Obama Has 15 Point Lead in Newsweek Poll

A Newsweek poll of registered voters shows Barack Obama with a whopping 15-point lead over John McCain, 51 to 36. Newsweek‘s Michael Hirsh is stoked.

Barack finally has his bounce. For weeks many political experts and pollsters have been wondering why the race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain had stayed so tight, even after the Illinois senator wrested the nomination from Hillary Clinton. With numbers consistently showing rock-bottom approval ratings for President Bush and a large majority of Americans unhappy with the country’s direction, the opposing-party candidate should, in the normal course, have attracted more disaffected voters. Now it looks as if Obama is doing just that. A new NEWSWEEK Poll shows that he has a substantial double-digit lead, 51 percent to 36 percent, over McCain among registered voters nationwide.


The latest numbers on voter dissatisfaction suggest that Obama may enjoy more than one bounce. The new poll finds that only 14 percent of Americans say they are satisfied with the direction of the country. That matches the previous low point on this measure recorded in June 1992, when a brief recession contributed to Bill Clinton’s victory over Bush’s father, incumbent George H.W. Bush. Overall, voters see Obama as the preferred agent of “change” by a margin of 51 percent to 27 percent. Younger voters, in particular, are more likely to see Obama that way: those 18 to 39 favor the Illinois senator by 66 percent to 27 percent. The two candidates are statistically tied among older voters.

Um, Tim, this is one poll. It’s safe to presume, then that voter dissatisfaction is already being factored into the Obama numbers.

Andrew Sullivan notes that, “You need to go back to Dukakis to find a similarly big Democratic lead.” Then again, as Eric Kleefeld reminds us, Dukakis “went on to lose the election.”

Furthermore, the Newsweek numbers are ridiculous. As Nate Silver observes, “Newsweek‘s data tends to be fairly volatile, and we have a whole bunch of polling on both the state and national level that implies that Obama’s real margin is closer to 5 points.” And that’s including the Newsweek numbers! Here’s the latest poll aggregation from RealClearPolitics:

Polls Obama v McCain 6-20-08

The latest Gallup poll, also released yesterday, found, “Among likely voters, Obama led McCain by 50%-44%, an insignificant change from his earlier standing of 49%-44%.”

As the chart of polls at Pollster.com shows, Newsweek has huge swings from month-to-month that just aren’t showing up in the other polls. Simply put, there’s either something serious wrong with their methodology or that of all the other major polls. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s the former. I simply don’t believe, for example, that Obama has a 7 point lead among men. Or that only 16 percent of Independents are undecided.

This campaign has been going on a long time. And people are particularly engaged in politics this season because of the war, gas prices, and a general sense that we’re “headed in the wrong direction.” But the fact of the matter is that most Americans are barely paying attention at this point. Polls taken in June, before the conventions and before the general election campaign begins in earnest, are just incredibly poor predictors of the future outcome. Indeed, more often than not in recent elections, the person ahead at this stage goes on to lose.

Further, as if it needs to be pointed out after the last two presidential cycles, national head-to-heads mean precisely squat. It’s the state polls and the race to 270 Electoral Votes that matters.

That said, my dismissal of the Newsweek findings goes to magnitude, not direction. I think the following are true:

  • Obama is ahead nationwide and in enough states to win the Electoral College
  • President Bush is the most unpopular president since Richard Nixon and McCain’s association with him is toxic
  • The public desperately wants “change” and Obama’s youth, energy, party ID, and color make him the more plausible vehicle for that
  • Obama’s a better campaigner than McCain
  • Obama will have a huge financial advantage which should help him expand on the other advantages

Were the election held today, I’m pretty sure Obama would win. The only reasons I’m not absolutely sure is that Obama’s appeal is particularly strong with demographics that historically don’t actually show up to vote (although I think they will this time) and, frankly, I have no way of gauging the “Bradley effect,” since we’ve never had a person of color as a major party presidential nominee. As to the latter, I think it’ll be a factor but a rather minor one, since most of the documented cases are from quite some time ago and there’s evidence that it’s no longer much of a problem.

Of course, the election is not being held today.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    Well, it strikes me that this kind of thing is exactly why they actually RUN horse races.

  2. DL says:

    Excellent analysis except you forgot the media which have already tattooed Obama’s logo on their collectivist butts.

  3. JD says:

    Your analysis is really spot-on. I touch on the historical inaccuracies of the Newsweek poll here.