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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Posts Tagged ‘electoral map’

On-the-mark election predictions, and why Obama won

Posted by James McPherson on November 5, 2008

Back in August, when the national polls had the presidential race as close as it got (Zogby gave John McCain the lead), I predicted that in spite of minor irritations offered by GOP mudslinging and PUMAs (who now are noteworthy only because they’re among the few people in America who have ended up on the wrong side in three consecutive presidential elections), Barack Obama would win by a substantial margin: “by the widest margin seen since at least Bill Clinton’s 379-159 victory over Bob Dole in 1996, and maybe since Ronald Reagan slaughtered Walter ‘I-won-my-home-state-of-Minnesota-and-the District-of Columbia’ Mondale 525-13 in 1984.”

With 26 electoral votes (Indiana and North Carolina) still undecided at this point, Obama now has 349 wrapped up, and as CNN notes, has “redrawn the electoral map.” The redrawing, by the way, is something I suggested would be important in my recent book (in which I also suggested that Obama might do well because of similarities to Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan): “The question also remains whether any Democrat from outside the South can win the White House. If so, the party’s next-best option might seem to be still in the Sunbelt region but farther west. A logical choice might be a governor from a state such as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California, or even Colorado.”

New Mexico and Colorado went Democratic in this election (as California long has), but I was somewhat surprised that a candidate from the Midwest–though one that managed to draw a heavy Hispanic vote–was the one who turned those states from red to blue. The Midwestern connection also helped Obama win the traditionally red state of Indiana.

More surprising to me was the popular vote margin, with Obama getting 52 percent of the tally at this point. Electoral votes are what count, of course, but a candidate who gets a majority  of the popular vote (something Bill Clinton didn’t do with either of his victories, nor did George W. Bush in 2000) can argue that he has more of a mandate for change. Combined with a heavily Democratic Congress and a nationwide eagerness for change, Obama might actually be able to accomplish some goals.

Perhaps. But I also recognize that Obama is a pragmatic politician, and that perhaps the Democrats have learned from the Republican excesses of 2000-2006. As a result, my fear is that Obama and Congressional Dems will govern so cautiously for the next two years that they keep a majority in 2010–and so cautiously that, because not enough progress will have been achieved, they lose that majority and perhaps the presidency in 2012.

As for the election, some people blame McCain’s margin of defeat on the failing economy, and there’s some truth to that. But Americans realized they had serious economic problems even before the “collapse” of a few weeks ago, and if the economy hadn’t taken center stage, I’m convinced that the fact that the Iraqis want us out of Iraq would have numbed the Iraq War surge argument that McCain kept trying to push.

Some blame the McCain campaign for being too negative, or not negative enough, but he was in a tough spot. Trailing candidates most need to bring down their opponents through negative ads, and Republicans have used those ads to help depress turnout in the past. But in times of trouble the voters like optimists–like Obama, and like Reagan and Clinton before him.

Some blame Sarah Palin, who was badly misused by her GOP handlers and who proved to be at least as big a hindrance as a help. But the fact is that she gave McCain a serious boost when he needed it most (why I and some others recommended her selection before most people had ever heard of her). She probably kept the race from getting away from McCain earlier than it did.

I suspect that we haven’t heard the last of Palin, though I’m not as optimistic as some about her future chances. For one thing, this election seemed to prove that negative campaigning–one of the major jobs of a vice presidential candidate–by a woman is viewed as less acceptable than the same language coming from a man. It’s an old story for strong women: Men are viewed as forceful, while women who do the same thing are viewed as bitchy. Ironically, a woman might have better luck at the top of the ticket than as the VP nominee.

In fact, however, the biggest reasons for the Obama landslide were the incredible 50-state campaign strategy put together by Obama and the oft-maligned Howard Dean, the campaign’s use of the Internet for organizing events and fundraising, and the fact that real problems–problems created and compounded largely by the Bush administration and its Congressional lackeys–made this a year in which Republicans were almost guaranteed to lose.

McCain might have been the only Republican with a chance to win this year, and conditions would have had to be nearly perfect for him to do so. On the plus side, McCain got his Bob Dole moment in the sun (let’s hope he spares us from commercials for erectile dysfunction and Pepsi). It is sad that McCain sunk so low in his negative campaigning, but he gave a gracious and moving concession speech. The national political scene being what it is, he will find his way back into the good graces of the Senate and the national media (unlike “Joe the Turncoat” Lieberman, perhaps–a two-time loser of an “ally” that I predict no presidential candidate from either party will want in the future).

