The economy is ultimately what did in Arizona Sen. John McCain in the presidential race, prominent local pollster and political commentator G. Terry Madonna told the Rotary Club of Lancaster on Wednesday.
Madonna said that historical poll data suggests that when economies turn sour, voters turn on the incumbent party.
"Not since the Great Depression have people cited the economy and felt as bad as they did about certain aspects of American life," he said.
He compared Sen. Barack Obama's historic win to the victory Ronald Reagan scored over then-President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Madonna says he has a slide that showed Reagan and Carter roughly even before their single debate. During the debate, he says, voters saw Ronald Reagan not as the untested, racist, fascist, unsophisticated, dangerous person many Democrats made him out to be, but as calm, reassuring, and Presidential. Against the backdrop of recession, oil price shocks, stagflation, and double-digit unemployment, this launched Ronald Reagan into the White House.
Similarly, he said, "When voters looked at Obama in the debates, didn't see a crazy leftist. They didn't see someone who would end American capitalism as we know it. "
Madonna stressed that after the Republican Convention, Obama and McCain were about even, but when the housing bubble burst and the credit crisis reared its head, voters turned against the party in power.
At that point, there was only one test for Obama - or any Democratic candidate - according to Madonna: that it appear he/she would be acceptable as a President.
With record dissatisfaction with the current administration, "The single most effective thing Barack Obama said is that electing John McCain would be electing Bush to a third term," Madonna asserted.
John McCain acted erratically at times and could not fully dissociate himself from the sitting President, he concluded.
He went on to note that the electoral math for McCain was very much uphill in the first place, that this was the longest Presidential campaign in our history, and that the Obama organization revolutionized campaigning with a new generation of young, online supporters and contributors.
Madonna did not address the local races or the ballot question relating to Home Rule.
G. Terry Madonna is the Director of the Center for Politics & Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. He has directed the nationally-noted "Keystone Poll" (now called the F&M Poll) since 2002 and frequently appears on numerous television news programs. He also has his own show on PCN called Pennsylvania Newsmakers.
Madonna holds a Ph.D. in Political History from the University of Delaware.