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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

I’ve been moving at about half-speed for a number of reasons, but there are a couple of polls that have trickled in this weekend. In Rhode Island, Obama leads by 24 according to Rasmussen‘s first poll of the state. No surprise there. But in Georgia, InsiderAdvantage has John McCain ahead by only 2 points, 46-44, with 4 percent of the vote going to Bob Barr. This is consistent with an InsiderAdvantage poll released two weeks ago that had McCain ahead by 1. But it’s inconsistent with other polling of the state, all of which has shown the state within a fairly narrow, 8-10 point range.

I can’t scrutinize the internals on the InsiderAdvantage poll because they haven’t provided them. Nor for that matter did Rasmussen (which showed McCain with a 10-point lead) break its results down by race. But here is a little bit of a hint — Rasmussen had Obama trailing 65-32 among Georgians who attend church weekly, and since African-Americans are quite churchgoing in the South, that must mean that he’s getting absolutely clobbered with the white persons in this category. There are probably fewer true swing voters in Georgia than in almost any other state, and while Obama has a floor on his numbers that is better than the Democrats have done recently, he probably also has a ceiling.

The Obama campaign’s argument, of course, is that it doesn’t need swing voters: it just needs to turn out the black vote. But it’s not clear that there’s a ton of room for improvement. In 2004, African-Americans made up 27.2 percent of Georgia’s voting-age citizen population, versus 27.4 percent of its registered voters, and 27.6 percent of people who actually voted (all this data is taken from the US Census Bureau — exit polling showed a slightly lower share of African-Americans voting in Georgia, about 25 percent).

Georgia is unusual for having not only a substantial black population, but also an especially well-educated and upwardly-mobile black population, and it is entirely plausible that African-Americans voters will turn out in greater proportion than their white counterparts. But I don’t see Obama improving his standing with white evangelicals enough to win. Both foreign policy conservatives and fiscal conservatives can probably find enough to like about Obama to consider voting for him. But for religious conservatives, who are voting on a series of issues on which less nuance is possible, I’m not sure that’s the case. Sure, you can be for publicly-financed faith-based initiatives and also for gay marriage remaining legal in California, but I don’t think the two things cancel out in the same way that you can moderate your position on NAFTA or be hawkish on some elements of national security.

The 50-state Strategy, as well as the nation’s changing demographics and the problems in Iraq and with the economy, are slowly beginning to neutralize these issues even in the Deep South, which is why Obama might lose Georgia by 6 or 8 or 10 points rather than John Kerry’s 16. Even so, Southern religious conservatives remain the voters that Republicans are most used to reaching out to — including McCain’s chief strategist, who used to do work with the Jesse Helms campaign. Change is inevitable, but it’s going to hit Virginia before it hits the Carolinas, and the Carolinas before it hits Georgia.

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