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Obama’s election to lose?

Text by Khatya CHHOR

Latest update : 2008-12-09

Opinion polls show Barack Obama in a comfortable lead over John McCain as the economic woes dominate the headlines. But could an incendiary incident abroad and a last-minute vote swing dramatically change the picture?

Click here to read FRANCE 24's special team of Observers' take on the 2008 US election campaign.




As the countdown to the Nov. 4 US presidential election gets closer to zero, a clear winner seems to have emerged. Following troubling news of home foreclosures, an unpopular Iraq war and the failure of key financial institutions, Democrat Barack Obama’s message of hope and change appears to be resonating with voters, while Republican John McCain’s appeal to experience and patriotism seems to have left them cold.

In a CBS poll of undecided voters who watched the final presidential debate Oct. 15, about 53 percent said that Obama won the standoff, 22 felt McCain was the winner and 25 percent thought it was a tie. A CNN poll the same day found that 50 percent of respondents favored voting for Obama, with 43 percent preferring McCain and 8 percent still undecided.


Given this state of affairs, it looks like it’s Obama’s election to lose. As a candidate, he remains vulnerable on foreign policy and security issues, which are McCain’s strong suit. A former soldier and prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain embodies a certain gravitas with regard to events beyond American borders.






When Russia invaded Georgian territory in early August, the McCain camp wasted no time firing up the rhetoric, calling for Russia to “immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations”. Obama was more circumspect, encouraging both sides to “show restraint”.


The candidates’ responses to the Georgia conflict exemplify the difference in their approach to foreign policy. McCain prefers to talk tough and forge ahead – it’s not his style to appear indecisive – while Obama seems comfortable with a more nuanced approach. Unfortunately for him, the American character often prefers the man-of-action method: shoot first and ask questions later.


Publisher Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report told Washington DC-based political magazine “The Hill” that “anything that shifts the focus onto the theme that ‘the world is a complicated place and foreign policy experience is important’ has a lot more upside for McCain than for Obama.”


Watch out for last-minute, poll-changing news event


With public attention now firmly fixed on economic troubles at home, charges that Obama lacks the necessary foreign policy experience have lost some of their potency. Another incendiary incident abroad, however, could shift the focus of the presidential campaign and reprioritize the issues in a way that plays to McCain’s strengths.


With the US presidential election always slated for the first Tuesday in November, October is the month to watch for last-minute, election-changing news events. During the 1980 campaign for the White House, Republican challenger Ronald Reagan feared that an October release of 52 American hostages in Iran would tip the scales in his opponent’s favour.


In the days before the election, however, the news cycle was dominated by President Jimmy Carter’s announcement that the hostages would remain in Iran. This news – combined with fresh memories of a botched, Carter-backed rescue attempt that resulted in the deaths of eight US soldiers that April – may have helped convince the public that a new face was needed in the White House.


Overcoming the ‘Bradley Effect’


Some pundits estimate that Obama will need to have a 6- to 9-point lead to overcome the “Bradley Effect”, named after African-American gubernatorial candidate Tom Bradley, who led in the polls but then lost the 1982 California election – presumably when white voters discovered, once in the voting booth, that they were not so colourblind after all.


But V. Lance Tarrance, a member of the strategy team for Bradley’s then opponent, George Deukmejian, calls this theory a “pernicious canard”. Writing in Real Clear Politics on Oct. 13, he says the 1982 polls were always statistically “too close to call”.


Tarrance predicts that for the 2008 presidential election, “There won't be a 6-9 point Bradley Effect – there can't be, since few national polls show a large enough amount of undecided voters and it's in the undecided column where racism supposedly hides”.


“If Obama or Senator Hillary Clinton had run for president the same year Tom Bradley ran for governor, neither would have advanced beyond the Iowa caucuses,” writes Donna Brazile, a longtime Democratic strategist, in an Oct. 16 editorial for CNN. “The country simply wasn't ready. It is now.”


“There is a contingent of folks in this country who will never, under any circumstances, vote a black man, or for that matter a woman, into office”, Brazile says. “Thankfully, those hateful, intolerant few are not the ones who will decide this election”.


Instead, the election will be decided by the undecideds, the 3-7 percent of voters who traditionally swing the vote one way or the other – and who remain to be convinced.


Date created : 2008-10-17