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The Right Target

All the talk this morning is about the VP debate last night. There's all kinds of places where you can get details on what was said, how many times Biden lied through his painted teeth, and what the 'instant poll' or 'focus group' said immediately afterward, so you don't need me for that. What I am writing about today, is something a bit more intricate, and yet I think important to the race remaining.

My wife wanted to see the debate on CBS, so we got to hear what Ms. Couric thought of it. I don't usually have much respect for the opinion of Ms. Couric, but she made a good observation, though she did not carry it through to its significant conclusion. Kouric said that Governor Palin was speaking to Senator Biden, the moderator, the audience, and the television viewers, while Senator Biden, in Couric's words, was "speaking as if Palin was not even there". That is, Biden was trying to drive home attacks on McCain and pressing his points about the Obama campaign directly to the home viewers. Biden and Palin were going after different target audiences. My hunch is that both nominees accomplished their tactical goals, but only one of them chose the right target.

It's easy to get caught up in minute details of the election, but it's critically important to understand how a candidate builds up support. It does not, despite what you may have read or seen or heard, happen in great waves or sudden bursts of enthusiasm. And most people who have made up their mind to support a candidate, do not quickly or casually change their mind. The publicly released polls are not accurate in the image created, that the voters are flighty and chaotic. Quite the opposite, if history is considered.

With firmer facts in hand, we can simply say that the race remains in doubt, because a portion of the voters have not made up their mind. They may well lean towards McCain or to Obama, but there is a portion which has decided and cannot easily be convinced to change their opinion, and there is a small portion which will not make a choice and so will sit out this election, but there is also a significant portion remaining, who are still waiting for a candidate to convince them to give their vote to that candidate. And so it is happening, small pieces at a time, and along the way the candidates may well not be certain themselves about just how much support they have in certain key places. This is true in many states, where the race is close enough that a well-focused effort could make all the difference.

Without overdoing the numbers, it is safe to say that most Democrats are supporting or will support Obama, and that most Republicans are supporting or will support McCain. There are, in the end, just three groups in play:

Republicans unsure about McCain-Palin, and Independents leaning towards McCain, but still not locked in, a group of about 2.9% of voters;

Democrats still uncomfortable with Obama-Biden (including the PUMAs), and Independents leaning towards Obama, but still not committed, a group of about 3.6% of voters; and

The pure Independants, who will not vote or who will go for a minor candidate unless McCain or Obama convinces them they deserve their vote, a group of about 8.0% of voters.

Palin spoke to the undecideds, while Biden spoke to his base. Guess which mission was more important to this election?

- continued with update -

UPDATE - How the Math Was Done

Some folks are curious as to how I got my numbers for undecideds. I got them from the internal party affiliation results from the three major polls in the past month which have published them.

Gallup, CBS, and Fox News all publish the internal party-identified support in their internal data. When you take out the support for Obama, McCain, and 'Other', what's left is your undecideds. When you consider that the poll starts with registered or 'likely' voters, that's pretty significant. When you plug the undecideds back in for each group, multiplying by their proportion of the population, the result is that undecided sub-group's portion of the total voting population. So, taking the numbers from each of the three polls, and averaging them together, I get the numbers I used for today's article.

Now, I have to admit that the actual number could be a little higher or lower than I claimed, for three reasons. First, since the three polls differed in their numbers (though not greatly), averaging them may lessen the accuracy of the analysis. Of course, I have no way to say which of the three is the 'most reliable', so averaging them is the best course to acknowledging all of them to an equal degree. Second, folks who do not make up their mind by the election may just not vote at all. I do not think this is very likely, however, because at a minimum these are voters who have registered, and who show some interest in the election as evidenced by their participation in the poll. So I believe these people are valid respondents, representing an actual demographic whose importance to the election is growing as we move ahead. And third, while I do try to be objective in analysis, as a human being I impose some subjectivity into my opinions, even when I try to avoid it, and certain assumptions were made in developing the template. On the other hand, while we all have biases, awareness of such bias, open acknowledgement of the bias and attempts to test for and correct against material flaws in the work, and the evidence from past tests using similar assumptions lead me to believe that I have produced a valid model.


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Comments (34)

Very good insights.T... (Below threshold)

Very good insights.
Thanks, DJ.

I couldn't agree more.... (Below threshold)

I couldn't agree more.

It seems to me the Obama/Biden campaign is still trying to appeal to their base.

Maybe they think they need to, in order to keep group number 2 from growing?

An interesting piece DJ. I ... (Below threshold)

An interesting piece DJ. I have an observation and then a question if I may.

My observation is that the VP debate, for all practical intents, means squadoosh (nothing) in the scheme of this election. I think the issue in this one was that as long as Ms Palin didn't step on her tongue and as long as Biden wasn't a bully or a jerk it was a wash. from my perspective they both accomplished what they needed to do. I really think this is an issues campaign and that the country is paying more attention to the issues than the personalities and so it really gets back to the 2 presidential candidates.

