Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Why of What Palin is Doing in Attacking Obama

Much has been said in the last week about the hateful invective continually delivered by Sarah Palin in her campaign stops across the country. She delivers it so cunningly, and so deliberately. Her convention speech reference to "community organizers" gave us a clear picture of her capability to use a scalpel to excise and lay before the public her version of worthy and not, and now we see this applies to evil and terrorism. Palin can elicit strong hate responses, and one can only do that if one can personally connect to the issue themselves.

I have contended--and still hold--that Sarah Palin was chosen as VP to solidify the evangelical vote within the GOP. It was not about attracting the women's vote, though handy she was female. And she has certainly solidified that base. Recent Pew polling (September 9-14, 2008) shows a 10 percent rise in support of McCain by Evangelicals from June 2008 to September 9, 2008.

But Palin has also done something else, as well, and hardly by accident: She is playing on fear, pointing to Obama and saying terrorist in the same sentence. Why? Well consider this Pew chart from 2004:

Now, let's switch gears slightly for a moment to discuss a September 9, 2008 talk given by Jonathan Cohen, Director of Polling, Washington Post. (You tube video in entirety, below.)

According to Cohen (about 16:00), in 2004 terrorism reigned as the issue with voters according to exit polling data. 49% of voters polled indicated this in 2004 election exit polling saying they trusted only George Bush to handle terrorism. 97% of these 49% voted for George Bush. Do the math. That is 48% of the electorate. Bush won against Kerry with 51%, needing only 3% of additional voters (voting on other issues) who did not believe terrorism was the issue to win the election, which he did.

But here is the clincher:

What Cohen says, after this (see point about 17:26), is that "(...) It remains a core GOP belief that they can win on terrorism, and I will get to later McCain's advantage on the issue over Barack Obama..."

Cohen then goes on to cite that as of September 2008, fear of terrorism (domestic) has dropped to almost 1997 levels, levels extent well before 9/11 (19:00), though noting that 2/3 of those polled remain apprehensive about the possibility of another major attack.

Cohen then goes on to show there has been more decoupling between the war on Iraq and the war on terrorism (19:43), noting, nonetheless, that McCain holds a polling advantage on the war on Iraq and on terrorism (21:00), which he says has been a consistent lead... and is a 20 point lead over Obama (this would be part of the post convention polling, which, he suggests, is similar to other polling of late August).

September 9, 2008 Berkeley, CA talk, Jonathan Cohen, Director of Polling, Washington Post.
13:20 about the next 45 days from 9/9/08.


While no one can say for sure what is going on behind the doors of the McCain campaign aside developing scenarios to knock Obama off his game, what people do know is that the McCain campaign, like Obama's, poll constantly. This gives the campaigns information on where they are falling down, where they have a leg up, and can serve as the basis for the tone and issue preference the campaign will set in the immediate and/or long term future. We are talking immediate future now, with 24 days to go.

McCain has nose-dived, is doing poorly in many battleground states, and Palin's favorability ratings have plummeted as well. Obama, depending on the polling, shows a 6 to 11 point national lead, with a commanding number of electoral votes in hand as of today if polling is anywhere near correct.

So, does McCain believe he can harvest votes through Palin's invective about Barrack, using in the same sentence, over and over, Obama and the word terrorist? Of course. Was this just a personal attack? No.

The one area where McCain leads Obama in the polls--and has consistently--is on his credibility and trust on the Iraq war and on terrorism. This is precisely WHY Palin is bringing it up, and why McCain isn't apologizing. It could make or break his presidential bid.

Palin never had to say Obama was of Arab descent. Terrorist and Arab, in the post 9/11 world, go hand in hand and a recent spate of hate crimes against Islamics underlines this, as well as its seeming connection to Palin's rhetoric.

John McCain did correct that notion at one campaign stop--with an audience member accusing Barack of being of Arab descent--but barely. And don't look for other corrections or for Palin to change direction. If it isn't terrorism, it will be another polling vulnerability.

McCain's campaign has rightly come under considerable heat from both the public and media for the oft hate spewing crowd Palin seems to be whipping up for him while he stands doe-eyed behind. And no doubt his campaign is playing from the internet nut playbook which has accused Obama of everything short of being a space alien.

This is nasty politics, but it is politics.

McCain knows he has to pull every single string to hope to unweave the web Obama and his supporters have carefully woven and he, and only he, can make the decision whether a principled loss or an unprincipled stab at winning are more important.

I think we all see what he has concluded.