All in all, thank God it’s over. Now Obama’s real work begins, and Iowa can start gearing up for visits by possible 2012 candidates. With any luck, PUMAs, Obama Girl, and Joe the Plumber will fade away. Regardless, the GOP will be back, even if we (and they) don’t yet know when or in what form.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

ACORN makes GOP & media nuts while others try to steal the election

Posted by James McPherson on October 22, 2008

A recommendation: Before you consider for one more second the potential problems associated with ACORN, read the latest issue or the online version of Mother Jones magazine, which offers “10 Ways to Steal an Election.” Some of the methods are illegal, some are just sleazy, all have been used by conservatives, and all are more insidious and more likely to affect the final vote count than anything ACORN is doing now.

The magazine also carries a story about the Republicans’ cynical last-ditch effort to win the election (or to raise doubts about the veracity of Barack Obama’s victory). Unfortunately, too many of the supposedly liberal mainstream media, not just Fox News, are devoting disproportionate amounts of time and energy to the GOP line about ACORN stealing the election (though they don’t seem to be yet buying the conservative talking point that perhaps ACORN is doing so with the help of Barack Obama).

Perhaps ACORN is worth looking into, though I have yet to see anyone explain how registration fraud equals voter fraud (or point out that inflated registration numbers may do more harm to Democrats, who might have unrealistic expectations about voter turnout, than to Republicans, who should know that Mickey Mouse won’t show up to cast a ballot). A bigger problem, though, is the relative lack of meaningful stories about the real election fraud threats. For those we have to turn to such media as last night’s episode of the Colbert Report (see the video of “The Word“) and Mother Jones.

Speaking of which, you also can see an interactive map of states in which election “shenanigans” are known to have occurred. I doubt that the mainstream media, interested in keeping the election close (and in not creating an anti-media backlash vote), will be moved to carry their own versions of the map. After all, unlike Real Clear Politics and CNN, over at MSNBC and CBS, they’re still running maps that show neither candidate having enough likely electoral votes to claim victory.

I dislike the fact that the media base so much election coverage on polls. But I dislike even more that they they misrepresent their own polling information, which now suggests, barring some nearly miraculous event, that Obama will win big and Sarah Palin will be sent packing back to Alaska (but apparently won’t be packing the $130,000 worth of new clothing bought for her by the GOP since she became the VP nominee).

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Out-on-a-limb prediction: Obama will win handily

Posted by James McPherson on August 20, 2008

Is Barack Obama on the ropes? Tonight CNN is running back-to-back programs to “reveal” the candidates, and though I obviously don’t know the entire content of either portrayal, last night’s promos by the network focused heavily on the positive aspects of John McCain (war hero cheating death) and the more negative aspects of Barack Obama (hard-knuckled Chicago pol). The online materials also offer more  (and more positive) portrayals of McCain–perhaps no surprise, since, despite right-wing claims, coverage of Obama has been consistently more negative than that of Obama.

Another minor distraction for the Democrats comes from PUMAs who continue to gain some media attention by attacking Obama and saying they’ll vote for McCain, even though their supposed favored candidate will endorse Obama–again. (One perhaps-interesting side note: PUMA Web sites seem to be far more likely than even hardcore conservative or liberal sites to delete the comments of those who disagree with them, regardless of how polite the disagreement. I suppose that lets them keep things warm and fuzzy inside their bubble as they continue to persuade a few others to fund their merry adventures. My suggested name for the PUMA motorhome: Rocinante).

Now, to the glee of Obama opponents, Zogby reports that for the first time McCain is leading Obama in its national tracking poll. That comes on the heels of some other national tracking polls that indicated the race was getting closer. In short, the Democratic candidate seems to be in a downward slide.

So, which all those factors considered, this seems like a perfect time for me to predict that in November Obama will win the general election by the widest margin seen since at least Bill Clinton’s 379-159 victory over Bob Dole in 1996, and maybe since Ronald Reagan slaughtered Walter “I-won-my-home-state-of-Minnesota-and-the District-of Columbia” Mondale 525-13 in 1984.

At least no one can accuse me of jumping on a bandwagon. And lest you think my prediction is mere wishful thinking, let me explain.

Aside from the fact that Zogby disagrees with virtually every other poll (though others have tightened), and despite what Fox News would have you believe, national polls are meaningless in an environment in which key states, through the Electoral College, will determine the outcome. And even Zogby’s electoral map has Obama leading by a significant margin in electoral votes (273-146, with 119 “too close to call), though John Zogby puts it this way: “For the time being, Obama maintains the edge and has the strength of a majority of electoral votes. … But too many of these states are close and a sizable number are undecided or choosing a third party candidate. So there is a lot of fluidity.”

