Pollsters For McCain, Obama Discuss Gender, Race
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Now to politics and the presidential race. There's been a lot of movement in the polls lately. After the Republican convention, John McCain overtook Obama in most polls. Now the candidates look to be in a dead heat, so it's a good time to check in with their pollsters. First, Ed Goeas. He's the president and CEO of The Tarrance Group, and he's part of McCain's polling team. I asked him whether he thinks McCain's bounce in the polls is going to last.
Mr. ED GOEAS (Republican Pollster; President and CEO, The Tarrance Group): Well, I think looking at it, there appears to be about a 13-point bounce in terms of total net turnaround. I think it's probably going to settle down somewhere in the three, four, or five percent lead range for John McCain, which is not a bad position to be in for the fall campaign, but certainly better than expected, I think, for a lot of people going into the convention. It appears that it's one of the biggest bounces since Ronald Reagan in 1980. So, will it hold? I think it depends on how the two campaigns are conducted from here on out.
NORRIS: The McCain campaign seems absolutely energized by the Sarah Palin pick. Before he made the selection, when he was interviewing various candidates, I imagine that there was a certain amount of polling going on, as well. What did your polls tell you before the world met Sarah Palin about her potential effect on his candidacy?
Mr. GOEAS: I don't know that there was a lot of polling done on that issue.
NORRIS: Did you do any polling on Palin before?
Mr. GOEAS: Oh, I have to tell you, I spent my last two months as program director for the convention, so I was more tied up there.
NORRIS: On the day that she was picked, do you happen to recall where McCain's support was among female voters on that day, on that Friday?
Mr. GOEAS: As a pollster, I don't look at female voters. They are not a monolithic group. I look at white, female, African-American female, Hispanic female. I look at married, not married, used to be married, all within those demographics. But what we did see in the polling, and I think public polling showed this, is about a 20-point turnaround with white, female vote. The thing that's even understated in that is that married, white, female vote shot through the ceiling. I mean...
NORRIS: From what to what?
Mr. GOEAS: They are now - we were always doing fairly well with them, but we're now leading with that group of women by about 25 points.
NORRIS: I'd like to ask you about the tricky subject of race when it comes to polling. Many people have suggested that any presidential polling that you do this year has a larger than usual margin of error because of the subject of race. Is that a true or false statement?
Mr. GOEAS: I think it may be true. I think not necessarily for the reasons people are saying. You know, if you look at, for example, a question on uncomfortable with Obama because of his race, it's single digits. If you look at uncomfortable with McCain because he's 72 years old, it's in the mid-20s. One of the things that I have felt very strongly is that down ballot races we've always had this factor of what you see is what you get, is what we kind of say about the incumbents. I think Obama may very well be looking at a what you see is what you get. So, in other words, a race that comes out that is 46 percent Obama, 46 percent McCain, could very easily be a 54-46 race for McCain when you kind of factor that in.
NORRIS: And factor what in? I want to make sure I understand what you're saying.
Mr. GOEAS: The people that are saying that they're voting for Obama because they're afraid of what people would say about them if they don't.
NORRIS: The, what is often called the Bradley effect.
Mr. GOEAS: Yeah, the Bradley effect.
NORRIS: Referring to Tom Bradley, the Los Angeles mayor who polled very well and on election day actually didn't - the results in that race did not reflect what the polls suggested going into the election.
Mr. GOEAS: Not at all. And I was actually doing the polling on the other side on that race and certainly saw that. I mean, there are questions you can ask. We ask it in the battleground. Are you uncomfortable, regardless how you're voting, how are your friends and neighbors voting? And people are a little bit more honest, I think, on kind of where they really are rather than having this kind of quiet factor of, well, they're going to call me a racist if I don't answer this way.
NORRIS: That was Ed Goeas who does polling for John McCain's presidential campaign. We're joined now by Cornell Belcher. He's a pollster for Barack Obama's campaign. He's also a founder of Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies. That's a polling and consulting firm here in Washington, D.C. Welcome to the program.
Mr. CORNELL BELCHER (Democratic Pollster; Founder, Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies): Thanks for having me.
NORRIS: And we just heard Ed Goeas talking about the Bradley effect, the likelihood that people who say they will vote for a black candidate, in this case Barack Obama, might not do that because of a certain degree of bias. Do you agree that that might be a factor in this election, and if so, to what degree?
Mr. BELCHER: Well, you know, historically, the Bradley effect, or, for us Virginians, the Wilder effect, if you will...
NORRIS: Referring to Doug Wilder, the former Virginia governor.
Mr. BELCHER: Exactly. We saw the same sort of trend as Bradley did. You know, it has been lessening over the last couple of cycles, to tell you the truth. A couple of things. One is when you look back at some of the races last time around, if you look at, you know, Deval up north or even Harold Ford in Tennessee, I think you're seeing a lessening of the Bradley or the Wilder effect in that, you know, a lot of my friends worked on those races and the numbers were fairly spot on. So both the public numbers and I think a lot of the internal numbers were rather spot on, so I think we're seeing a lessening of that.
NORRIS: You mentioned Deval. You're referring to Deval Patrick, the...
Mr. BELCHER: Yes, the governor.
NORRIS: The governor of Massachusetts.
Mr. BELCHER: Yeah.
NORRIS: And you're saying you didn't see that. That wasn't a factor in that race?
Mr. BELCHER: I think when you look at the public polling for African-Americans running sort of top of the ticket, it certainly in the primary season, I've got to tell you - I mean, a lot of the public polling was fairly spot on. I think the biggest differences in the primary when you look at the primary season for polling being off was the incredible turnout that we got. I mean, some of our polling models were just wrong because we've never seen the sort of increase or surge to the polls, particularly of younger people, particularly of minorities, the way that we've seen this through the primary season. And hopefully we'll see that into the general election season.
NORRIS: Both of the campaigns spent much of the week focusing on female voters. We've seen that in the advertisements, we've seen that on the stump. I'm curious as a pollster, your assessment of the so-called Palin effect.
Mr. BELCHER: You know, I don't look it as the Palin effect as impactful so much on a gender thing, because like Ed said, women aren't monolithic. If you're white and you go to church and you're a woman on - every week, you're voting solidly Republican. If you're an African-American and you go to church every week, there's probably not a stronger Democrat voter in the electorate. So, women voters aren't a monolith.
I think the Palin effect really has been about partisanship more than it has been about gender. I mean, look, we're a divided country. You know, the elections in this country, especially at the national level, have been fairly tight and very, very contested. I think what Palin has done is help John McCain energize in his partisan and his ideological base in a way that he had not done previous to that. So I think it's more of a partisan thing than a gender thing.
NORRIS: Now, we just heard Ed Goeas say that his poll spotted an advantage with white, female voters, particularly married, white, female voters. He noted a 25-point lead. Does that square with your numbers?
Mr. BELCHER: Well, as you know, we don't talk about our internal numbers really. But if you look at the public polling that's out there, I don't think that moves away from our earlier statement. I mean, when you look at married, white women, I mean, that's been a battle group for almost every election cycle. And they've been breaking Republican. So it only makes sense that if she's energized their partisan and their ideological base, that those women who were sitting on the fence would move toward their ticket. NORRIS: Cornell Belcher is a pollster for Barack Obama's campaign. He's also the founder of Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies. That's a polling and consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Mr. Belcher, thanks for coming in.
Mr. BELCHER: Thanks for having me.