What's Holding Obama Back? Maybe it Doesn't Matter

Washington Matters

What's Holding Obama Back? Maybe it Doesn't Matter

Ever since Barack Obama finally dispatched Hillary Clinton, analysts and pundits have been asking this question -- in an election year that has Democratic victory written all over it, how come Obama isn't trouncing John McCain in the polls? Even when Obama scores a margin of 5% or higher, as he has been this week, it's difficult for him to crack the 50% barrier in most national polls.

Is it his mixed race? Is it because pollsters don't call cell phones? Is he being undermined by scurrilous e-mails tying him to extremist Muslims? Here's my question, looking at the respected Gallup tracking poll: Does it matter?

Gallup's tracking poll shows what most other polls do -- any bounce McCain had from the selection of Sarah Palin and the GOP nomination has vanished and Obama is holding a narrow but steady lead. Yet even when Obama had his most commanding lead -- eight points -- he was unable to move beyond 50%. Many observers are beginning to speculate that 50% may simply be Obama's ceiling of support.

But if so -- and as troubling as that might be to the Obama campaign and its supporters -- Gallup points out that cracking the 50% barrier simply may not matter much. "Gallup's historical trial heat trends show that the winners in 1988, 2000 -- both years with minimal third party candidate support suppressing the vote for the major party candidates -- rarely attained 50% or greater support from registered voters prior to Gallup's final pre-election poll.

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Voter support for George W. Bush only once exceeded 50% in his 2004 campaign against John Kerry, that being 53% in mid-September. In 1988, George H.W. Bush reached or surpassed the 50% mark once at the very beginning and then not again until the last two weeks of the campaign," Gallup says.