If Barack Obama’s got so many issues going for him in the presidential election, from the economy to war fatigue to a national hunger for change, how come John McCain is so close to him as their race begins in earnest?
Early polls suggest the contest is so competitive at this point largely because of how people view the personal qualities of Obama, the Democrat, and McCain, the Republican.
There’s a lot that people are considering, from the way the candidates look to how long they’ve been around to what they think. Or at least what voters think they think. Here’s a look at what polls say about why the contest is so close, and what each candidates’ advantages might be:
RACE: On an issue many are reluctant to discuss frankly with pollsters, the country’s reaction to Obama’s drive to become the first black president remains a wild card. Early indications are the Illinois senator faces important obstacles.
He trailed McCain among whites by 6 percentage points in a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll this month, and 9 points in a Pew Research Center survey in late May. That’s not bad for a Democrat: No Democratic presidential candidate has won the white vote since exit polls of voters began three decades ago, and only Bill Clinton even came close.
But there are danger signs for Obama. In a poll early this year by The Associated Press and Yahoo News, just 43 percent of whites said they view blacks favorably. In this month’s NBC-Journal poll, one in five whites said the candidate’s race would be important in deciding their vote. Nearly half of whites said they could not identify with Obama’s background or values, and more than one in three disagreed with the idea that he cares about people like them.
Some open questions about how much these findings matter: How many of the whites who are uncomfortable with Obama’s race would vote against a Democrat anyway for other reasons? How many of them live in states like those in the South where Democrats seldom win? And on the other side of the ledger, how many additional blacks and liberal whites will vote who otherwise may not?