Even with the “we are the world” euphoria attending Barack Obama’s international tour last week, Democrats have reason to be worried. Europeans may embrace Obama like he’s a rock star, but unfortunately for them – and for his campaign – it’s the American voter who has the final word. And so far, despite the best efforts of assorted elites, the press and the citizens of Europe, he has yet to close the deal with the only audience that really matters.
Even after showering American voters with some of the most dazzling political images ever featured in a presidential campaign, the Real Clear Politics poll average yesterday showed Obama leading John McCain by a lackluster 5%. According to a Quinnipiac poll released on July 24, McCain is figuratively breathing down Obama’s neck in important states like Colorado, Michigan and Minnesota.
Now consider that around this time in 1988, with a similarly enthused Democrat electorate eager to support a “change” after eight years of a President that many of them despised, Michael Dukakis was leading George H.W. Bush by a whopping 17 points in the polls. So what’s going on?
Certainly Obama’s failure to stake a decisive lead can’t be attributed to tough press coverage. Even at its apogee, the Dukakis campaign never dreamed of the kind of media attention – and adulation – that Obama has received. In the primaries, fully 69% of Obama’s coverage was favorable, compared to 43% for McCain, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.
Likewise, between June 9 (when Obama secured the nomination) and July 13, Obama dominated news reports decisively compared to McCain, Pew/Shorenstein research found. In The New York Times alone, of the 90 Obama stories running between June 4 and July 5, fully 40 of them were positive (and only 13 negative), as noted by NewsBusters’ Times Watch. In contrast, only 9 of the 57 McCain stories appearing during the same period were positive, while 24 were negative. Journalists even favor Obama when it comes to campaign contributions – by a remarkable 20-to-1 margin, according to an analysis in Investors’ Business Daily.
It would seem that the media’s “crisis coverage” of events, in particular economic and environmental issues, would also help Obama. After all, in 1992, the press’ largely uncritical reporting of Bill Clinton’s claim that the United States was enduring the “worst economy in 50 years” went a long way in persuading Americans to choose a young, less experienced and more charismatic national newcomer over a better-credentialed, much better-known opponent.