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Mind The Gap

GQ profile
One day this spring, Obama's pollsters were crunching numbers, and they discovered something odd. For as long as Obama has been in national politics, his approval ratings have been stratospheric. His whole campaign strategy rests on translating that enthusiasm into actual votes, turning those who are temporarily enthralled by Obama's celebrity into real supporters. The history of presidential primaries is littered with candidates who captivated voters early in the process only to be abandoned for the more cautious alternative come Election Day. Neither John McCain nor Bill Bradley could convert their momentary star power into victories over the establishment candidacies of George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000, and perhaps most famously, Howard Dean was abandoned by voters for the seemingly reliable John Kerry at the last moment, in 2004.

Now Obama's pollsters were finding alarming evidence that their candidate was vulnerable to the same phenomenon. When they compared the percentage of Democrats who said they strongly approved of Obama with the percentage who said they would vote for him, they found that the latter number was significantly lower than the former. Inside the campaign, aides dubbed this "the Gap." It was a sobering, hard number that quantified the difference between vague enthusiasm and actual votes. For Hillary Clinton, the gap is much smaller. The majority of voters who strongly approve of her also say they will vote for her.

In fact, Hillary was collecting about two-thirds of Democrats who liked her, while Obama was collecting less than half. The numbers suggested that the calculus for Hillary voters was much simpler: Democrats who liked her knew all they needed to know about her. But for Obama voters, there were questions. Was he tough enough? Did he have enough experience? Could he actually win in the general election?
Michael Crowley