The hidden story of the last week has been the shift in many states and nationwide among the youngest of voters, those ages 18-to-29, from a solid entrenchment in the Obama camp to a significant drift toward a newly revived John McCain effort, all courtesy of Gov. Sarah Palin.
Our survey approach keeps young respondents from being interviewed by young interviewers, thus avoiding the inevitable pressure a youthful poll respondent might feel to "fit in" and claim to be a supporter of Obama. As a result, younger voters, while still favoring Obama, have moved to the McCain column in not insubstantial numbers. Exit polls showed that among this group of voters, John Kerry carried their vote by roughly a 55 percent to 45 percent margin. But that was close enough to allow Bush to win the 2004 election by a fairly comfortable margin.
Does this phenomenon really surprise us? It shouldn't. Younger voters are the most likely to have their views shaped as much by images carried on entertainment shows, on the Internet and in non-news related publications. All of these venues have been completely been dominated for the last two weeks by McCain's vice-presidential choice, Gov. Palin.
What has likely added to what appears to be a significant surge by the McCain campaign in the polls has been the degree to which activists and media have seemingly been attacking Palin at every turn.
This past week the Obama camp had one of its worst performances in trying to stem the movement of opinion toward support for McCain. Obama's now infamous "lipstick on a pig" comment was like a quick speed bump, not a fatal mistake. Even Joe Biden asking a wheelchair bound person to "stand up" and be recognized was actually just an example of the kinds of gaffes to be expected of overscheduled and pressured political candidates.
But clearly one more telling fact has emerged: The fate of the Republican ticket and many GOP congressional and Senate candidates rests squarely on the shoulders of one lone woman from a state many Americans knew little about until the last few weeks. Her ability to stay strong in debates, avoid serious misstatements before media and also avoid some scandal -- a real one, and not one trumped up -- will likely determine the results of the 2008 election.
The McCain campaign will have to continue to reveal her in small doses, while at the same time making sure that she does not become so overexposed that she become old news and loses her star quality.