Why ‘Wal-Mart Women’ Won’t save McCain or the GOP by Eleanor Clift of Newsweek

November 2, 2008 at 6:15 am Leave a comment

eleanor-clift-newsweek.jpgJust about every poll shows Barack Obama ahead in key battleground states, yet an internal McCain campaign memo, conveniently leaked to the media, calls the race “functionally even.” 

The memo’s author, highly regarded pollster Bill McInturff, argues that
McCain’s salvation will be “Wal-Mart women” without a college degree
making below $60,000 a year. These are the voters the politicians
overlook and who have found their voice in Sarah Palin and their gender
counterpart in Joe the Plumber–or so the theory goes.

An election night surprise is always possible, but the last time the
so-called Wal-Mart women were for McCain was during the Palin mania in
early September. Since then, the support for Barack Obama among these
voters has grown into a twenty-point gap in Obama’s favor. Reading
McInturff’s memo online, Sam Popkin,
a political science professor at the University of California, San
Diego and author of “The Reasoning Voter,” concludes that the
beleaguered McCain pollster “must be smoking something.”

Popkin
polls for The Economist magazine, and McInturff’s assertions didn’t
sound right to him. So he ploughed through the last five months of
polling he did for The Economist in search of the Wal-Mart women trend.
“I’m looking at the graph,” he told me as he scrolled down to find the
data. In early September, Wal-Mart women were essentially split, with
Obama ahead by three or four points. By the time of the first debate,
Obama had a 15-point lead, reflecting the diminishing returns of the
Palin pick for McCain along with the increasing saliency of the economy
as an issue. McInturff evidently chose his words carefully, introducing
a phrase open to interpretation. “Functionally even–I don’t know what
that means,” says Popkin. “Is it the same as functionally illiterate?
It doesn’t reflect in any way, shape or form the data I’m looking at.”

Popkin sympathizes with his fellow pollster and the pressure he’s
under. “At this point, in the last week of a campaign, you have to
excuse whatever anybody says,” Popkin told NEWSEEK. “He can’t say ‘it’s
over,’ or Republicans will never talk to him again.” You don’t have to
be a cynic to wonder if the McInturff memo is more of an effort to
rally the troops in the face of depressing poll numbers than it is
serious scholarship. In 1980, when pollster Pat Caddell told President
Carter, before a single vote had been cast, that he would lose by a big
margin to Ronald Reagan, a Grade-B movie actor, Carter was so
humiliated he just wanted to get the whole thing over with. On Election
Day, he rushed to concede before the polls had closed on the West
Coast, costing Democrats seats in the House and Senate as morale
plummeted and voters stayed home, assuming the election was over.

Whatever
McCain’s fate on Election Day, Republicans need to get out their vote
to salvage what they can in congressional and state races. After the
conventions, it looked for a time as though McCain might overcome the
historical odds against him as the standard-bearer for a party and a
president that had lost credibility with voters. Democrats worried
about the recriminations in their party if Obama lost. If the Democrats
couldn’t win the White House in this climate, when could they? Imagine
the chorus of “I told you so” coming from the Hillary camp. The more
likely scenario now is the implosion of the Republican Party,
especially if it’s an Obama blowout. Many Republicans have started
pointing fingers early. “Fire the whole campaign,” conservative
columnist Bill Kristol asserted weeks ago.

What’s
shaping up is not comparable to ’92, the last time a Democrat won the
White House. “It’s much more serious and devastating to Republicans,”
says Stan Greenberg, who was Bill Clinton’s pollster. Democrats lost
seats in ’92; Clinton had no coattails. Obama may enter the White House
with close to a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a doubling
of the Democratic margin in the House. This is a watershed election.
Typically, every four years, somebody wins, somebody loses, and life
goes on. But Obama represents generational change that has huge
political repercussions. He wins 63 percent of voters between the ages
of 18 and 29. For the Republicans, “It’s not just a lost election, it’s
a lost generation,” says Greenberg.

Who will they
blame for this turn of events? “Overwhelmingly, it’s you guys,”
Greenburg told reporters at a Washington breakfast last week.
Republicans are convinced that media bias in favor of Obama tipped the
election in his favor, and that coverage of Sarah Palin has been
unfairly harsh, conveying sexism as well as anti-conservative bias.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, always a GOP crowd pleaser, calls
the mainstream media “Pravda.” Blaming the press may feel good. But it
won’t solve the problem of a party that has lost its way.

Source: Newsweek

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