Barack Obama is heading for a landslide victory over John McCain in 12 days’ time if his double-digit poll leads prove accurate and sustained, says a growing consensus of Democratic and Republican political forecasters. No candidate with this big a lead at this late stage of a presidential election has yet gone on to lose.
On Wednesday, a Reuters/Zogby poll gave Mr Obama 51.6 per cent against 42 per cent for Mr McCain – in line with polls this week that have given Mr Obama a lead of between 6 and 14 points.
Even Republican analysts were on Wednesday pessimistic about Mr McCain’s chances of turning the race around. “To have any optimism about McCain then you have to cast some doubt on the methodology of the pollsters,” said Vin Weber, a leading Republican forecaster. “I am not foolishly optimistic about this. If I had to predict a result it would be an Obama victory – possibly a big victory.”
Analysts were on Wednesday predicting that Mr Obama could get more than 350 electoral votes, well in excess of the 270 required to win the White House and in line with the tallies Bill Clinton secured in 1992 and 1996.
In addition, they pointed to a surge of early voting in swing states such as Florida and Ohio, which would help insulate Mr Obama from any tightening in the polls in the final few days. Things look even worse for Mr McCain in the main battleground states, with Mr Obama clearly ahead in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Of the big states, only Ohio, where the two are running a close race, looks like a potential catch for Mr McCain. But with people already casting votes in 31 states, the Obama campaign is hoping that their poll lead is translating into an advantage in votes that Mr McCain will find hard to overcome. “Early voting has made comebacks harder and would tend to diminish the impact of the kind of late-breaking development that might save McCain’s candidacy,” said Charlie Cook, a prominent US political analyst, in a column in the National Journal this week.
In Florida, North Carolina and Nevada registered Democrats have outnumbered Republicans two to one in early voting so far. “With as many as one-third of voters likely to cast their ballot before election day, every day more are cast and the campaign is effectively over for them,” Mr Cook wrote.
“The longer Obama has this kind of lead and the more votes are cast early, the more voters are out of the pool for McCain.”
Queues across the country have confirmed that early voting is taking place on a scale greater than ever before; 20 per cent voted early in 2004, compared with 15 per cent in 2000. The apparent increase reflects growing acceptance of the practice by states to make it easier for people to vote and to reduce pressure on polling stations on election day.
In Georgia, more than 750,000 people, nearly a quarter of the state’s 2004 turnout, have voted, with particularly high volumes in counties with large black populations in and around Atlanta.
“Even if those who tell pollsters they are still undecided suddenly broke two-to-one in favour of John McCain, Obama would still win a clear victory with poll leads as high as this,” said Mark Penn, who was Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist for her primary campaign.
“This race increasingly resembles Clinton versus Bob Dole in 1996, with McCain looking out of touch and incompetent to deal with the economic crisis facing America.”
Tom Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland said: “There aren’t any examples of a candidate coming back this late in the game with a deficit this big.
“The only potential straw for McCain to clutch on to is that this race is unprecedented in many respects and that the man in the lead is black.”
Mr Weber added: “We saw in the primaries that voters can get ‘buyer’s remorse’ about Obama as the end game approaches. That may be something to watch out for.”