Time poll: Virtual dead heat

Those Newsweek and LA Times polls look more and more like outliers or worse.  With both Gallup and Rasmussen showing either outright or virtual ties in their presidential tracking polls, Time offers even more evidence that Barack Obama has failed to pull away from John McCain after clinching the nomination.  Even more troubling, McCain holds his own among a sample of registered voters as opposed to likely voters, a sample that should favor Obama:

Illinois Senator Barack Obama enters the General Election with a tight lead, 43% to 38%, over Arizona Senator John McCain, according to a new TIME Magazine poll of registered voters. The poll shows Obama gaining only a slight bounce from Hillary Clinton’s departure from the campaign early this month.

When undecided voters leaning towards Obama and McCain are accounted for, the race narrows to a mere 4 percentage points, barely above the poll’s 3.5% margin of error. Thirty percent of those who remain undecided said they lean towards McCain, 20% said they were leaning toward Obama with 46% citing no preference. Overall, 28% said they could still change their minds in the four months left before the November election.

After five months of bruising primaries, Obama’s lead now is narrower than the one he held over McCain in TIME’s poll this past February: 48% to 41%, including leaners. The bright spot for Obama is with Latino voters, a group he overwhelmingly lost to Clinton in the primaries, but now leads 51% to 34% over McCain. Among Catholics, another group Obama struggled with in Democratic primaries, McCain leads Obama 57% to 43%.

Time did not include a breakdown of its sample or its methodology, which is a big red flag.  Newsweek and the LA Times oversampled Democrats substantially in reaching their conclusions, and the lack of this data makes it difficult to determine whether the Time poll has the same problem.  Most media outlets include their raw data, and Time’s failure to do so should at least raise eyebrows.

The results should raise eyebrows anyway.  Obama has actually lost ground since February, which dovetails with his collapse in the final months of the Democratic primary.  This tends to underscore the shakiness of the Obama phenomenon; it hasn’t translated into general-election enthusiasm, and the trends are going in the wrong direction.  Among the wider and less-predictive sample of registered voters, that has to cause a great deal of concern among Democrats who thought Obama would sail to victory on the puffery of “hope and change”.

That’s not the only bad news here for Obama either, although Time tries to minimize it:

McCain, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, edged out Obama on national security issues. When asked who “would best protect the U.S. against terrorism,” 53% of respondents chose McCain to just 33% for Obama.

So McCain “edged out” Obama — by twenty points?  That’s better than the lead Time has for Obama among Latinos, which they avoid describing as “edged out”.   Voters trust McCain more than Obama on Iraq by ten points, which shows that the momentum of the Left on Iraq has ebbed significantly since the surge began showing results.  It helps when McCain had it right and Obama’s defeatism has been proven wrong, and as the news continues to improve, that gap will widen further.

Some will say that the voters haven’t paid much attention to the race, and that Obama has plenty of time to put distance between himself and McCain.  However, that ignores the attention Obama has received all throughout this campaign, especially in 2008.  He has graced magazine covers across a wide spectrum of interests and the significance of his candidac has been widely discussed for months, while McCain has had relatively little time in the spotlight.  Obama will receive more scrutiny and less celebration in the coming four months, while McCain’s profile will rise rapidly.  Obama needed to have a big lead before then, a head start to ride out the coming storm.

The more people see of Obama, the less they seem to like him.