Obama Plunges in Newsweek Poll!

Newsweek has released a new poll and is excited by the huge change: “Glow Fading? The latest NEWSWEEK Poll shows Barack Obama leading John McCain by only 3 points. What a difference a few weeks can make.” This is quite amusing in that pretty much everyone agreed that the June 20th Newsweek poll was an outlier.

No matter. In a Newsweek Web Exclusive, Jonathan Darman explains,

Obama’s rapid drop comes at a strategically challenging moment for the Democratic candidate. Having vanquished Hillary Clinton in early June, Obama quickly went about repositioning himself for a general-election audience–an unpleasant task for any nominee emerging from the pander-heavy primary contests and particularly for a candidate who’d slogged through a vigorous primary challenge in most every contest from January until June. Obama’s reversal on FISA legislation, his support of faith-based initiatives and his decision to opt out of the campaign public-financing system left him open to charges he was a flip-flopper. In the new poll, 53 percent of voters (and 50 percent of former Hillary Clinton supporters) believe that Obama has changed his position on key issues in order to gain political advantage.

More seriously, some Obama supporters worry that the spectacle of their candidate eagerly embracing his old rival, Hillary Clinton, and traveling the country courting big donors at lavish fund-raisers, may have done lasting damage to his image as an arbiter of a new kind of politics. This is a major concern since Obama’s outsider credentials, have, in the past, played a large part in his appeal to moderate, swing voters. In the new poll, McCain leads Obama among independents 41 percent to 34 percent, with 25 percent favoring neither candidate. In June’s NEWSWEEK Poll, Obama bested McCain among independent voters, 48 percent to 36 percent.

He makes a nod toward reality with this:

Obama’s overall decline from the last NEWSWEEK Poll, published June 20, is hard to explain. Many critics questioned whether the Democrat’s advantage over McCain was actually as great as the poll suggested, even though a survey taken during a similar time frame by the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg showed a similarly large margin. Princeton Survey Research Associates, which conducted the poll for NEWSWEEK, says some of the discrepancy between the two most recent polls may be explained by sampling error.

This is followed by a blithe return to pretending that both Newsweek (or is that NEWSWEEK?) polls are accurate and must reflect real movement. As OTB readers know, the previous poll showed an Obama advantage that was 14.5 percent higher than a RealClearPolitics average that included the outlier poll. How about now?

Well, surprise, surprise! It’s now perfectly in line with what the other polls — only 1.8 percent off the average but right in the flow of the other July polls.

Is the “glow” off of Obama? I’d love to see it. The data, unfortunately, don’t seem to support that conclusion. Here’s a graph of RCP’s McCain-Obama numbers since January:

McCain’s numbers are down slightly since Hillary Clinton’s concession while Obama’s are up a smidgen. (Note: The scale makes the variation look more substantial than it is.) McCain’s numbers have been as high as 47 and as low as 40 whereas Obama’s have fluctuated between 43 and 49. The gap between the two has never exceeded 4 points. So, we’ve got a very close race with very little movement that Obama has been leading, with brief exceptions, for months.

Beyond that, the usual caveats apply: We don’t elect presidents by national vote but state-by-state. We vote in November, not July. Registered voter polls such as Newsweek’s and CNN’s are less reliable than likely voter polls like Rasmussen’s. There’s a possibility that Obama’s numbers are somewhat inflated because people don’t like to admit that they don’t support the black candidate (although recent evidence for that phenomenon is scant).


  • Ed Morrissey notes that the difference is likely that the previous poll grossly oversampled Democrats.
  • Stacy McCain‘s reaction mirrors mine: “The ‘rapid drop’ never happened, because Obama’s purported 15-point June lead never existed.”
  • Digby believes Obama’s drop is real and offers this analysis:

Many people assumed those values were their own, and without a detailed analysis of his policies and his books, they were unlikely to think they were anything but orthodox liberal. This was, after all, a Democratic primary. So, when Obama did the predictable (although surprisingly clumsy) turn to the right and began to speak in somewhat unprogressive terms on things like the death penalty and faith based programs and FISA and abortion, they felt betrayed. The campaign had actually encouraged them not to know but rather to place their faith in Obama on a personal level.

I’ve been predicting that would happen for, oh, eighteen months now.  But I just don’t see any evidence for it.

Memeorandum has many more reactions: Chicago Tribune, Real Clear Politics NO QUARTER, American Power, Bucks Right, TalkLeft, Open Left, PoliGazette, Flopping Aces, THE GUN TOTING LIBERALâ„¢, Wake up America, The Jed Report, Power Line, Hullabaloo, Eunomia, Lawyers, Guns and Money, TPM Election Central, THE ASTUTE BLOGGERS, Gateway Pundit, Hotline On Call, Comedy Central, MyDD, Newshoggers.com, Blue Girl, Red State, Taylor Marsh, Macsmind, TIME.com, and Donklephant

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Blogosphere, Guns and Gun Control, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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. Continuum says:

    The correct analysis would be that the Newsweek polling has been clearly out of whack rather than any wild swing in voter preference. Meanwhile, the right wing-nuts have started celebrating some kind of McCain resurrection. True to form, they perpetuate their own neocon fantasy world.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Sen. Obama’s most dangerous opponent isn’t John McCain but himself. For a lot of Americans he’s still an unknown, unfamiliar quantity and lots of folks are still full of misconceptions about him. The more he repositions, clarifies, or explains the more doubt he’ll cast on himself.

