Polls: McCain Ahead in Key Blue States

If the election were held today, John McCain would win three states Republicans haven’t won in years, a meaningless Rasmussen poll passed on by CQ shows.

Arizona Sen. John McCain is running strongly in three states that have been solidly Democratic in recent presidential elections; a particular surprise is New Jersey where, a month ago, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had a double-digit lead, according to a new round of state-by-state general election match-ups. The series of polls by Rasmussen Reports, which included Michigan and Washington State, also underscored what most other national and state polling has found – high negatives for Clinton as far as favorability ratings. McCain often scores the highest favorability ratings, while Illinois Sen. Barack Obama comes out on the positive side, but by lesser margins.

Rasmussen says McCain and the Democrats are in a statistical tie in New Jersey, with McCain leading Clinton 45 percent to 42 percent and Obama by 46 percent to 45 percent, with a 4 point margin of error. A month ago, Obama ran closely with McCain but Clinton, showing strength in her neighboring state, had led McCain 50 percent to 39 percent.

McCain is also running a close race with the Democrats in Michigan, according to the Rasmussen survey conducted March 25. He leads Obama 43 percent to 42 percent, and Clinton by 45 percent to 42 percent, with a 4.5 percent margin of error. McCain is viewed favorably by 55 percent of voters, Obama by 50 percent and Clinton by 47 percent. This is a state the Democrats have carried in the last four elections. It is also one of the two states (the other being Florida) where the controversy continues over the Democratic Party’s decision to strip both of their delegates for breaking party rules by moving up the dates of their primaries. Forty-five percent of Michigan Democrats say there should be some kind of a re-vote, while 39 percent disagree. Mirroring a Gallup poll earlier today, a plurality of Democrats believe Obama would be a stronger opponent for McCain than Clinton (by a 48 percent to 41 percent margin) and 58 percent expect Obama to win the nomination.

Rasmussen noted that the Republicans have not carried New Jersey for 20 years, but added “in recent years, several GOP candidates have done well in spring polls only to see their hopes fade in the fall.”

Which, oddly, is what’s likely going to happen here. Polls taken in March of election years — before most undecided voters even realize that there’s going to be an election in November — are virtually meaningless. They reflect name recognition and snapshot reactions to recent events rather than considered judgment.

If, as seems likely, the general election pits McCain against Obama, several states that have been solidly “Red” and “Blue” in recent cycles may be in play. Both are different enough — or, at least, perceived to be different enough — from run of the mill candidates of their party that people will given them a second look. But the safe bet, certainly, is that states that have gone Democratic the last twenty years will go for Obama and states than haven’t voted for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson will probably go for McCain.

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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. Dave Schuler says:

    As I’ve been saying for some time now, I think that the 2008 election is really beyond the control of the campaigns. If the economy tanks (or people can be convinced that it has), that’s really bad news for John McCain. Indeed, I think that most of the possible, even the longshot events, would tend to work against his election.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I agree that bad news generally is bad news for McCain. It’s rather silly — he’s not president right now or in any way more responsible for the state of the economy than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton — but politics often is just that.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Even good news may be bad for McCain, say, if things in Iraq become very good (which, I admit, is extremely unlikely) it will tend to make the case for Obama or Clinton.

  4. Leo says:

    I wish there was a filter I could install to drop all these polls (from the media feed, or my brain, heh) at this point. It’s meaningless til after the bloodletting and the conventions are over.

  5. yetanotherjohn says:

    I agree that polls at this time aren’t likely to have a lot of meaning come November, but there are a few things to garner from them.

    1) Going into the year, every political sign and portent said this was going to be the democrats year. That these polls show the republicans even have a chance indicate that perhaps that is not so. I suspect that has more to do with the democrats than it does with the republicans.

    2) It is one thing to talk about states that haven’t gone for a republican in 20 years, it is another to remember why the states went for a republican 20 years ago. The democrats are trying to decide between putting up liberal or liberaler as their candidate. Think of the McGovern, Mondale and Dukakis getting steam rolled. Though it sends the left into convulsion fits when you mention it, this is a center right country. The democrats do best when they can persuade people their candidate is at least as close to the electorate than the republican candidate. When the nominee tilts to far to the left, states that haven’t voted for a republican in 20 years come into play.

  6. just me says:

    That these polls show the republicans even have a chance indicate that perhaps that is not so. I suspect that has more to do with the democrats than it does with the republicans.

    I think this is a good observation. If the democrats weren’t having such a close race and beating up on each other, things may be different. But I think the uncertainty alone in the democratic side makes the GOP look better.

    Also, McCain at least can’t be painted into the “far right” wing of the party, McCain actually sits very close to the majority of the electorate on the political spectrum-closer than either Obama or Clinton sit.

    I still think this year is going to be tough for the GOP-but I think the race for the white house may not be the cake walk some democrats think it will be.

  7. Michael says:

    1) Going into the year, every political sign and portent said this was going to be the democrats year. That these polls show the republicans even have a chance indicate that perhaps that is not so. I suspect that has more to do with the democrats than it does with the republicans.

    I disagree, I think John McCain was the only Republican candidate who would have had a shot at any of the top 3 Democrats this cycle, and at the beginning of the year McCain was in 4th place. While certainly the struggle between Clinton and Obama has probably turned some voters off to either candidate, I doubt many would have been moved towards Romney, Huckabee or Giuliani.

  8. yetanotherjohn says:

    Michael,

    I don’t think we are disagreeing. In 2007 (or more accurately after 2006 election), the conventional wisdom was that the democrats would win the 2008 presidential election. You have a sitting president who is term limited and has low approval numbers, the VP was not going to run, the GOP was getting beaten up on Iraq, etc. Every portent was that 2008 was the democratic party’s year to shine.

    I agree that McCain is better positioned to reap the benefit than say Romney. But the fact is that we are looking at polls that show the Republican candidate is solidifying blue states trending purple (e.g. Virginia) and even going after some red states that are tending purple.

    The fact that any republican is able to be making any progress against the political headwinds is the story. The fact that in its collective wisdom the GOP may have selected the candidate most able to make progress against the headwinds and the democrats’ contest is shaping up to block those headwinds is just part of how it is all coming about.

    justme,

    I agree that it is in no way going to be a cake walk as things lie now. But, I can see a series of events that could lead to a 1972, 1984 or 1988 type electoral college blowout. I can also see a series of events that would lead to a democratic EV blowout (think 1964). The most likely scenarios are as usual in the middle. But realistic and even probable scenarios are emerging that give the Republicans the win. That was not the case for 2007.

  9. Michael says:

    I don’t think we are disagreeing. In 2007 (or more accurately after 2006 election), the conventional wisdom was that the democrats would win the 2008 presidential election. You have a sitting president who is term limited and has low approval numbers, the VP was not going to run, the GOP was getting beaten up on Iraq, etc. Every portent was that 2008 was the democratic party’s year to shine.

    Yes, we agree on that. What I disagreed with was your claim that the turn around had more to do with the Democrats than the Republicans. I think the Republican nomination of McCain as at least as important as anything the Democrats did, probably more so.

  10. yetanotherjohn says:

    Michael,

    I guess I am putting a fair amount of the change to do with the democratic party’s actions. Not accomplishing much when they got congress, wallowing in pork and ethics problems, gutter fight for the presidential nomination, disenfranchising Michigan and Florida, making claims about the surge not working, etc. I think all this helped the political picture for the GOP. Has it helped more or less than nominating McCain? Your mileage may vary.