My question is how did you arrive at those undecided number, i.e.2.9% Republicans and 3.6% Democrats? And, as a corollary where do you get the 8% independent figure who won't vote for a minority candidate absent being convinced... Is that your take on it or is there data? Please note that I am not trying to make this into an argument about racism.

Lastly, I disagree, naturally, with your observation

Ooops....delete the last se... (Below threshold)

Ooops....delete the last sentence. Was blogging 2 places at once.

I agree with your post DJ.<... (Below threshold)

I agree with your post DJ.

As far a the lefty comment: All I heard and read on this blog for days was how Joey boy will make mincemeat of Palin. How Palin cannot compete with the experience Joey brings? Well, guess what. Joey looked old and tired next to Palin. Palin held her own. She presented her views as articulately or more so then Joey. Joey has a tendancy to go on to a point the viewer drifts. Palin moved ahead. Joey should be sent to the minors. ww

Willie - If you ju... (Below threshold)

Willie -

If you judge her performance by an ability to look good (a compliment not intended to be sexist, folksy, somewhat relaxed, and able to regurgitate talking points she did a fine job. That's all she had to do to stop the bleeding. But as much as you may want to believe she's the candidate folks will be voting for that's just not the reality. It's McCain/Palin not vice versa. Maybe in 2012 it'll be Pallin/someone - but it isn't now.

JFO: I read the 8% figure a... (Below threshold)

JFO: I read the 8% figure as voters that would go with a minor party, ie. green, libertarian rather than a statement that they would not vote for a minority. Big difference I think.

And Palin helps attract independents as a symbol of the ticket especially given the focus of where McCain has stated he intends to utilize her abilities.

JFO~I rea... (Below threshold)


I really think this is an issues campaign and that the country is paying more attention to the issues than the personalities and so it really gets back to the 2 presidential candidates.

Okay, but this post is about the debate and how it was observed. What you suggest, by saying it is a wash, is that the way the candidates present themselves to the public and how clear they are on the issues is null and void.

You are ignoring the fact that maybe Katie Couric is sometimes rather observant. Biden did look at Palin and smile at her from time to time, but he was doing what Couric said probably because she was really getting under his skin. She also spoke about her accomplishments as a mayor and what she had to deal with even in her own party. I am not sure why you would think either candidate was not addressing "issues".

I agree with your question on the numbers too, however, and was curious as to how DJ came up with those.

As far as the presidential ... (Below threshold)

As far as the presidential candidates are concerned, they need to debate again. The one last week was lousy.

LaMedusaI didn't m... (Below threshold)


I didn't mean to imply that the way the candidates present themselves is irrelevant. It's quite important. But I think this election, in particular, is more an issues than a personality campaign. That's why it makes complete tactical sense for Obama/McCain to compare McCain's positions to Bush's.

What I was trying to say was that the VP candidates as long as they didn't fail (and neither did) are not terribly relevant to the choice. It's the presidential candidates who will win or lose the election.

By the way I agree the last debate between Obama and McCain was pretty lousy.

JFO, LaMedusa, hello. I wi... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

JFO, LaMedusa, hello. I will note the method in the update. Gimme about 15 minutes ... DJ

Kouric said that Governo... (Below threshold)

Kouric said that Governor Palin was speaking to Senator Biden, the moderator, the audience, and the television viewers, while Senator Biden, in Couric's words, was "speaking as if Palin was not even there".

Which is basically the same as last Friday if you switch 'mccain' for 'biden' and 'obama' for 'palin'. The experienced person that knew what they were talking about and/or talking as if they knew what they were talking about was more authoritative than the less experienced person, who was seeking approval from all instead of acting like a leader. The problem with the Dem ticket is that their experienced, authoritative figure is running for veep.

Personally we've watched both debates on BBC America to avoid all the network coverage.

What I was trying ... (Below threshold)
What I was trying to say was that the VP candidates as long as they didn't fail (and neither did) are not terribly relevant to the choice.

Okay, but I can't agree with that, either. Not completely. How many times have you heard "God forbid Biden/Palin should become president"? A lot of people are caught up in the moment of what has occurred, yet the above question remains an underlying theme off and on when all things are considered.

Don't forget to take the % ... (Below threshold)

Don't forget to take the % of probable vote fraud into account.

I enjoyed the article, but ... (Below threshold)

I enjoyed the article, but do not think I agree with where you took the analysis. Biden was talking to the American people, the audience, throughout the debate. Palin kept moving her head around, looking at the people there, Gwen etc. I think because of that, Biden made a stronger stance to the entire electorate, where I saw Palin as potentially alienating the television audience. But, Joe knows how to work the cameras like a pro, even if he does ramble a lot.

