In fact, both Clinton and Obama performed almost exactly the same against McCain throughout–polling virtually even with him, at around 45 percent–no matter how popular or unpopular either was within the Democratic primary electorate.
But shouldn’t McCain actually be doing badly, given the state of the economy and the war? And doesn’t that just prove how damaging this campaign has been? As long as Clinton and Obama are fighting each other, the eventual nominee can’t attack McCain effectively. He’s getting a free ride.
Well, maybe. But look at those graphs again. If McCain is getting a free ride, it doesn’t seem to be doing much good. He’s running no stronger against either candidate than he was before the Wright story, Bittergate, or the Bosnia controversy.
It’s possible McCain’s numbers are stagnant simply because Clinton and Obama soaking up all of the media attention. But there may be another explanation, one I know I’ve read elsewhere (maybe in a Gallup analysis, though I can’t find it now): That 45 percent figure represents a ceiling of his support.
I’ve wondered about this. In the polling I’ve seen, McCain seems to be tied with both Clinton and Obama at a time when the two Democrats have been going at each other while getting something of a free ride from the media. Voters vaguely know that they like McCain, based on his ‘maverick’ reputation he earned during the 2000 GOP primaries.
But at the same time, people haven’t been reminded or informed of McCain’s policies and history (he wants to stay in Iraq, he doesn’t understand economics, his temper, or his membership in the Keating Five, and more) and haven’t yet closely associated him with the George W. Bush legacy which remains wildly unpopular among voters.
It may be that McCain will be able to maintain his level of support and increase it enough to win. But if he’s tied with both of the Democratic candidates during a period when he has received little media coverage doesn’t bode well for him.