It is safe to say that the 2008 Presidential election is a mess. The media’s favorite, Senator Barack Obama, is simultaneously on course to clinch the Democrats’ nomination for the party’s top spot, and seeing his political posture erode through a series of gaffes and undesirable revelations about his associates and character. The candidate once dubbed the ‘inevitable’ next President, Senator Hillary Clinton, has gained some significant primary victories in recent weeks, most notably the 41-point rout of Senator Obama in West Virginia, but the mathematical position of the race makes it very difficult for Senator Clinton to realistically win the nomination. On the Republican side, these self-imposed difficulties for Obama and Clinton should provide good cheer for Senator John McCain, the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party, but McCain has deliberately burned bridges with the GOP’s Conservative wing, and has reinforced his disrespect for the work done by President George W. Bush, in the apparent belief that such conduct is politically advantageous. Yet the numbers show that the voters who still support President Bush may well decide the election for the White House this fall.
Let’s look at the polls. Job Approval for the President has not been strong for the past two years and more, but for all the bad press there is a foundation of stone which supports President Bush at all times. That number has been as low at 29% in national polls, but recently is a point or two above that. A good example would be the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. It’s important to note that neither ABC News nor the Washington Post is particularly even-handed on this question, and so there is a certain amount of spin applied to attack any Republican President. The ABC poll accordingly shows President Bush at 31% support, but grudgingly concedes that 69 percent of Republicans approve of President Bush. The poll goes on to note that 39 percent of Republicans “strongly approve” of the President’s job. Working the numbers backwards, the ABC poll weighted 64% of responses from the Left, against only 36 percent from the Right. The reader should decide for themselves whether that weighting accurately reflects the voters’ polarity.
Let’s now look at 2004 again. President Bush claimed over 62 million votes in that election, and while that was admittedly against a clearly weak Democrat opponent, it demonstrates a strong base. Obviously, Bush has lost some of that support in his second term, not least because he is not running again, but if 39 percent of Republicans still support him “strongly”, that works out to more than 24 million voters who would not mind seeing someone like George W. Bush in this fall’s election, but who would not like anyone who attacked and demeaned him. Stating it bluntly, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton as the Democrats’ nominee would lose a certain number of votes this fall as a result of the fierce infighting during the Primaries and residual damage which would resurface during the General campaign, but probably no more than 10% of the numbers from 2004, resulting in no less than 53 million votes for the Democratic Party nominee. If John McCain can rebuild support from Conservative and Bush-approving Republicans, even the attrition from party blunders would leave McCain with effectively 88% of the Republican support Bush enjoyed in 2004, or 54 million votes. McCain’s appeal to independents would probably raise his numbers by another 5 or 6 million votes. However, under no circumstances should McCain expect significant Democrat support, or to win the majority of Independent voters, meaning that he will be most dependant on a solid core of GOP support. McCain’s stance will probably cause between 5 to 6 million Conservatives to stay home this fall, washing out most of the gains he hopes to make from Independents. That means, when everything is said and done, that the 24 milllion Bush-approving Republicans will be essential to a McCain victory. If McCain collects less than 85% support among Republicans who approve of the job done by President Bush, he will lose the fall election to the Democrat. It remains to be seen if Senator McCain grasps this critical fact, and if so, what he will do to convince Bush voters that he deserves their vote.