News Release: Politics

Aug. 22,  2008

Election Outlook, VP Selection

Black, Abramowitz Comment on Presidential Campaign

News Article ImagePolitical scientists Merle Black (left) and Alan Abramowitz

The 2008 election season now kicks into high gear with the coming announcements of vice-presidential picks, followed by the Democratic and Republican conventions. Renowned Emory University political scientists Merle Black and Alan Abramowitz take a look ahead at what voters can expect as Senators Barack Obama and John McCain head in to the final heats of an historic campaign.

Don't Trust the Polls Just Yet

"I wouldn't put much weight at all on the polls right now," says Abramowitz, the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science. "Polls are not a good predictor until we're past the conventions and into the main part of the campaign. You should see a bump in the polls for both candidates after their conventions." Start watching the polls a week or two after the Republican convention, he says.

Red States, Blue States

Black sees the electoral map looking very similar to 2004, with the Northeast and the Pacific coast solidly Democratic, and the South still going to the Republicans. "Obama has the best chance of turning over Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada," says Black, the Asa G. Candler Professor of Politics and Government.

Abramowitz expects more of a shift in potential battleground states. "Obama seems to have almost all of the states Kerry won in 2004 locked up. That's not true on the Republican side, which puts states like Virginia, Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado, Indiana, Montana, Nevada and even Alaska into play," he says.

"The polls also don’t reflect the tremendous amount of resources the campaigns are deploying in battleground states, and in this case, the Obama campaign is way ahead of McCain's," Abramowitz says. "They're putting a lot of money into the ground game to register people to vote and get out the vote. If Obama can get his supporters out to the polls, he'll win."

The Conventions and the VPs

Both Abramowitz and Black say that Obama's and McCain's choice of running mates is not nearly as important as it seems. People vote first and foremost for a president, so unless a highly unusual nominee is picked, that person tends to not have much impact on the outcome of the election. 

The conventions, on the other hand, provide "the best opportunities for both candidates to shape their images. It's a clear shot at a very large audience. Both parties want to put on the best show possible," Abramowitz says.

Black cautions that for the Democrats, "there is a danger for Obama to act like he has already won, and coming on too much like a celebrity, especially given the setting for his speech in a football stadium. Some voters like that, some don't. What's interesting is that in a year where the Democrats appeared poised to win everything, the presidential race is still tight. Presidential politics essentially comes down to voters looking at two individuals and choosing one. It's a very personal preference, more so than other elections."

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