McCain really needed to win. He is, as far as presidential polls go, way behind, and people are making up their minds. In fact, they’re already voting in some states. And he didn’t win.
Despite some good moments, he came across on an emotional level as petty and condescending, sometimes rambling and on the verge of incoherence. He referred to Obama at one point as “that one”, a moment that might come to stand in debate history alongside Gore’s sighs, Bush senior’s peek at his watch and Nixon’s five o’clock shadow.
Even the Republican commentators on CNN (and apparently David Brooks as well!) couldn’t bring themselves to argue that McCain won the second debate. As for the first two debates, the polls showed that the undecideds scored it for Team Obama:
The CBS poll of uncommitted voters (n = 516) has Obama winning 40% to 26%. Views of Obama and McCain changed positively: those who thought Obama will “make the right decisions on the economy” rose from 55% to 68%, and for McCain from 41% to 48%. Those who said that Obama “understands voters’ needs” rose from 59% to 80%, and for McCain from 33% to 44%.
CNN’s flash poll has Obama winning 54% to 30%. Importantly, Obama is 22 points ahead (59% to 37%) with these undecideds when they’re asked who would better handle the economy, and 21% ahead (57% to 36%) on who would better handle the financial crisis. Obama also gained a net 8% in favorability, while McCain was unchanged.
Obama was slightly ahead with the CNN sample on who would better handle Iraq (51% to 47%) and slightly behind on who would handle “Terror” (51% to 47%). So McCain’s losing his lead there, but the fact that the economy is overwhelmingly what is concerning voters right now cannot be a consolation.
Oh, and Obama wins the likeability test hands down. On “who was the most likeable” it was 65% for Obama and 28% for McCain.
So here’s where we’re at. The voters are scared out of their wits by the biggest financial meltdown since the 1930s. They’re seriously worried about their jobs, their homes, their health care and a lot more. The fast diminishing pool of undecideds, in particular, don’t seem impressed by character assassination. McCain’s negativism of recent months hasn’t had any traction. Team McCain’s clever strategy? Empty all the sewers on the voting public! Gosh darn, ain’t that the cleverest thing since suspending the campaign to go to Washington and, er, not doing anything useful…?
I’ll have That One, please…
Postscript: Once again, the Fox News text-in poll has a massive victory for McCain, which is kind of comforting. If those who watch Faux News are so one-sidedly Republican, then the Republicans’ chief propaganda outlet is basically just retailing Republican talking points to its own base. Harmless stuff.