James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for October 4th, 2012

Romney mountain-high in Colorado

Posted by James McPherson on October 4, 2012

Colorado may be a swing state, but Barack Obama may have developed a new dislike for the Centennial State this week. First came his dismal debate performance, in which Obama demonstrated that he didn’t learn from Clint Eastwood not to walk onto a stage unless you know what you want to say. Now two Colorado professors–using a model they say has correctly predicted the winner of the past eight presidential elections–say that Mitt Romney will win the presidential election.

Actually they originally said so back in August for a peer-reviewed study, and conservative blogs have been touting the study ever since. But since the researchers noted that their data was from data gathered in June and would later be updated, I essentially ignored it–other than to send political science professors Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry an email requesting an update when they were ready to release it. Today, professor Berry kindly sent me a link to the press release announcing the new results.

As far as I know, only the Denver Post has beaten me to the announcement that, according to the new data, “President Barack Obama is expected to receive 208 votes — down five votes from their initial prediction — and short of the 270 needed to win.”

Perhaps Bickers and Berry are right. But the conservative professor that I had lunch with today and I think otherwise. Neither of us happens to be a political scientist, just political junkies, but a host of electoral maps from the likes of Real Clear Politics, CNN, polltrack.com, electoral-vote.com, Intrade, Nate Silver, the Washington Post, the Princeton Election Consortium, 270towin, and even the conservative Rasmussen Reports also show Romney to be in serious trouble.

One thing about it though: If Berry and Bickers are somehow proven right, they ought to auction off their services for 2016. And now conservatives will have one more reason to be enthused, while Romney has another reason to appreciate the Colorado state motto: Nil Sine Numine, or “Nothing without Providence” (sometimes translated as “Nothing without the Deity”).

P.S.: Reading the press release a bit more closely, we see, “The model foresees Romney carrying New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.” But even Rasmussen is calling Pennsylvania “safe (for) Obama,” and most maps have him leading in almost all of the swing states. Romney could win. But most of us who follow politics closely don’t find it likely.

Post-election update: Of the eleven states mentioned above, Romney actually carried ONE–North Carolina–demonstrating the difference between political science modeling and actual polling.

Posted in Education, History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 24 Comments »

Undebatable: Presidential race now more interesting

Posted by James McPherson on October 4, 2012

Mitt Romney won the first 2012 presidential debate handily, as everyone from Michael Moore to the foreign press could see. I’m surprised that President Obama failed bring up “the 47 percent,” women’s issues, the auto industry or immigration, or to counter Romney’s many misstatements and exaggerations.

Still, I can’t say I’m shocked at the outcome. I doubt that George W. Bush is, either, considering his first debate as an incumbent–or that he would be, anyway, if he weren’t getting ready to visit Romney’s bankers in the Cayman Islands. First debates are good for challengers.

Remember, Obama hasn’t debated for four years. He speaks better when he has a teleprompter, or when can interact with (and feed off of) an audience, and the debate crowd had been muzzled. Jim Lehrer did an abysmal job as moderator. And despite all the talk by pundits before the debate about how good a debater he supposedly is, I’ve never seen it. Hillary Clinton beat him in their debates, and John McCain did more to lose the 2008 presidential debates than Obama did to win them. Besides, McCain had to debate with Bush and Sarah Palin strapped to his back.

Debate moments may matter to the media and political junkies, but probably no presidential debate has ever made a difference in the outcome. To repeat: Not one presidential debate has changed the outcome of an election. Despite all the recent talk about Ronald Reagan’s supposed “comeback” against Jimmy Carter, as researchers have pointed out, “No candidate who was leading in the polls six weeks before the election has lost the popular vote since Thomas Dewey in 1948.” And stats guru Nate Silver gave Obama an 86 percent chance of winning just before the debate.

Obama still leads in the states he needs to win, has a better ground game than Romney, and is better on the stump. He still has the natural advantage of any sitting president, in that he will be seen on the news every night and has the opportunity to do things that only a president can do. He’ll probably throw out the first pitch at a Nationals playoff game–and maybe an Orioles game, too. Obviously he should do more “presidential” stuff–meeting with world leaders, for example, rather than hanging out with the ladies of “The View.”

It’s still the president’s contest to lose–but ask Bush’s former baseball team, the Texas Rangers, if it’s possible to blow a big lead. Obama may have to wake up and study up for the next two debates. He shouldn’t take for granted that Americans are too intelligent to elect a guy with no meaningful foreign policy experience or who makes vague domestic promises that he won’t be able to keep. After all, that’s exactly what voters did in 2008. Just ask our current Secretary of State.

Same-day follow-up: Rachel Maddow had a fascinating piece tonight, demonstrating that of the seven times a sitting president has debated a challenger, presidents now have a sparkling record of 1-6. Even Ronald Reagan won as the challenger and then lost as president. In addition, Nate Silver actually boosted his calculation of Obama’s chance of presidential victory to 87 percent. James Downie of the Washington Post is probably correct when he  writes, “Obama lost the first debate, but he will still win the election.” And Obama himself seemed cheerful and confident on the stump today.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »