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BREAKING: New Polls and Wise Young’uns

The press conference at the Watergate Hotel opened with a question for the assembled reporters: “How many of you have voted already?”

A majority of the sixty or so journalists present raised their hands.

The conference, billed as a pre-release of the new Allstate/National Journal Battleground States Poll, was mostly a discussion of the effects of early voting and of certain general trends on the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.

The poll itself was not terribly remarkable. Sen. Barack Obama holds modest leads in Colorado (4 points), Florida (1), North Carolina (4), Ohio (7) and Virginia (4). But because the sample size was small — in the low 400s — the results are dubious and fall mostly within the poll’s margin of error (+/-4.9 percent).

I pressed Ron Brownstein, the political director of the Atlantic Media Company and leader of the panel, on the small sample size. He responded that the poll is most helpful not for its state-by-state numbers but “for the overall trends” it shows.

And there are some interesting trends to be drawn from the combined data, for which the margin of error is a more reasonable +/-2.2 percent.

For one, of the 17 percent of respondents in the five battleground states who had already voted by Monday night, 56 percent had picked Obama, while 34 percent had chosen Sen. John McCain. The number of early voters is expected to shatter all precedents — National Journal’s Jim Barnes expects 60 percent of Colorado voters to cast their ballots before Nov. 4.

In what Brownstein calls “the fundamental ill that Sen. John McCain faces,” 65 percent of those polled disapprove of the job President George W. Bush is doing, and of those who disapprove, 67 percent support Obama.

Still, it’s worth noting that McCain is outperforming past candidates among voters dissatisfied with an incumbent of the same party. According to Brownstein, 11 percent of the people who disapproved of Ronald Reagan voted for George H. W. Bush in 1988, and 9 percent of those who disapproved of Bill Clinton voted for Al Gore in 2000. McCain, on the other hand, has the support of 23 percent of those who disapprove of Bush.

But to make up his deficit, McCain would need that figure to jump into the 30s. Said Brownstein, “That’s a little like asking someone who runs a four-minute mile to run a three-minute mile — at age 72.”

The poll also broke down people’s preferences based on their economic concerns. While many polls have indicated that Obama leads McCain on economic issues, the Allstate/National Journal Battleground States Poll looks a little deeper. It shows that McCain leads among those whose chief economic concerns are the financial market crisis, education costs, gas and utility prices and retirement savings. Obama leads among those who worry most about health care (the No. 1 concern overall), paying their rent, credit card debt and job loss. Among people who cited the collapsing housing market as a concern, he holds a commanding 57 to 39 lead.

Political commentator Mark Shields asked the panelist to comment on youth vote. With 13 percent of the electorate under the age of 30, he said, and Obama leading in that age group by a margin of 69 to 25 percent, Obama only needs as much support from the rest of the electorate as Michael Dukakis had in 1988 — and he’ll win the election.

Brownstein responded that John Kerry’s 54 percent among young voters in 2004 was impressive, and he does not expect Obama to score significantly higher than that, despite the current numbers. He also pointed out that only one Democrat since World War II has received more than 50.1 percent of the popular vote in a presidential election — Lyndon Johnson in his 1964 landslide — and it is unlikely that Obama will.

N.B. On the way back to TWI headquarters, the metro was suddenly inundated by little people, evidently returning from a class trip to the White House. I overheard the following conversation between two boys, who must have been around 7 years old:

Boy 1: The White House rocks! Do you want to be president someday?

Boy 2: (without hesitation) Nah, too much responsibility.

Politicians of past and present, take heed!

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