Charlie Leonard: Inalienable Rights
September 20, 2012
Have you heard the news? The presidential race is over, and Barack Obama has been re-elected to a second term. Don’t believe me? You obviously don’t read The New York Times and the Washington Post or watch any of the network news shows.
In fairness, no one has formally pronounced Obama the winner – but it’s pretty clear that the majority of journalists covering the campaign are convinced that Obama has it locked up, and they are not afraid to say so – objectively speaking, of course.
Go ahead and Google it for yourself. The headlines alone say it all.
There is disarray in the Romney camp. The Republican National Convention was a bust. The president is benefiting from the crisis in the Middle East. The unemployment situation is bad, but no one could have done better than the president. Romney has even been caught on tape saying 47 percent of Americans are dependent on the federal government and captives of the Democratic Party.
Which leaves just one question: Where is Yogi Berra when you need him? Because here we go with dejà vu all over again.
Does anyone remember Reagan and Carter in 1980? The polling and the media had Carter ahead by about five points in September because Americans would never put their trust in a B-movie actor. Funny how Carter’s five-point advantage in September turned into a 10-point loss in November.
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Steadfast in the belief in its ability to clearly predict presidential elections more than two months out, the Newsweek-Gallup poll four years later had Mondale leading Reagan 48 to 46 percent – because Americans really did want to pay more taxes. Oops. Wrong again. Reagan won that election by 14 points and took 49 of 50 states in the biggest landslide in history.
After two successive presidential campaigns where the media and their pollsters failed to even come close to predicting the outcome accurately, you would think they might be a little more cautious the next time. Wrong again.
On July 26, 1988, Gallup, which was still polling for Newsweek (an organ of the Washington Post Co.) had Gov. Michael Dukakis crushing Vice President George Bush by 55 to 38 percent because Americans cared more about competence than ideology in the Oval Office.
Well, as it turned out, Bush carried 40 states and, with 54 percent of the vote, surpassed the pluralities received by both Bill Clinton and Obama.
Am I suggesting that all this historical data proves that the media are wrong again and Mitt Romney will be the next president of the United States? Not entirely. My larger point is that this race is far from settled – because, in fact, it remains a statistical tie. And I can guarantee you there is a lot more sweating going on inside Camp Obama than anyone is letting on – or reporting, for that matter.
For starters, the president was stuck below 50 percent all year. That’s bad news for any incumbent and treacherous territory for a president. To the extent that there are a few percentage points of undecided voters, they are not undecided because they don’t know enough about the incumbent. Anyone who has been professionally involved in campaigns will tell you that incumbents should not expect many of the undecided to move into their column.
Second, there will be three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate, and you’d better believe they matter.
Third, 45 days is a very, very long time for things to go wrong for either side, but I think it’s fair to say this will be a longer 45 days for the president than for Romney.
While it’s possible that Romney could make a major gaffe, its unlikely that there is some salacious scandal in his background that we don’t know about at this point.
Contrast that with the fact that the economic news between now and Election Day will not be good, and the world events likely to capture the headlines will not be about killing America’s most wanted criminal again.
Fourth, there is an intangible in campaigns called “enthusiasm” that almost always motivates the voters for one candidate more than the other. You can measure this in campaign contributions, the size of crowds at campaign events and what the voters tell the pollsters about the depth of their commitment to their respective candidates.
Despite what the headlines might say today about Obama’s one-, two-, or three-point leads in a handful of states, by any of the foregoing three measures Romney’s voters are clearly much more motivated than the president’s. And, in a race that could be decided by a very small number of voters, that’s a big deal.
Finally, when the media start to call this race over because Clinton has said no one could have done better than president Obama these past 3 1/2 years, you really have to start to question their judgment.
Because if you seriously think Clinton believes that this president “is” as good or better than he was, then you clearly don’t know what the meaning of “is” is in Clinton’s world.
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