The Economist Criticizes McCain for Move to the Right

Those who believe Obama has been changing his views since winning the nomination accuse him of moving towards the center. I tend to agree more with Ed Kilgore that what we are seeing is more a case of different aspects of the issues being important in a general election campaign as opposed to a primary campaign. Regardless of whether the candidate is actually changing positions, it would be expected to see a candidate’s campaign statements to be directed more towards a centrist audience than to the extremes of either the left or the right.

The Economist has such expectations for candidates to move towards the center, and is critical of John McCain for moving towards the right as opposed to towards the center:

WHEN more than 80% of Americans tell pollsters that they think the country is on the wrong track, and when only 28% of them believe that the president is doing a good job, you don’t need a Karl Rove or a Dick Morris to tell you that the road to the White House involves steering well clear of the incumbent’s policies. So why is John McCain not doing it?

The Republican candidate has always been close to George Bush when it comes to defending two fundamental, if unpopular, points of principle—the Iraq war and free trade. But in recent months Mr McCain has slid to the right on a series of other issues, including tax cuts, offshore drilling, immigration and even torture. This manoeuvring seems insincere and short-sighted.

They accuse McCain of “saying things it is very hard to imagine that he remotely believes in.”

It was a bad omen last year when this freewheeling western conservative in the Reagan mould went off to court the intolerant Christian right. And recently, the flip-flops have come rapidly. Once a vigorous opponent of Mr Bush’s tax cuts, he says he wants not only to continue but also to extend them. Once a champion of greenery, he has called not only for an expensive petrol-tax holiday (something Mr Obama cleverly resisted) but also for a resumption of drilling off America’s coast. Once a supporter of closing down Guantánamo Bay, he recently criticised the Supreme Court for daring to suggest that inmates deserve the right of habeas corpus. He has edged to the right on two other areas where he used to be hated by his party’s conservatives as a dangerous maverick: on torture (he won’t rule out water-boarding) and immigration reform (he says fix the border first, which will take an eternity).

Ramsussen Reports Libertarians Back Obama over McCain

Rasmussen has tied to poll libertarian support for the presidential candidates and found that Obama has the lead:

Libertarian voters make up 4% of the nation’s likely voters and they favor Barack Obama over John McCain by a 53% to 38% margin. Three percent (3%) would vote for some other candidate and 5% are not sure. These results, from an analysis of 15,000 Likely Voter interviews conducted by Rasmussen Reports, challenges the conventional wisdom which assumes that strong support for a Libertarian candidate would hurt John McCain.

The problem in interpreting such polls is defining who a libertarian is. If they polled Libertarian Party members or if they polled self-identified libertarians (which overlap, but actually represent different groups) then support for Obama would probably be much lower. Rasmussen tried to define libertarians based upon social and economic views:

In June, Rasmussen Reports asked 15,000 Likely Voters if they were fiscally conservative, moderate, or liberal and if they were socially conservative, moderate, or liberal. This created a total of 16 possible combinations (not sure was a fourth option for both questions). However, 87% of voters fit into one of seven combinations. Libertarians, defined as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, are the smallest of these seven combinations.

I suspect that this definition results in a smaller number of libertarians than might exist based upon categorizing voters based upon positions on actual issues. If we go by the practices of George Bush and contemporary Republicans, then fiscally conservative might mean support for deficit spending, corporate welfare, and economic policies designed to transfer wealth to the ultra-wealthy. Any definition based upon self-identification based upon economic views without clearly defining the terms is bound to be inaccurate. Social liberals who hold pro-market views might be unlikely to self-identify as fiscal conservatives, keeping down the number of people who are defined as libertarians.

This is probably why different sources differ so greatly in their estimates of the number of libertarians. Libertarians for Obama provides a couple of other estimates:

The Cato Institute’s David Boaz says 12%. The Libertarian Party trumpeted a survey in 1996 that claimed that 20% of Americans are generally libertarians.

Rasmussen also breaks down the support for each candidate based upon views, the value of which remains limited by the lack of clarity of these definitions:

Looked at from a different perspective, 25% of Obama’s support comes from voters who are fiscally moderate and socially liberal. Twenty-four percent (24%) are both fiscally and socially moderate while 17% are fiscally and socially liberal. No other group provides more than 8% of Obama’s support.

Forty-five percent (45%) of McCain supporters are both fiscally and socially conservative, 15% are fiscally conservative and socially moderate, 14% are both fiscally and socially moderate, and 12% are fiscally moderate and socially conservative.