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Defection And Indecision

Newsweek’s national poll is showing the same thing as Rasmussen did earlier in the week and Pew showed several months ago: Democratic defections in a McCain v. Obama race are approximately 20% (19% in this poll), while Obama is drawing 7% of what everyone acknowledges to be a much smaller pool of Republicans.  If that held up, that would almost double the Democratic cross-over vote in 2004.  Arguably, Democratic party ID has surged enough in the last four years that the Democrats might be able to afford, just barely, losing a fifth of their voters to the other side, but in a super-Democratic year in the wake of a failed Republican administration defections on this scale seem bizarre. 

According to Newsweek, Obama leads among independents by just four, and overall they are tied at 46%.  Obviously, the outcome will hinge mainly on the 8% undecided, as it always seems to do, and we have reason to believe that voters who remain undecided until fairly late are very focused on candidates’ character and nebulous (and sometimes false) estimations of the candidates’ “values.”  Indeed, based on the profile of the undecided voter that Hayes gives, they are not all together naturally Obama-friendly.  How did Hayes describe them?  For starters, he said they are “not as rational as you think,” “they don’t enjoy politics,” a number are what Hayes defined as “crypto-racist and isolationist” (i.e., they didn’t think Iraqis could develop a functioning democratic government, which strikes me as neither of those things) and “they seemed entirely unmoved by the argument–accepted, in some form or another, by just about everyone in Washington–that the security of the United States is dependent on the freedom and well-being of the rest of the world.”  Why then would be they attracted to the candidate who has claimed that the security of the United States is “inextricably tied” to the security of the rest of the world?  If they don’t enjoy politics, will they respond well to the standard Michelle Obama lines about being required to remain involved in politics?  If you think of politics as a necessary but unpleasant chore, do you want a candidate who promises to give you a lot more chores?  I doubt it.  Obama’s campaign puts a great emphasis on voter rationality and savvy, and he seems to assume that if he makes a coherent, serious policy argument then he will win people over, but undecided voters are not issue-oriented and don’t always make the connection between things they care about and the candidates who are closest to them.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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