Part of Obama Strategy Demonstrably Wrong

>> Saturday, September 20, 2008

Occasionally i like to do posts that deal with the Obama campaigns over all strategy for this election. Usually this focuses on the targeted ground game. This is an exceptionally important aspect of the election come voting time but until then the effects of this are speculative. The Obama campaign is on record as not caring about the national tracking polls or even about the media cycles. Back on August 28, the entire election strategy was laid out by David Plouffe.

Plouffe spent about the first 15 minutes talking about his field operation, and returned to the subject several times over the remaining 45 or so minutes. He said the campaign is focused on 18 states. They're especially concentrating on people he called "true undecideds" – people who aren't leaning one way or the other. The demographics of the true undecideds are favourable, he says: "We like where they are and who they are."

...He framed the contest as being about field operation vs. news cycle. "Their campaign," he said, referring to McCain's, "is all about winning the news cycle." He said his campaign's constant research shows that voters listen more to people in their communities they know and trust than they listen to attack ads or blowhards on television.

The crux of this is that the media and the news cycle are not particularly important. I think that the events of the last week have shown this to be demonstrably false. There are two pieces of evidence for this. One is the coverage of the economy and the rise of the Obama poll numbers, two is the rapid decline of sarah palin's favorables.

After the convention bounce and sarah palin selection McCain was riding high. There were many panicky stories popping up about how Obama was blowing it. McCain seemed to be winning every media cycle and he was holding his lead. The coverage was almost exclusively about Sarah Palin and McCain. The on Monday we saw a big change as the financial sector began to take some major hits with the collapse of Lehman and Merril and the Bankruptcy of AIG. These were big events and they changed the news cycle entirely.

The huge switch in the narrative of the campaign provided a big boost to Obama. As 538 revealed with updated polling.

Let's not equivocate too much here. Over the course of the past several days, there has been a rather dramatic shift in this election toward Barack Obama. Our trendline estimate, which is engineered to be fairly conservative, registers the swing as equaling roughly 4 points over the course of the past week.

Changes of this velocity are unusual outside of the convention periods and the debates, especially in close elections. It took John McCain about 60 days and tens of millions of advertising dollars to whittle Obama's lead down from roughly 5 points at its peak in early June, to the 1-point lead that Obama held heading into the conventions. Obama has swing the numbers that much in barely a week.

Of course, we never really were entirely outside of gravitational field of the conventions, and probably at least half of this bounceback for Obama is merely the more-or-less inevitable consequence of McCain's convention bounce ending. But the fact is that Obama is in a stronger position now than he was immediately before the conventions. We now have him winning the election 71.5 percent of the time, which is about as high as that number has been all year.

The election has continued to move towards Obama. Of course some of this reversal had to do with the typical deflation of a convention bounce. Usually bounces represent spikes in support that gradually fade over a period of several weeks. McCain's evaporated at a rate faster than originally predicted and Obama has come back almost to the high point of his convention. The reason for this must, in some way, e tied to the dramatic shift in media coverage. Ground game and word of mouth is just not going to produce this type of acceleration. It was media pressure hyping the crisis and the fact Obama was winning that coverage that helped drive the polls.

The second piece of evidence that demonstrates that the media cycle is important and not something that should be ignored is the precipitous decline of Sarah Palin's numbers.

Gov. Sarah Palin’s favorable/unfavorable ratings have suffered a stunning 21 point collapse in just one week, according to Research 2000 polling. Last week, 52% approved and 35% disapproved of the GOP vice presidential nominee (+17 net). This week, 42% approved and 46% disapprove (-4 net).

This has been driven mostly by media coverage of her positions and by her faied interview with charlie gibson. It has not been obama's doing but it does revel the power of the national media and the news cycle. maybe palin was always going to come down from such high favorable unfavorable numbers but this is such a steep slope that it is hard to imagine it coming without intense media exposure. If Palin was not losing the media cycle day after day then she might not be seeing her unfavorables eclipse her favorables.


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