I spent most of the spring worrying about Barack Obama's ability to win the presidency, but I've ignored until now John McCain's weaknesses. There is his being associated with George W. Bush and the Republicans. There is not having any expertise on the economy. But in looking at polls, I'm struck by another factor. If presidential elections are partly "beauty contests" or "class president elections" where the most popular, attractive, and sympathetic candidate wins--and this is clearly a consideration--then McCain looks like he has a real problem with voters under 35 years old. In the recent, and extensive Quinnipiac polls, McCain trails Obama in this age group by 57 to 35 percent in Florida (Florida!), 61 to 33 percent in Pennsylvania, and 58 to 36 percent in Ohio. He does best among older voters, but even there Obama holds his own. If you look at the exit polls from the early Republican primaries, you find that McCain was having trouble with younger voters in many of those contests, too. In Georgia, California, and Florida, he lost to Romney among 25 to 29 year old voters (in Georgia, Huckabee got 42 percent, Romney 30 percent, and McCain 21 percent), while doing best among the 65 and older crowd. Admittedly, Obama is strong among younger voters, but it could also be the case that McCain's particular gruff old-guy style--and his constant appeal to his military past--doesn't work at all among younger voters. It might turn them off. Mitt Romney might have actually been a stronger candidate among these voters, and might, just might, have made a better general election candidate.
--John B. Judis