The Gallup results for July 18-20 were Obama 47%, McCain 41%, a six point lead; those for July 21-23, released today, have Obama up a mere two points (45% to 43%). This suggests not only that Obama's trip has yet to produce a bounce, but that it may be hurting him.
How could that be when the coverage has been glowing? Indeed, the more general question of why Obama's lead isn't larger, given that the environment is ripe for him, is on the minds of many commentators. Just yesterday, John Judis on The New Republic's blog "The Plank" noted that, in addition to McCain "inept" campaign,
Democrats enjoy an average lead of 11.6 percent in generic Congress polls. In addition, the Republican administration is wildly unpopular; the economy is in a tailspin; and the Iraqi president has endorsed Barack Obama's withdrawal plan. Yet Obama is only running an average of 4.5 percent ahead of McCain in the polls, and... is losing ground in some critical state polls.Judis concludes that Obama remains a "mysterious stranger" to many voters. That's certainly true and, given his race, it is likely to remain true throughout the campaign making the contest much closer than it otherwise might have been. But there's another reason for Obama's inability to build a large lead over McCain and it also explains why he may fail to get a bounce out of his trip abroad.
For the past month, the Obama campaign has been placing a great deal of emphasis on foreign policy and national security with the goal of building the candidate's credibility in these areas. But by doing so, he is priming voters to think about the very issues on which they prefer John McCain. Indeed, his trip overseas was intended to portray him in a positive light on the world stage. It has certainly done that. But it has also reminded average voters (that is, those who are not wildly partisan) that, when it comes to foreign policy, they trust Republicans more than Democrats and John McCain more than Barack Obama. And, as if that weren't enough, it says nothing to voters about what they are most concerned with right now and that is the awful economic conditions facing the nation.
One understands the temptation of the Obama campaign to show that voting for him would not be a gamble with respect to foreign policy. But persuading voters to discard their assumptions about the strengths and weaknesses of the parties and their nominees takes years, not weeks or even months. Furthermore, foreign policy isn't likely to drive many voting decisions in the fall (barring a major international event). As a result, Obama's best bet is to return home as soon as possible and start priming voters on the issue area he can dominate - the economy.