    He also needs to stop musing in front of presumed friendly audiences. That might be fine for a law professor, community activist, or even a state legislator but he’s injured himself practically every time he’s done that recently.

    Oddly, John McCain, too, is his own worst enemy.

  3. James Joyner says:

    True to form, they perpetuate their own neocon fantasy world.

    “Neocon” has a very limited meaning that doesn’t work here. Wikipedia gives a reasonably concise history:

    The term neoconservative was originally used as a criticism against liberals who had “moved to the right”. Michael Harrington, a democratic socialist, coined the usage of neoconservative in a 1973 Dissent magazine article concerning welfare policy. According to E. J. Dionne, the nascent neoconservatives were driven by “the notion that liberalism” had failed and “no longer knew what it was talking about.”

    The first major neoconservative to embrace the term was Irving Kristol, in his 1979 article “Confessions of a True, Self-Confessed ‘Neoconservative.'” Kristol’s ideas had been influential since the 1950s, when he co-founded and edited Encounter magazine. Another source was Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine from 1960 to 1995. By 1982 Podhoretz was calling himself a neoconservative, in a New York Times Magazine article titled “The Neoconservative Anguish over Reagan’s Foreign Policy”.

    Prominent neoconservative periodicals are Commentary and The Weekly Standard. Neoconservatives are associated with foreign policy initiatives of think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), The Heritage Foundation, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).

    Nowadays, “neoconservative” is used almost exclusively in the foreign policy sense.

  4. Floyd says:

    Times headline 2009…. “Newsweek goes out of print”[lol]

  5. yetanotherjohn says:

    I wonder if the Newsweek writers even bother to read their own polls.

    The poll where Obama was ahead by 15 points had 23% GOP, 38% dems, 35% indys and 4% don’t know/other.
    In that poll, 12%R, 80%D and 48%I backed Obama. 78%R, 11%D and 36%I backed McCain.

    The poll where Obama is ahead by 3 points has 28% GOP, 35% dems, 33% indys and 4% don’t know/other.
    In that poll, 12% R, 81%D and 34% I backed Obama. 83% R, 11% D and 41% I backed McCain.

    So understanding the swing is pretty simple. The R and D crossover was constant. McCain made a little progress consolidating his base while Obama stayed essentially flat. But Obama has moved a lot of independents into the don’t know or McCain column.

    So between the different party weighting and the independent shift, I think we can explain why the poll moved so much. That still leaves the question of is newsweek’s shift jest moving into reality (aka in line with the other polls), or did something really shift in the electorate (e.g. independents deciding that Obama was just another pol after all).

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    “Neo-con” has now become totally unmoored from its original meaning and now seems to be used solely in the sense of “war-monger”.

    BTW, James, have I mentioned that Michael Harrington was an alumnus of my high school? A few years before my time there.

  7. Bithead says:

    Nowadays, “neoconservative” is used almost exclusively in the foreign policy sense.

    I’m with Schuler, here. Perhaps more correctly, “Neocon” is now anything the left disagrees with.

  8. James Joyner says:

    have I mentioned that Michael Harrington was an alumnus of my high school?

    I don’t think so. Interesting.

  9. yetanotherjohn says:

    Well, it looks like at least a part of the newsweek movement was real.

    For the second straight day, the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll shows that the race for the White House is tied. Sunday’s numbers show Barack Obama and John McCain each attracting 43% of the vote. When “leaners” are included, the two candidates are tied at 46%. For most of the past month-and-a-half, Obama has led McCain by approximately five percentage points.

  10. The Eyes of America says:

    With Barrack and his followers and benefactors hate campaigning on America, and the industrialized world in general, with their agenda of terrorism and deceit, why is anyone not surprised by all of this? He is the enemy, and all of America is his intended target, and all of America knows it. We don’t want to be anyone’s target, Obama. You’ve done enough damage to America, and the world, already.

  11. DL says:

    Why do I feel that Newsweek’s isolated 15 point lead was just an attempt to manipulate people to step up on the left and middle and give up on the right. As climate liars, weathermen and stockbrokers have learned successfully over the years; “Predict often, and you’ll never be wrong.”

    This is but Newsweek’s version of Clinton and Obama’s triangulation game -take both sides only they didn’t quite do it as simultaniously as the Pols did.

  12. Grewgills says:

    Perhaps more correctly, “Neocon” is now anything the left disagrees with.

    Sort of like Marxist or of late fascist for those on the right.

    Why do I feel that Newsweek’s isolated 15 point lead was just an attempt to manipulate people to step up on the left and middle and give up on the right…This is but Newsweek’s version of Clinton and Obama’s triangulation game -take both sides only they didn’t quite do it as simultaniously as the Pols did.

    So now they’re balanced. That should make you happy, right?