Obama Raising Money, Not Poll Numbers

Barack Obama is a “rock star” and is raising nearly as much money as Hillary Clinton and is spending more money on advertising in Iowa, yet he’s losing ground in the polls. LAT staffer Robin Abcarian wonders how that could be.

Everywhere he goes, Obama gets a Hutton Street-style welcome.

Crowds coo, strain to shake his hand, get his autograph, take his picture. In town meetings, supporters testify with religious fervor. At a Des Moines forum on global climate change, high school physics teacher Bill Cox lobbed the ultimate love bomb: “You remind me of John Kennedy,” Cox said. “Are you going to be the person to . . . lead us to true energy independence?”

“I am the man,” Obama replied confidently, prompting an ovation.

So why isn’t Obama doing better in the polls?

No candidate in recent memory has swept onto the national political scene with greater fanfare. Obama has been on magazine covers and talk shows. Oprah Winfrey endorsed him, and Obama Girl’s unrequited urges turned him into a YouTube sensation. He has raised nearly as much money as Clinton, and in Iowa, at least, has advertised twice as much (4,244 TV spots versus 2,192, according to the Nielsen Co.)

Yet he has been unable to translate the relentless, often fawning attention into anything approaching a surge, especially in the crucial state of Iowa. Here, where the nation’s first contest is scheduled to take place the first week of January, polls show him in a tight three-way race with Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, though Clinton has recently pulled ahead.

The problem is that campaign crowds are a self-selected sample whereas public opinion polls are, theoretically at least, a cross sample of likely voters. It may well be that all of Obama’s fervent supporters are giving money and showing up to see him. Clinton, meanwhile, doesn’t generate nearly as much energy but she has much broader support.

As Steven Taylor notes, Howard Dean had the same sort of enthusiastic support and fundraising flash last cycle and then “lost in fairly spectacular fashion.” Then again, Obama can also take some solace in the Dean example: All the pundits had handed him the nomination — and written off John Kerry, who had to mortgage his wife’s mansion to keep his campaign afloat — before a single vote was cast.

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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 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    LAT staffer Robin Abcarian wonders how that could be.

    Because he’s black?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Because he’s black?

    Not sure I follow. Presumably, to the extent that being black is harmful to one’s ability to garner support in the polls it would also be difficult to raise money and throngs at rallies?

  3. Anderson says:

    Presumably, to the extent that being black is harmful to one’s ability to garner support in the polls it would also be difficult to raise money and throngs at rallies?

    Not sure *I* follow. If Obama’s base is particularly enthusiastic, that will translate into money and throngs. If the rest of the voters are prejudiced (I started to write “uneasy with a black candidate,” and then thought “what am I saying???”), then the base’s enthusiasm will carry him only so far.

    I’m not *arguing* that race is the problem, but to ignore it as a possibility seems very, very strange. Americans outside the South sometimes seem to think that racial prejudice doesn’t exist north of the Mason-Dixon line.

  4. James Joyner says:

    I’m not *arguing* that race is the problem, but to ignore it as a possibility seems very, very strange.

    I wonder if it isn’t a wash in a Democratic primary, though? Indeed, I’m not sure that a white Obama would be getting the traction he is.

  5. Anderson says:

    See this post from Andrew Sullivan. People can say “oh, *I’m* fine with Obama, but I’m not sure the rest of the country will elect a black man.”

    Electability, IOW. And poor Edwards is left implying he’s “electable” because he’s a white male … not exactly the way to win a Democratic primary.