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Over the last few days, I came across two focus groups. One on Sarah Palin, organized by Republican Frank Luntz. And one on Barack's Acceptance speech, conducted in Nevada with undecided voters. Both of them were actually very favorable to Obama but I didn't/couldn't find an alternate focus group that was good for Mccain, otherwise I would have included it. So I trust the results not just because I like them.

I think the fundamentals of the race have stayed the same for months now. Which is why those tracking polls always revert to a tie or to a small  Obama lead, even as they bounce around responding to the latest newscycle. But I really think the FUNDAMENTALS of the race have changed in the last week or so. Choosing Sarah Palin was a change of the fundamentals and having the Convention/unifying the party was also a change of the fundamentals.

And both have been helpful to Obama.

The first is a focus group done on Barack's acceptance speech. It's no mystery that the speech was quite successful. Gallup and Rasmussen both conducted polls on the speech that found it getting very high marks. Even the new CNN poll that shows the race tied had people overwhelmingly loving the speech. I think if it weren't for the Sarah Palin announcement, his bounce would have been huge.

But while the speech may not have moved the numbers as drastically as we wished, it DID set important groundwork that can be followed up at the three debates. It set up the unraveling of the celebrity/empty suit image cultivated by the Mccain campaign. And it inoculated him against the attacks that will be coming at the Republican Convention.

To get an idea of just how much progress the speech made, here are the findings of the Democracy Corps focus group done with weak supporters of either candidate who watched the speech.

The reaction was very, very favorable.

# After viewing the speech, more than 1-in-4 of these swing voters moved from undecided to supporting Barack Obama or from supporting John McCain to undecided.

So about a third of them actually shifted in support.

# On a thermometer scale of 0 to 100, Obama’s mean score rose 9 degrees (from 57 to 66 degrees) after voters saw his speech.

# Obama achieved gains on every personal attribute tested in this exercise, with the most dramatic movement coming on some of the most important measures in our polling – ‘on your side,’ ‘has what it takes to be President,’ and ‘will keep America strong.’

# In a head-to-head match-up with John McCain on which candidate would better handle a series of issues, Obama again gained ground on every measure, with the most significant movement coming on ‘national security,’ ‘strengthening America’s relationships with other countries,’ and ‘sharing my values.’

These improvements in the general perception of him are really significant. It means that these people will view Obama's ads and be more convinced by them. Even as they remain undecided, they will be primed to support him after watching the debates and as the election gets closer...and as Sarah Palin crashes and burns.

To understand what it was that really appealed to them:

Voters spoke emotionally about the importance of family to Obama and the central role that family plays in his life and his beliefs. They applauded his emphasis on personal and mutual responsibility, his commitment to veterans, and his refusal to engage in negative personal attacks on McCain. They came away with a firm belief that Obama understands the challenges facing our country, and particularly middle class and working families. Perhaps most importantly, from his plan to cut taxes for small businesses and the middle class to his commitment to alternative energy and victory in Afghanistan, they believe he has the right ideas to produce the change these voters desperately seek.

It says that they also responded very favorably to the venue. That the Invesco setting was different than other conventions and that seeing the faces of so many regular people in the audience made them feel like their lives were reflected there. Which makes the choice the Obama campaign made in choosing that stadium seem even more brilliant.

Again, although only about a third of the voters shifted in support, the FUNDAMENTALS of their perceptions about Barack Obama have changed and improved. That was the purpose of the speech and it really succeeded.

The second Focus Group is on Sarah Palin. (You can watch the whole thing for yourself on CSPAN.org. It's on the front page under Recent Programs. It says AARP Focus Group.) The Sarah Palin stuff starts after about an hour and 5 minutes.

The reaction to her from a group on undecided voters was OVERWHELMINGLY negative. This is actually similar to the Rasmussen poll which found that among undecided voters, Sarah was overwhelmingly a negative for Mccain.

In this room people expressed the same concerns that we have. That Mccain is old and she is too inexperienced. That they like her but don't think she's ready to be President. When they watched her speech, they had dials set up to record their reactions to her every sentence. And the only thing that made a good impression was the assertion that she fought the "Bridge to Nowhere" which was false, we know now.

Several said they had been planning to vote for Mccain and would be changing their votes. One said that Sarah was too fundamentalist, whereas they had thought Mccain was a moderate. Again, Sarah makes conservatives really happy but she completely turned Undecided folks off from Mccain.

So what will happen over the next weeks? Sarah will get even more exposure. Her complete lack of gravitas will strike many even more starkly. Her fundamentalist views will become better-known. Mccain will have an energized base, but he will be bleeding support from undecided voters left and right.

In the meantime, Joebama will be inspiring confidence. The two have such wonderful chemistry and LOOK Presidential...unlike Mccain and Palin, the oddest of odd couples.

Again, the fundamentals have changed. I feel more optimistic today, about the state of the race in general than I have felt in MONTHS. We still have to work hard and register voters and give money and talk to our friends and family and phonebank and etc.

But the wind is at our backs.

Updated: The Gallup poll was just updated. Barack has maintained his 6 point lead. On the Monday the Convention began, he was 2 points behind Mccain. So his convention bounce was around 8 points. That means our convention was really, really successful. He also gained three points in Rasmussen, which he maintained today.

The support Barack gained came mostly from Democrats. These are the same folks unlkely to be persuaded by the antics of the Republicans at their convention this week. Since Mccain has already consolidated his party...how much room does he really have to grow? I guess we'll see at the end of the week, how big Mccain's convention bounce is. But, I really don't think the race will go back to being tied. I think some of the support Barack gained this week is permanent.

Originally posted to jenontheshore on Mon Sep 01, 2008 at 08:19 AM PDT.

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