Wednesday, October 15, 2008
McCain's Attacks Show He's Out Of Ideas. I hope McCain brings his slime bucket tonight.
The McCain campaign’s recent angry tone and sharply personal attacks on Senator Barack Obama appear to have backfired and tarnished Senator John McCain more than their intended target, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll has found.
After several weeks in which the McCain campaign unleashed a series of strong political attacks on Mr. Obama, trying to tie him to a former 1960s radical, among other things, the poll found that more voters see Mr. McCain as waging a negative campaign than Mr. Obama. Six in 10 voters surveyed said that Mr. McCain had spent more time attacking Mr. Obama than explaining what he would do as president; by about the same number, voters said Mr. Obama was spending more of his time explaining than attacking.
Over all, the poll found that if the election were held today, 53 percent of those determined to be probable voters said they would vote for Mr. Obama and 39 percent said they would vote for Mr. McCain.
The findings come as the race enters its final three weeks, with the two candidates scheduled to hold their third and last debate on Wednesday night, and as separate polls in critical swing states that could decide the election give Mr. Obama a growing edge. But wide gaps in polls have historically tended to narrow in the closing weeks of the race.
Voters who said their opinions of Mr. Obama had changed recently were twice as likely to say they had grown more favorable as to say they had worsened. And voters who said that their views of Mr. McCain had changed were three times more likely to say that they had worsened than to say they had improved.
The top reasons cited by those who said they thought less of Mr. McCain were his recent attacks and his choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate. (The vast majority said their opinions of Mr. Obama of Illinois, the Democratic nominee, and Mr. McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee, had remained unchanged in recent weeks.) But in recent days, Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin have scaled back their attacks on Mr. Obama, although Mr. McCain suggested he might aggressively take on Mr. Obama in Wednesday’s debate.
With the election unfolding against the backdrop of an extraordinary economic crisis, a lack of confidence in government, and two wars, the survey described a very inhospitable environment for any Republican to run for office. More than 8 in 10 Americans do not trust the government to do what is right, the highest ever recorded in a Times/CBS News poll. And Mr. McCain is trying to keep the White House in Republican hands at a time when President Bush’s job approval rating is at 24 percent, hovering near its historic low.
While the poll showed Mr. Obama with a 14 percentage-point lead among likely voters in a head-to-head matchup with Mr. McCain, when Ralph Nader and Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate, were included in the question, the race narrowed slightly, with 51 percent of those surveyed saying that they were supporting Mr. Obama and 39 percent supporting Mr. McCain, with Mr. Nader getting the support of 3 percent and Mr. Barr 1 percent. Other national polls have shown Mr. Obama ahead by a smaller margin.
The poll suggested that the overwhelming anxiety about the economy and distrust of government have created a potentially poisonous atmosphere for members of Congress. Only 43 percent of those surveyed said that they approved of their own representative’s job performance, which is considerably lower than approval ratings have been at other times of historic discontent. By way of comparison, just before the Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994, 56 percent of those polled said that they approved of the job their representative was doing.
And after nearly eight years of increasingly unpopular Republican rule in the White House, 52 percent of those polled said that they held a favorable view of the Democratic Party, compared with 37 percent who said they held a favorable view of the Republican Party. Voters said they preferred Democrats to Republicans when it came to questions about who would better handle the issues that are of the greatest concern to voters — including the economy, health care and the war in Iraq.
The nationwide telephone poll was conducted Friday through Monday with 1,070 adults, of whom 972 were registered voters, and it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points for both groups.
After several weeks in which the McCain campaign sought to tie Mr. Obama to William Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground terrorism group, 64 percent of voters said that they had either read or heard something about the subject. But a majority said they were not bothered by Mr. Obama’s background or past associations. Several people said in follow-up interviews that they felt that Mr. McCain’s attacks on Mr. Obama were too rooted in the past, or too unconnected to the nation’s major problems.
“What bothers me is that McCain initially talked about running a campaign on issues and I want to hear him talk about the issues,” said Flavio Lorenzoni, a 59-year-old independent from Manalapan, N.J. “But we’re being constantly bombarded with attacks that aren’t relevant to making a decision about what direction McCain would take the country. McCain hasn’t addressed the real issues. He’s only touched on them very narrowly. This is a time when we need to address issues much more clearly than they ever have been in the past.”
The poll found that Mr. Obama is now supported by majorities of men and independents, two groups that he has been fighting to win over. And the poll found, for the first time, that white voters are just about evenly divided between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama, who, if elected, would be the first black president. The poll found that Mr. Obama is supported by 45 percent of white voters — a greater percentage than has voted for Democrats in recent presidential elections, according to exit polls.
Mr. McCain was viewed unfavorably by 41 percent of voters, and favorably by 36 percent. Ms. Palin’s favorability rating is now 32 percent, down 8 points from last month, and her unfavorable rating climbed nine percentage points to 41 percent. Mr. Obama’s favorability rating, by contrast, is now at 50 percent, the highest recorded for him thus far by The Times and CBS News.
There were still some strong findings for Mr. McCain. Sixty-four percent of voters polled said Mr. McCain, 72, was well-prepared for the presidency, which has been a central theme of his campaign. Fifty-one percent said Mr. Obama, 47, was.
But roughly 7 in 10 voters said Mr. Obama had the right kind of temperament and personality to be president; just over half said the same of Mr. McCain.
Mr. Obama’s supporters continued to be more enthusiastic about him than Mr. McCain’s supporters, the poll found, and more of those surveyed said they had confidence in Mr. Obama than in Mr. McCain to make the right decisions about the economy and health care. And while more than 6 in 10 said Mr. Obama understood the needs and problems of people like them, more than half said Mr. McCain did not.Marjorie Connelly and Marina Stefan contributed reporting.