Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The dynamics of a change election

I think this column by Lydia Saad, Gallup Poll Senior Editor, gets at an important point, but it may be obscured by the length of the piece. The launching point for her thoughts is a Charlie Cook column that suggests that this election is All About Obama. Cook presents compelling evidence that the ultimate results in November will depend on whether voters are comfortable going with Obama. Their comfort level with McCain is of considerably less significance.

I think this is partially correct, in that this election is more about Obama than it is McCain. But I think it would be a mistake to assume that this is ultimately about Obama specifically.

This is a change election. People want a change. But change is scary. So they want to feel reassured that voting for change won't be as risky as it sounds. This was the case in 1980 when voters wanted to move away from years of failed Democratic leadership (Carter), but they had to choose to vote for the scary, risky governor from California who had a reputation for being a bit of a firebrand (Reagan). They ultimately felt comfortable enough with Reagan to give him the presidency.

Obama's candidacy is going through much the same evaluation that Reagan faced in 1980. The mistake is in thinking that the dynamics of this race are based more on Obama specifically rather than this just being yet another change election.

The campaign styles of each candidate contribute to this (Obama is more expansive and broad reaching in his rhetoric. McCain is all about scaring voters into not voting for the risky Obama.) But those campaigning styles are dictated as much by the candidates characters as it is by the circumstances of this election. Obama has to run a reassuring campaign while McCain has to run a "be afraid" campaign.

The question is which one will be better at their assigned tasks?

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