Is Palin Behind McCain's Poll Drop?

Short answer: No.

I put together the following chart that includes 1) the RCP average lead for Obama, and the Daily Kos/Research 2000 average nightly lead for Obama. Some notes: 1) The R2K poll is shifted one day before the release date so that it matches the night the polling was done. And yes, I know Daily Kos numbers are bogus -- they don't intersect the RCP average once and show a +30 point favorability advantage for Obama over McCain (WTF?), when RCP shows +8. But they do show trends, and are the only ones that release nightly numbers, useful in pinpointing when shifts occurred. 2) RCP is shifted three days back, one day back to match R2K, and then two days further back to reflect the median date on which the polling was done to make it as much of an apples-to-apples comparison as possible.

What the chart seems to indicate is that Palin's network interviews were either not a factor, subsumed by other ginormous developments (e.g. the financial crisis and the debate). The blue line is the RCP lead and the red line is R2K:


Palin's Charlie Gibson interview was released on the night of 9/11 and the impact likely would have been felt on the 12th and 13th. Though this was a period in which the McCain bounce was undergoing natural slippage (not to mention the Fannie & Freddie collapse on the 7th), R2K shows McCain moving back into the lead on the night of 12th before Obama took the lead on the 13th. Given how pro-Democratic the R2K poll is, perhaps this was a temporary 9/11 anniversary effect.

Both R2K and RCP show Obama's numbers accellerating starting on the 13th and 14th, with him moving into an outright lead in the RCP average, culminating in a new plateau for Obama on the 15th. That was the weekend in which Merrill was sold and Lehman Brothers collapsed. This is generally considered to be the point the financial crisis began in earnest.

The next relevant milestone was the AIG collapse and the Paulson Plan announcement on the 18th and 19th. R2K shows this as the beginning of a slight McCain revival, while the RCP seems to indicate this augured in a period of continued slippage which lasted through the 25th.

Palin's Katie Couric interview made news on the 25th.

Indeed, Obama did jump from a 4 point lead on the 25th to an 11 point lead on the 28th and 29th, inflated numbers which haven't yet been fully factored into the RCP tally. But what else happened here? Umm... the first debate. Could it be that a debate watched by 52 million people where Obama is generally seen to have done well could have had more of an impact than a network interview news of which was probably buried by that first debate -- not to mention McCain's abrupt reversal on attending?

So, to sum up, the most important impacts on recent polling were:

  1. The Lehman/Merrill collapse (9/13-14)
  2. The first debate and fallout (9/26-28)
  3. The AIG bailout (9/18)

I don't see Palin on the radar screen of any of this. And I'd trust these numbers more than I'd trust the op-ed elitists.

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Good analysis

But why the need for the cheap attack on the R2K poll? It's just one more data point. They have Obama up by 9 today but Ras has them up by 7 and given that Ras has somewhat of a GOP bias the difference is hardly significant.

And RCP has bias problems of its own so no one is perfect.

In that case, what effect, if

In that case, what effect, if any, has the Palin nomination had on the polls?  There had to be some.

The Palin effect, the Wall Street effect, etc...

Correlation does not equal causation.  More than one thing took place every day a poll was taken.  Don't trust anyone who says Palin's interviews moved the polls.  Don't trust anyone who says Wall Street moved the polls, at least exclusively.  It's a big world out there.

Palin Rocks!

Keep this trainwreck on the ticket! Nothing to see here, move along.

Too many moving parts... draw a static, 1-to-1 relationship between a Palin effect and overall poll numbers.

Everyone will have their own theories, naturally, and no one can know where McCain would be now with a better campaign, better practical decisions, without the Wall St crisis, with or without Palin's recent performance.  All the same, the multi-level assault on Palin, verging on character assassination, has in my opinion worked to rob the ticket of the impetus it temporarily had gained as a legitimate and powerful reform/change alternative. 

Coming out of the convention, McCain-Palin was a dynamic duo, combining experience and youth, past and future, masculinity and femininity, bipartisanship and conservatism, credentials and everyman appeal, etc.  If the financial crisis had occurred two weeks earlier, the ticket would have been well-positioned to cope with it.  If it hadn't occurred at all, then Palin's qualifications on energy (which has gone from being a top issue to almost a footnote) and on government reform issues would have given her safer ground to fight on.  Instead, the ticket has had to meet the crisis virtually entirely on the basis of McCain's personal energy and bi-partisan bona fides.  In a defensive crouch, Palin has been virtually AWOL, more a question mark and, to the extent she's noticed by the media and the center of the electorate at all, she's been more an element of additional, unwanted uncertainty than a political plus. 

In short, at the precise moment that McCain-Palin's beachhead was being constricted and reduced, conditions on the front were altering even more in Obama's favor.  If Palin can get back in the fight, on the offense as more than a phenomenon of the party base, the natural tendency of the polls to tighten may be enhanced, and may even give the campaign more than an appearance of momentum.  In some scenarios, she could still provide the margin of victory.  If she's reduced to just a typical VP (nearly irrelevant) or becomes a negative, then McCain's already difficult task becomes even harder, perhaps impossible. 

Suggesting the Obvious

The cause of McCain's poll drop is McCain.  It could be just that simple.

Proposition. A politician good enough to pull off the upset against Obama would have been good enough to defeat Bush for the nomination in 2000.


I wanted to see Palin run for President in 2012 or 2016, but her appearance on the 2008 ticket surprised me.  I won't write her off no matter what happens this year.  If she fails this time around, hopefully she will have the resilience to learn from the experience and bounce back.