Ah, fluidity–so perhaps things really are falling apart for Obama? “For the first time since mid-May, Obama is now below the 270 electoral votes needed to win,” VoteFromAbroad.org reports today, while offering its own electoral map. “He is behind in almost all the swing states (Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, and Nevada) and tied in Virginia. He is ahead in Iowa and New Mexico, but these are seem to be fairly solid for him and may not be seen as swing states any more.”

Well, yeah, but… If you look at the map, you’ll see that while Obama is short of the 270 electoral votes needed to win, he still leads 264-261, with a tie in the 13-vote state of Virginia. That’s razor-thin on its face, but look a bit closer and things look even better for Obama. The map breaks states down between strong, weak and “barely” Democratic or Republican states. If we go with just the strong states for each, Obama still only has a three-vote lead, 134-131.

Listed among the VoteFromAbroad “weak” states for Obama are New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, New Mexico and Iowa, all of which Zogby has more firmly in Obama’s camp. I would be surprised if McCain rebounds enough to win more than one of those. On the other hand, VoteFromAbroad lists only four states as weakly for McCain, and Zogby puts only two of those (West Virginia and Georgia) in McCain’s camp with Missouri and Indiana “too close to call.”

Even if McCain somehow manages to win all four of those and Michigan, Iowa and New Mexico (which I consider extremely unlikely), he gains a total of 66 more electoral votes, compared to 84 more for Obama. The generous-to-McCain running tally: Obama 218, McCain 197.

Turn now to the “barely” Democratic or Republican. VoteFromAbroad lists only New Hampshire and Minnesota (both of which Zogby now has Democratic) as barely for Obama, a total of 14 of “his” votes to lose. On the other hand, McCain’s “barely” numbers total 85, including Colorado (which Zogby has Obama leading) and the big states of Florida and Ohio. In short, of the very close states, with a total of 112 electoral votes, McCain has a lot more to lose–and even with the extremely generous running total above, would have to win 73 more, or almost two-thirds of what’s left.

Incidentally, the polls may have a misleading built-in advantage for McCain. Many surveys rely heavily on phone interviews, which tend to underrepresent college students and techno-savvy people who rely on cell phones and/or computer phone services instead of traditional landlines. Yet those people are the ones who seem to be among Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters. I would not be surprised in this election to see Obama’s numbers underrepresented by 5 percent or more in many polls.

Aside from the polls, which despite my lengthy discussion are fairly meaningless this early in the race, there are other reasons I believe Obama will win by a significant electoral margin. One is the news media. Having been called on their bias, perhaps they’ll start to look more critically at McCain. They’ll also lose interest in PUMAs within days of the Democratic Convention, though who knows what distractions the networks might find next.

Keep in mind that news organizations benefit from a tight battle, and you probably won’t hear any on-air pundits predict anything other than a close election. People watching television up until election day in 1996 probably thought Dole had a chance of winning, even though no close observers would have thought so.

McCain has benefitted in recent days from a flurry of negative campaigning, Russia’s invasion of Georgia, and the fact that Obama has been on vacation. But eventually McCain will have to say something about the economy–supposedly the top priority for voters this year. McCain has been spending more money than Obama during the past couple of weeks, but that will change about a week from now when Obama’s spending will increase dramatically just as McCain is forced to rely on far more limited federal funding. Obama also has been building operations in more states than McCain, putting more states in play. Ask Hillary Clinton if that organization matters.

McCain will keep hitting his supposed strong suit, international affairs, though at some point folks may begin to realize that foreign policy experience matters less when you’ve been wrong about most things and don’t seem to have learned from that experience. In fact, the Iraq War may help Obama. After all, Democrats swept into office two years ago largely because people were tired of the war. Though they may feel betrayed by Congress, they’re no less tired of the war today, and Obama has been a consistent opponent. Voters also are tired of Congressional corruption, and most of that (in recent months) has come from Republicans.

Wedge issues that have brought out large numbers of conservatives in recent presidential elections–especially abortion and gay marriage–will be on far fewer state ballots this year. Besides, it remains to be seen if McCain’s Saddleback Church appearance or his recent coziness with evangelicals has inspired conservatives. Many Republican voters may just stay home, especially since it seems clear that Democrats will gain even more seats in Congress. Someone who knows his or her favorite Congressional candidate is destined to lose may not bother to turn out for McCain.

The conventions and vice presidential choices to come in the next couple of weeks may make some difference, though probably not much (though if McCain chooses Joe Lieberman, that will signify some desperation). If VP choices matter, McCain might have more potential pitfalls, trying to choose someone who won’t offend abortion opponents or the women who make up much of the moderate middle.

So there you have it, my prediction that Obama will win fairly easily. Of course some unforseen October surprise could conceivable swing the election, or perhaps Obama’s masses will fail to show, but I doubt it. And if I’m wrong, you’ll be able to rub it in less than three months from now.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »