Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Sandy Surprise

In a country as big and messy as this one, nothing is to be as consistently expected in Presidential elections, as the unexpected. In 2008 it was the Lehmann meltdown which cost McCain any chance of winning. In 2004 it was the final Osama Bin Laden tape which, together with the Ohio Secretary of State's office, probably cost John Kerry the election. In 2000 it was... well, we all know what it was in 2000, now, don't we.

This year's "October Surprise" is of course a massive storm which has slammed into the northeastern United States just a week before election day -- with consequences ranging from major flooding in New York City, to power outages in eastern Ohio, to all but comically deep accumulations of snow in the middle- and lower Appalachian mountains. This is nothing to wax idle-pundit about, either: People have lost their lives in this storm and will continue to do so for several days -- though the impression that is slowly forming in this commentator's mind is that the chances for a Katrina-sized death toll (or corresponding embarrassment for the White House) are already effectively nil.

Allowing that the situation transcends our usual partisan gamesmanship, it is unavoidable human nature to wonder in print just exactly what effect the storm will have on the trajectory of the Presidential horse race -- with outlets ranging from the sublime to the sublimely ridiculous having already weighed in. The broad consensus seems to be that the storm cannot possibly help the President, given the suppressive effect it is sure to have on the turnout of poor and minority voters in such crucial states as Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. I hope you will therefore pardon me for taking a few paragraphs to weigh in with the contrary viewpoint that the storm can no longer harm the President's chances of reelection and will almost certainly help them instead, both directly and by hurting the candidacy of Mr. Romney.
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Divergence, Explained

There's a story on Teagan Goddard's Political Wire today about the apparently bizarre disconnect between the current state of punditry on election 2012, and the current polling data.

As you know (you wouldn't be reading these words if you didn't), there is a droning mantra of paid political analysis out there right now, insisting in a way we haven't seen since 1980 that the challenger is closing hard and fast and has all the momentum on his side. The public has gotten to know him, gotten comfortable with him and, especially after the first debate, come to find him plausible as a potential President. Mitt Romney has passed the "living room test," and with the strong economic headwind facing the incumbent, all that is left for the challenger is to close the deal.

Meanwhile the state-level polling data has shown very little movement in Governor Romney's direction. Even the much-ballyhooed national tracking poll by Gallup (which shows Governor Romney with a substantial lead in the countrywide popular vote) suffers from the unfortunate credibility-inhibitor that it dramatically -- one might even say intentionally -- under-counts minorities. In other words, aside from a poll of angry southern white guys, none of the hard data about the race is consistent with the punditry. President Obama is up by small but structurally sound leads in Ohio, Nevada, Virginia, and Iowa; he is dead even in Colorado and Florida, and within the MOE or just outside of it in North Carolina and New Hampshire.

Even more perplexing is pundit-land's seeming lack of appreciation for just how daunting Mr. Romney's comeback would be from this starting point: Barack Obama, it happens, could lose *all* of Virginia, North Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado and Florida, and with just Ohio and Nevada, where his leads are outside of the MOE, he would win with 272 electoral votes. We keep hearing that it's all about Ohio -- and for *one* of the two candidates it surely is -- but Mr. Romney's urgency to win Ohio is completely one-sided: If he wins it he can still lose. Indeed if the election were held today, and Ohio went to him (somehow), he almost certainly *would* still lose, because he would fail to carry Nevada, Iowa, and Virginia, and the Ohio victory would be meaningless. If Romney loses Florida, it's over; if he loses Ohio, it's over; if he loses Virginia, it's pretty close to over. If he loses Colorado it's basically over and if he loses Iowa and New Hampshire put together it's more-or-less over, and at the moment he is trailing or at best tied in ALL of these places. And still the pundits clamor on about Romney's camp feeling good about where they stand and looking forward to culminating their late turnaround on election day.

So what gives? 

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