NYT/CBS poll: Still skewed, Obama loses ground

It’s amazing what happens when a poll samples almost 40% more Democrats than Republicans.  It finds — gasp — that Democrats remain in the lead in general-election questions.  Unfortunately for the Democrats, that lead has shrunk, even with the sample stacked in their favor, and the likely nominee has started to see his favorability numbers decline.  Those are the takeaways from the latest New York Times/CBS polling:

Senator Barack Obama’s support among Democrats nationally has softened over the last month — particularly among men and upper-income voters — as voters have taken a slightly less positive view of him than they did after his burst of victories in February, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The survey suggests that Mr. Obama, the Illinois Democrat, may have been at something of a peak in February, propelled by a string of primary and caucus victories over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, and that perceptions of him are settling down.

Mr. Obama’s favorability rating among Democratic primary voters has dropped seven percentage points, to 62 percent, since the last Times/CBS News survey, in late February. While that figure is by any measure high, the decline came in a month in which he has come under withering attack from Mrs. Clinton and has had to respond to reports that his former pastor had made politically inflammatory statements from his church’s pulpit in Chicago.

Still, the events of the last month do not appear to have fundamentally altered the Democratic race or provided what Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has been looking for: evidence of a collapse in Mr. Obama’s standing or an overwhelming preference voiced for Mrs. Clinton by Democratic voters in polls, developments that could be used to persuade uncommitted superdelegates to sign on with her.

Obama has peaked, according to the trends seen in the year’s string of polling — and small wonder.  Obama received nothing but favorable press and gushing reviews from political pundits.  Chris Matthews still talks about getting a thrill up his leg whenever Obama speaks, and many pundits still refuse to take a critical look at the Senator from Illinois.  The national media has shown signs of recovering from its coma, provoked in part by scathing criticism and a pungent satire on Saturday Night Live, but also by Obama’s own missteps.

Of course, that doesn’t apply to the pollsters.  The sample used in this survey included 510 likely Democratic voters and 323 likely Republican voters, as noted by their participation in primary voting.  That’s a rather large gap, one that reduces the predictive value of the polling to just about nil — unless Democrats have a 20-point gap in the general electorate.

Even with that kind of gap in the sample, John McCain has shown strength against both Democrats.  He has closed a 12-point gap in the previous skewed poll to just five points, almost a dead heat.  In fact, both Obama and Clinton lost ground among Democrats.  When asked which candidate Democrats wanted to nominate, Obama won three weeks ago 46-43.  In this poll, he wins 41-34, which Someone Else going from 3 points to 10.

John McCain won the favorability sweepstakes as well.  The Times notes that Obama dropped from a high of 69 in February to 62 this week among Democrats.  McCain’s favorability among Republicans rose 10 points, from 57 to 67 in that same time period.   What happened?  The Rev. Jeremiah Wright happened.  Among those who heard about the story, 36% said that it made them less favorable to Obama, and even 22% of likely Democratic voters said the same thing.  Only 1% said it make them more favorable to Obama.

Obama peaked too early.   The press will only get tougher from this point forward, and Obama shows no signs of improving as a candidate.  Even the skewed polls show Obama in trouble.