Poll: Negativity Hurting McCain
NEW YORK — A new survey of likely voters conducted by The New York Times and CBS found that the McCain campaign’s recent negativity and personal attacks on Sen. Barack Obama may have done more damage to Sen. John McCain than the intended target.
From The New York Times:
After several weeks in which the McCain campaign unleashed a series of strong political attacks on Mr. Obama, trying to tie him to a former 1960s radical, among other things, the poll found that more voters see Mr. McCain as waging a negative campaign than Mr. Obama. Six in 10 voters surveyed said that Mr. McCain had spent more time attacking Mr. Obama than explaining what he would do as president; by about the same number, voters said Mr. Obama was spending more of his time explaining than attacking…
Voters who said their opinions of Mr. Obama had changed recently were twice as likely to say they had grown more favorable as to say they had worsened. And voters who said that their views of Mr. McCain had changed were three times more likely to say that they had worsened than to say they had improved.
The top reasons cited by those who said they thought less of Mr. McCain were his recent attacks and his choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate. (The vast majority said their opinions of Mr. Obama of Illinois, the Democratic nominee, and Mr. McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee, had remained unchanged in recent weeks.) But in recent days, Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin have scaled back their attacks on Mr. Obama, although Mr. McCain suggested he might aggressively take on Mr. Obama in Wednesday’s debate.
The poll also found Obama leading McCain nationally by a comfortable 14-percentage point margin, 53 percent to 39 percent. The lead closed to 12-percentage points when third-party candidates were factored in, according to The Times. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Perhaps most shocking was this item, from CBS’ report on the poll:
Among independents who are likely voters – a group that has swung back and forth between McCain and Obama over the course of the campaign – the Democratic ticket now leads by 18 points. McCain led among independents last week.
The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder reported that a McCain campaign official dismissed the poll, saying it “‘falls outside the range’ of where the race is now.”
Perhaps it does, but it must also be raising the eyebrows of the Republican critics of McCain’s campaign management — like conservative columnist Bill Kristol and McCain’s own brother — if not the managers.
On one hand, the McCain campaign can hardly be blamed for choosing to go negative — it’s how underdogs have often turned around elections for generations. But negativity can have the opposite effect of turning off swing voters — who both campaigns are wooing right now.
This year, the presidential nominees had promised a different type of race: honorable and focused on the issues.
When McCain abandoned that pledge out of political expedience, this poll indicates that he may be paying a far higher price than previous candidates.
It also shows he may face a Catch-22 during tonight’s final presidential debate. His conservative base, whose support McCain really doesn’t have to worry about, would like him talk about William Ayers, the Chicago education leader and former member of the Weatherman Underground — though McCain would likely have to go out of his way to broach the subject, which could look desperate. But if he does, he runs the risk of further alienating the moderates whose votes will decide the election.
This debate may be McCain’s final opportunity to shake up this race. One has to wonder if the McCain campaign is re-formulating its debate strategy right now.