I disagree, Okami. The key... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

I disagree, Okami. The key is to look at how the candidates spoke during the primaries, when they were clearly targeting their base, and how they speak in the general election.

As to palin "alienating" the audience, regardless of your opinion of her ability and experience, surely you are aware that Palin resonates well, with favorables right now better than Biden, Obama, or McCain?

Wow, JFO, I have to applaud... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

Wow, JFO, I have to applaud the civil and reasonable tone you maintained in this thread. You've done a nice job keeping the usual hatred and projection out of your comments and now if you can get rid of the racism* you just might be worth debating.

*i.e., DJ never said "minority"...

DJ - No, I was not aware th... (Below threshold)

DJ - No, I was not aware that she resonated well, I have not seen good numbers for her in a few weeks, can I get a source for that?

As for if she was talking to independents or the base based on how they talked in the primary, that makes the analysis 100% one sided, since she was not running in the primary. I also heard Biden show examples of both himself and Obama reaching across the aisle, but Palin only mentioned McCain reaching across the aisle.

You know, I was not even th... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

You know, I was not even thinking about the so-called 'Bradley Effect', I was working with numbers straight from the polls.

You may have noticed earlier in the comments, that Donna thinks the potential for fraud should be included. Frankly, I do not think that fraud is likely to be a significant factor in almost any state, nor do I really think racism is going to be a significant factor, either. Will there be fraud or racism in some places? With more than a hundred million people voting, that's unavoidable, but I also think it's an insignificant number for the most part. In any case, it's moot for me because I have not seen an effective way to quantify it anyway.

I have a feeling that we will see fewer people voting in 2008 than did in 2004. That's because both Obama and McCain have chased off some of their party's support. The PUMAs are not making noise now, but Obama has not nearly satisfied them (that does not mean I think they will go big for McCain, they're more likely to stay home). As for McCain, there are still a lot of hard-right conservatives who somehow conclude that losing badly in 2008 will mean a great win in 2012, with no big problems in between. Neither party's extremists are being particularly mature, but there it is.

Okami, I know Obama's recor... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Okami, I know Obama's record well.

He has never "reached across the aisle". Throwing lies and insults at the other side does not count.

DJPlease take anot... (Below threshold)


Please take another look at voter fraud. I can think of two races offhand where fraud was all the difference if my memory is working;

LBJ when he was first elected to the Senate, and when JFK was elected to the Presidency. I think the latter was in Chicago, Obama's home town. And still the political cess pool it has always been.

Palin's approval rating in ... (Below threshold)

Palin's approval rating in Alaska is the highest in the nation! Evidence of "reaching across the aisle". She's got friends AND enemies on both sides as well...move evidence!

In fairness to Obama I believe he DID reach across the aisle once...to borrow a pen from Mitch McConnell. (though word is Obama NEVER returned it!)

My observation is that t... (Below threshold)

My observation is that the VP debate, for all practical intents, means squadoosh (nothing) in the scheme of this election.

I'm shocked. Anybody else see that coming?

Was blogging 2 places at... (Below threshold)

Was blogging 2 places at once.

The propagandists are busy this morning, eh?

"Couric's words, was "s... (Below threshold)

"Couric's words, was "speaking as if Palin was not even there"."

While I agree with DJ's assessment somewhat, there's another possible explanation for Couric's comment.

I think not talking to Palin directly on most occasions was a tactical decision on the part of the Messiah's camp.

When Biden disagreed with Palin most times he started his rebuttal by saying something on the order of "Gwen [Ifill] the facts are," rather than directly challenging Palin.

He used Ifill as a surrogate to avoid, or mitigate any possibility of appearing as condescending or disrespectful to Palin.

And it's pretty obvious it worked. You've heard none of the bruhaha the filled the airwaves after the Gibson-Palin interview.

DJI really disagre... (Below threshold)


I really disagree with you that the turnout will be lower than 2004. I don't think there is any empirical evidence to that effect is there? If so, I'd really be surprised.

On the contrary I think there's going to be a huge turnout. The dissatisfaction in the direction in which the country is going seems to lead to a large turnout. Also, I think the youngsters haven't been accounted for. Again, I don't know about empirical evidence across the country but I do know what's going on in Iowa. The young vote is fired up and Obama has field operations geared to get out that vote. That may be the reason he was so successful in the early rounds of the primaries.

BunyanIf you were ... (Below threshold)


If you were being clever about the "minor" reference, good one.

However, I think DJ was making a point about Obama losing votes based on his skin color - which is going to be the reality. If DJ didn't intend that I misunderstood what he wrote. At any rate, to be clear, I did say I wasn't raising any arguments about racism.

JFO: " I think DJ was ma... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

JFO: " I think DJ was making a point about Obama losing votes based on his skin color"

No, I wasn't. Obama's skin color is not a significant factor, except in places where it benefits him.

