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Obama's "Underperformance" in the Polls

9:48 AM, Aug 22, 2008 • By GARY ANDRES
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By every indicator, Barack Obama should be doing much better in the polls. Why isn't he? Jeff Jones, who helps write the Editors' Blog over at Gallup, believes that it's not that Obama is underperforming, but that analysts' expectations for the Democrat are too high given no incumbent is running:

It's possible that it's not Obama's performance in the polls that is lacking, but that the expectations for how he should be doing are too high. The high expectations for Obama are based largely on an assessment that the political environment is very favorable for the Democrats, but maybe that will not be as big a factor in this election as in other elections.

Jones notes that despite the treacherous political environment, presidential races featuring no incumbent are almost always close. And, factors such as the economy's strength or current president's popularity are not strong predictors of November results. He evaluates the five elections with no incumbent running since Gallup's been collecting data (1952, 1960, 1968, 1988, 2000) and shows the political environment doesn't correlate with who wins. Jones writes this:

So in past elections in which no incumbent was running (as is the case this year), the political environment hasn't seemed as important to how the election eventually played out in an obvious way. Thus, maybe it's not that Obama is underperforming what he "should" be doing. Rather, pundits' expectations about how he should be doing may just be too high because they are relying on patterns that -- though well established -- may not apply to all election years equally.

I agree and would add this: Tying John McCain to a bad economy or blaming him for lousy right track numbers is a daunting political task - no matter how often or vociferously the Democrats try. He is a senator - and a pretty independent one to boot. People get that. Accusing him of causing everything that went wrong over the last eight years may energize some Democrats, but it won't win an election.