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McCain gets poll-axed

In the biggest polling frenzy in US history, politics junkies don’t know whom to trust: the polls that say Obama is one point ahead of McCain, or the polls that say he’s 14 points ahead.

Many are turning to a blog called Five Thirty Eight to make sense of the numbers. The site, named for the number of votes in the US Electoral College, does some sophisticated analysis and comes up with estimates that at least sound plausible.

Nate Silver, the chief blogger on the site, has become a celebrity through his comments on the polls and his visits to local campaign offices in critical states.

On October 24 Silver found something very interesting in the latest CBS/New York Times poll:

Fifty-nine percent of registered voters think McCain’s economics would favor the wealthy; just 11 percent the middle class. Far more than being a “center-right” country, this is a middle class country, and a candidate who fails to speak to the concerns of the middle class does so at his own peril.

Certainly to some extent, rough economic times favor the Democrats, at least when there’s a Republican in the White House. But in general, I think the pundits have been too judicious; Obama has gotten too little credit, and McCain not enough blame, for their handling of the financial crisis.

McCain did himself no favors with his “fundamentals” comment, nor the “suspension” of his campaign. But the former might qualify as a capital-G gaffe -- McCain seemed to want to retract his words as soon as he uttered them -- and the later was a snap decision the implications of which were hard to see in advance. These were arguably errors of tactics rather than strategy, if you will.

There have been plenty of other occasions, however, on which McCain had plenty of time to contemplate his message, and wound up coming across as tone deaf. The failure to mention the phrase “middle class” even once during the three presidential debates was either brazen, incompetent, or both.

Maybe the campaign wasn’t about the economy when it started, but the meltdown overrules almost everything else. Obama understood that faster and responded better.

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