I was writing strictly by the numbers. In the case of Obama, what I call the Hillary Factor, aka the PUMAs, matter, perhaps more than anyone realizes, since on the one hand they will not be going over to McCain to a great degree, but I think they have been 'off the radar' in the polls. Consider how polls work, and then consider how many angry Hillary supporters would be interested in a poll which only asked about Obama and McCain, two men they could not care less about? Next, consider the specific and clear promises made by Obama to Hillary, like helping her pay off her campaign debt, and compare that to what he actually did. Obama's biggest weakness is that he thinks in a short horizon, and he appears to believe that Hillary is no longer a factor. Read deep into the polls from Pennsylvania, from New Jersey, from Wisconsin, and from Minnesota, and there's trouble there. Enough to lose those states? There's no way of knowing, because these are not defectors to McCain, but they clearly are very, very angry with Obama, and the press has been silent about them.

I also mentioned how much trouble McCain is having with hard-right conservatives. Again, look at the deep internals in places like Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, and ask yourself why there is not more energy, more money in donations for McCain from the GOP in those states? Why is there such tepid support in what could be critical battlegrounds? It's because just as Obama alienated the Hillary supporters, McCain burned some bridges during the primaries and made no serious effort to rebuild them with hard-right party leaders. McCain banked on not needing them, and that is a weak area for him now that he has to have their support. Can he bring them around, or is it too late?

McCain's age and Obama's race are inconsequential. But their in-party feuds are hurting each of them in his turn.

While watching with my wife... (Below threshold)

While watching with my wife, the liberal democrat, about halfway thru she commented that Biden was looking very tired, "like a senior citizen" was her exact words. I commented that of course McCain is even more of a senior and she replied, "but he doesn't look like one".
I noticed that by midway thru Biden was looking down constantly when he was talking, he was not flashing his big smile and his voice was not nearly as forceful as it was at the beginning of the debate.
By the end Joe seemed to rally and didn't finish pretty well.
The scary thing was that so much of what Biden claimed as facts last night, and very convincingly I might add, now turns out to be total fabrications.
His knowledge of the right buzz words allows him to spin those fantastic tales (We kicked Hezbo out of Lebanon with the French ? And then asked NATO to fill the gap ?) that sound credible and true, but it turns the guy told a factual or historic whopper every 4 minutes last night.
Of course Palin pushed some things like the number of votes or exactly who would get hit by Obamas tax increases but she never made up things out of whole cloth and she never flat out denied saying something that every person in America can see on YouTube (the clean coal ropeline gaffe, and the no-preconditions pledge).
For g*ds sake Joe, admit you misspoke and move on, I found myself thinking (and I don't like the guy).
History will show that Bidens performance was simply one of the worst, BS filled performances in a VP debate, ever.

I actually thought that bot... (Below threshold)

I actually thought that both candidates were pretty darn good last night and it was a great educational event for the nation. I watched the event while working in my garage making more room for another motorcycle, and this event certainly made all my hard work and heavy lifting more enjoyable.

I've written some pretty critical things about both Biden and Palin many times in the past, but overall both came across as really decent folks last night. Neither candidate disliked each other last night, they are only alternative candidates running for the same office. And they both will have a son serving in Iraq in common.

I honestly can't say anything bad about either Biden or Palin today, although I know that fact checks will emerge over the next few days to correct many misstatements by both candidates. But both tried their hardest, and I'm sure either would make a decent vice president if given the opportunity to serve.

Paul Hooson: "But both t... (Below threshold)

Paul Hooson: "But both tried their hardest, and I'm sure either would make a decent vice president if given the opportunity to serve."

One more bit of confirmation that Sarah Palin won last night. Won the debate? I think so...but that doesn't matter.

What she REALLY won was the battle against the smear-merchants of the MSM and Dems (redundant) that had pretty much convinced the public that she was a knuckle-dragging bimbo from the stix!

The meme BEFORE last night was: "She isn't in Joe Biden's league...and thus a horrible choice for Veep!"

Now America knows, what WE have known all along: She is going to make a fabulous Vice President...and President some day!

Personalities do have a lar... (Below threshold)

Personalities do have a large factor, run through what that person has done in other situations. We all do judge people for what they may do in the future by how they have responded to challenges in the past. That may be incorrect on a person-by-person basis, because that individual may have thought about what they did, saw errors, and is working to correct them.

In a way it is like an Agatha Christie 'Miss Marple' mystery, where Miss Marple uses her prior knowledge on how people she has known have acted, and applied that to the question at hand.

We all do that, and it is a valid consideration when making a choice.

Thanks for clarifying your ... (Below threshold)

Thanks for clarifying your point DJ. I did misunderstand that one point you raised.

DJ, when do you think we mi... (Below threshold)

DJ, when do you think we might see some movement, if any, in the nunbers toward McCain?






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