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Can McCain Attain Escape Velocity?

Paul touched on this story yesterday, and it's interesting enough to take another look.

According to the new NEWSWEEK Poll, the public's approval of Bush has sunk to 28 percent, an all-time low for this president in our poll, and a point lower than Gallup recorded for his father at Bush Sr.'s nadir. The last president to be this unpopular was Jimmy Carter who also scored a 28 percent approval in 1979.

When your job approval numbers are comparable to Jimmy Carter's, you know you're in the basement. Republicans quickly point out that this news of little consequence because Bush isn't running for election -- and that's true, our glorious constitution will remove Bush from office January 20, 2009 -- something that the voters should have done on November 2, 2004.

But what I find even more interesting is the gravity Bush's poor approval ratings is putting on the ability of any of the Republican candidates to rise above the pack. The most courageous of the group, Senator John McCain, spent much of the early campaign period holding onto George Bush's legacy -- and now he can't escape from it.

But for many months, McCain has appeared to cater to the Republican establishment, hoping to inherit the Bush fund-raising apparatus and placate conservatives who do not trust him on issues of taxes and immigration. His efforts have not paid off: he is not the front runner in fund-raising or in national polls. And he has seemed strangely dispirited along the way, more petulant than determined in last week's first Republican debate. That may be because he senses that his unflagging support for a highly unpopular war in Iraq could end his political career, but it may be because he is not, at heart, a politician. He is a warrior.

After supporting President Bush's current efforts in Iraq McCain attempted to distance himself from Bush's shadow in last Thursday's debate, pounding the podium for emphasis as he proclaimed that "The war was terribly mismanaged. The war was terribly mismanaged and we now have to fix a lot of the mistakes that were made." McCain now realizes that America is ready for a change.

All of the candidates can perhaps take some solace in Americans' dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the United States at this time (only 25 percent are satisfied; 71 percent dissatisfied). American dissatisfaction ratings last hit 71 in the NEWSWEEK poll in May 2006, at the height of the scandal over secret government wiretapping inside the United States. The last time that even half of our survey respondents were happy with the direction of the country was in April 2003, shortly after the start of the Iraq war. With that many unhappy Americans, the nation should have a strong appetite for new leaders and new ideas.

Whether McCain has the fuel to attain the velocity needed to pull away from the pack remains to be seen.

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Comments (3)

Paul Hamilton:

The Bush wing of the party really stuck a knife in his back in 2000. The charges were as false as the ones the Swifties made against Kerry, but that doesn't matter because all people remember are the accusations, not the facts.

The truth of the matter is that McCain probably should be the Republican with the broadest support, but after he was politically crippled eight years ago, I don't know if he can recover.

The other major anchors around his neck are his unwavering support for a very unpopular war and his abrupt lurch to the right in the past two or three years.

When he was still a maverick, I could have almost supported him, but now, he's just thrown away any chance of support from the moderates and Rudy is the one to benefit from that.

But I still am not ready to hand the nomination to Guiliani just yet. Several of the key early primaries are in the south and there is no way Rudy will win there, so it could turn out to be a very interesting contest and McCain and Guiliani may actually knock each other off and let a dark horse win.

And if Fred Thompson officially enters the race, all bets are off. The truth is that he has no real record, but he'll have the Reagan-obsessives and the halfwits (who just vote on how well a candidate delivers a speech) in his pocket on day one.

My betting line at this moment -- which is just about meaningless -- would be F. Thompson first, with Rudy and McCain in a dead heat for second.


You might not want to rely on that poll too much.

It turns out that when they put the poll together, they managed to select about half again as many Democrats as Republicans (36% to 24%), which skews the poll out of usefulness (across the population, Democrats and Republicans are about the same in percentages, and even the most extreme polls show there certainly aren't half again as many Dems).

I make no claim that I understand how polling works, and I know others have a better understanding and hopefully someone can explain this better and/or correct my explanation if needed, but let me make a stab at addressing your question.

First, there's this methodology explanation on the poll results page.


Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,001 adults, 18 and older, conducted May 2-3, 2007. Results are weighted so that the sample demographics match Census Current Population Survey parameters for gender, age, education, race, region, and population density. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points for results based on 1,001 adults and 831 registered voters. Results based on smaller subgroups are subject to larger margins of sampling error. The margin of error is plus/minus 7 percentage points for results based on 422 registered Democrats and Dem. leaners and plus/minus 8 percentage points for results based on 324 registered Republicans and Rep. leaners. In addition to sampling error, the practical difficulties of conducting surveys can also introduce error or bias to poll results.

I'm not sure where you're deriving your 36% and 24% figures from, Cirby - but it makes sense that the polled group's party affiliations would reflect the overall voter population (I'm sure there are better words to describe this).

For example, if the party affiliation numbers for the entire voting population of the United States is 42% Democrat, 32% Republican, 25% Independent, and 1% other -- then a poll conducted with 1,000 people would -- in order to be representative of the overall population -- sample 420 Democrats (42%), 320 Republicans (32%), 250 Independents (25%), and 10 "others" (1%).

You wouldn't ask 250 Democrats, 250 Republicans, 250 Independents, and 250 "others", right? Is that what you;re suggesting -- that the number of Democrats and Republicans polled should be equal?


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