs at each other, but neither campaign seems to have fully geared itself towards General Election mode.

For McCain’s part, he’s still trying to mobilize and energize the party and the base behind him, while on Obama’s side, he’s still likely dealing with the fallout from his primaries to some degree.

As a result, what we are seeing is essentially a blank slate, made all the more apparent by the fact that this week saw at least two major stories drop that drove the focus of headlines away from the presidential race; the recent SCOTUS decision to finally restore Habeas Corpus, and the tragic passing of MSNBC’s top political newsman, Tim Russert.

So I think it’s quite worth noting that for all intents and purposes, the general election has yet to have begun, and Obama still maintains stronger leads over John McCain than John Kerry ever held over Bush.  Couple this with the fact that Obama has in his corner quite possibly the best political organization in decades, and I think he is still well poised to have himself a decent November.

Though, not to get anyone too excited, I think that with all things considered, continuous news cycles, vicious 527’s, and a soundbite driven media, I don’t think we’ll see anything resembling a landslide for years and years to come.

But I wouldn’t say that Obama is even close to being in trouble.

In fact, one thing that jumps out at me as I go back to looking at the GDT is the same thing I noticed in Hillary’s trend during the Democratic primary; McCain’s trend remains stable.  In fact, he seems to have peaked at a couple points south of 50 a couple of weeks ago, and has very slowly dropped.  Obama’s trend would be indicative of a classic bump, whereas McCain’s is more of a plateau.

Which, I think, establishes the key dynamic of the general election, and one that is not unlike that which characterized the Democratic primary.  McCain, who is extremely well known, is not likely to see his numbers shift much in one direction or another due to his long term high profile.  Obama, who continues to be somewhat of an unknown will exhibit a more volatile trend.

So long as he is proactive in defending himself and refusing to allow others to define him, Obama should do well against McCain, but then, that’s what the next five months is all about.

More at MemeorandumScared Monkeys (Highly disingenuous here.  One wonders if the author actually even bothered to click on the link after reading the question, “Where’s the bounce?” being asked.  The bounce is as plain as day to anyone who bothered to look at the graph.  I’m just saying), Taylor Marsh, TBogg, protein wisdom, The Other McCain, Donklephant and The Strata-Sphere

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