It should be pretty clear from my posts over the weekend that I didn’t consider Clinton’s attacks on Obama for his comments in San Francisco to represent a meaningful attack. Actually I considered the controversy to be more of a reflection on Clinton as it showed how desperate she was to grab onto anything to try to attack Obama, even if it meant attacking him from the right. However the more important question is not what I think of the validity of the attacks but whether they are likely to impact the nomination battle. So far it does not look like these attacks are having much impact.
The polls do not yet present a clear picture as they do not fully take in the response by voters. For example, The Philadelphia Daily News shows Obama closing the gap on Clinton, trailing by only six points, compared to trailing by sixteen points in March. They include this caveat:
But experts said that the survey may not fully show the impact of Obama’s statements last week that small-town Americans are “bitter” over their economic status and “cling to guns or religion.”
“It’s too soon — you’d have to see polls taken Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,” said political consultant Neil Oxman. “It’s clear [internal] polling in both campaigns show an uptick in support for her and a downtick for him.”
They go on to note that “Clinton is now running a television ad attacking the remarks.” The Swap tried to answer this question with a study by a consumer-research company that examines advertising effectiveness. They did not find that the ad had much of an effect:
After being shown the ad, not many people shifted their views. When asked before and after seeing the ad who they would vote for if the election were held today, Obama’s support went to 44 percent to 45 percent, pre versus post. Meanwhile, Clinton’s support went from 43 percent to 44 percent, pre versus post.
Although the ad does not seem to be having much of an effect, apparently Clinton believes this is the only argument she has left. Talking Points Memo reports that this negative ad is the only spot Clinton is running in most Pennsylvania markets.
Another theory raised over the last few days is that party activists might not care but that superdelegates might see Obama’s comments as harmful in a general election and therefore switch to support Clinton. I believe this is primarily hopeful thinking on the part of Clinton supporters. The Hill interviewed some of the superdelegates and did not find evidence that Obama’s comments were a liability.
While the poll I noted above still shows Clinton with a small lead, other polls continue to show even worse news for Clinton. Public Policy Polling shows Obama with a three point lead. While this is still statistically a tie, the trend does not look good for Clinton who led by three points last week. Nationally, a Reuters/Zogby poll shows Obama increasing his lead to thirteen points, up from a ten point lead last month.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Obama with a ten point lead with other numbers also presenting poor signs for Clinton. Obama has moved to a 2 to 1 edge as to which is more electable in a general election. In a hypothetical general election race, Obama leads McCain by five points while McCain leads Clinton by three points. Clinton’s unfavorable rating has increased from 40% after the New Hampshire primary to 54%.
Clinton’s strategy of trying to destroy Obama by running a dirty and dishonest negative campaign against him also appears to be backfiring. The Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Clinton is viewed as “honest and trustworthy” by only 39 percent of Americans.
Among Democrats, 63 percent called her honest, down 18 points from 2006; among independents, her trust level has dropped 13 points, to 37 percent. Republicans held Clinton in low regard on this in the past (23 percent called her honest two years ago), but it is even lower now, at 16 percent. Majorities of men and women now say the phrase does not apply to Clinton; two years ago, narrow majorities of both did.
Superdelegates may or may not consider Obama’s comments in San Francisco, but it is hard to ignore the dangers of nominating a candidate who is considered to be dishonest by so many Americans.