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 ‘presidential polls’

Pre-Memorial Day 2012 presidential election projection: Obama wins handily

Posted by James McPherson on May 23, 2012

“The 2012 presidential election is going to be close. Very close. Incredibly close. Like Al-Gore-vs-George-W.-Bush close.”

That’s how Chris Cillizza, a Washington Post political pundit whose work I respect, started a post for his highly respected blog, The Fix, yesterday. He is far from alone in his proclamation that the election will be tight; similar statements in recent weeks have come from the likes of the Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times,  U.S. News and countless talking heads on cable news programs. On the other hand Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi says most journalists think Obama has it won, but have good reason to say otherwise:

It’s our job in the media to try to drum up interest in this. We have to sell advertising, we have to get viewers and get ratings. We can’t just come out and say that this thing is over six months before it happens. So, there is a strong incentive among all pundits, including me, to come out and say, ‘this could happen, that could happen.’ Romney has a legitimate chance. It’s just a subconscious pull that works on all of us in the media that drives us to make those kinds of comments, I think.

You can use the links above to read the various arguments for yourself, and I responded to Cizzilla in the comments section of his blog yesterday, but today I decided it was worth expanding here why I think Cillizza and those other “close elections” folks are wrong. The 2012 presidental election won’t be close, and unless something significant happens to change the tide Obama will win.

I know this is too early in the process to make such pronouncements. After all, despite what Fox News and MSNBC would have you believe, most people won’t pay any serious attention to the campaigns until at least the conventions this summer, or later. (Some never will pay much attention, but will show up to vote regardless, a whole other issue.) A lot can happen between now and November. We might go to war in Iraq, or see things turn dramatically worse in Afghanistan. Worldwide economic collapse or some form of disaster may make U.S. elections irrelevant. The U.S. might be embarrassed in the Olympics, which Fox News will blame on Obama. Stephen Colbert might agree to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate. Joe Biden might kiss Jeremiah Wright on the mouth while standing on an American flag and holding a Qur’an. Congress might do something constructive. Space aliens might attack–or simply give their support to Romney. Less likely, Romney might figure out a way to talk to regular people. So, in fact, no one KNOWS what will happen in the election.

I have alluded previously to the fact that I thought Obama would win handily in 2012, whether he deserves to or not. I pointed out that the GOP Congressional victories of 2010 would likely help, and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, my reasons have included bad graphic design by the Romney folks and horse racing’s Triple Crown. Now I’ll offer some more serious reasons that nervous folks shouldn’t waste beautiful summer days agonizing over presidential politics. (If you still want to get worked up about politics, get involved locally or at the state level, where you might actually make a difference.)

Lots of people can provide arguments for why Obama might lose, and some on talk radio and on blogs act as if an Obama defeat is a certainty. But today I’ll take the opportunity to point out that it’s not just me who thinks those people are misguided–EVERYONE who has meaningful data seems to think Obama will win. Yahoo! predicted back in February that Obama would win in a landslide. Those who say Romney will be our next president seem to be basing their “predictions” on wishful thinking, such as that expressed by usually wrong Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and washed-up political hack Dick Morris. Let’s look at some electoral maps.

If you count states that are certain to go for either candidate, along with those that “likely” will, 270towin.com has Obama gaining 217 votes, Romney, 190, with just 130 undecided. The undecided votes represent just eight states, which explains why both candidates have been (and will be) spending so much of their time in Ohio, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. That 217-190 count sounds close, and it is–but that seems to be the best possible picture for Romney at this point, other than the interactive map offered by the Washington Post (with analysis by Cillizza). That map gives Obama 196 “solid” and 41 “leaning” electoral votes, compared to 170 and 21 for the challenger, with 110 undecided.

Other maps give Obama an even bigger margin. For example, Real Clear Politics has Obama leading 227-170, with 141 (11 states) as toss-ups. In that case the president needs just 43 more electoral votes, with numerous different ways to get there. Romney needs 100, virtually guaranteeing that he needs to win both Ohio and Florida–and still needs a lot of help elsewhere. Electoral-vote.com has Obama winning easily, with 253 votes already declared “strongly Democratic,” 32 as “weak Democratic,” and 73 as “barely Democratic.” The Intrade Prediction Market (likely to be wildly inaccurate at this point because of limited participation) has it 250-146 for Obama, with 142 outstanding. And “Blogging Caesar“–who seems to be a conservative and who claims to have an outstanding prediction record–at electionprojection.com has Obama by a landslide, 303-235.

Again, it’s early and much could change. But if anyone has real numbers or meaningful data that seem to predict a Romney win, I haven’t come across them. And Obama seems to have more options to reach 270 electoral votes than Romney does. If you have evidence to the contrary, I hope you’ll share it. Closer elections are more interesting, which is why the media have an interest in acting as if this one will be tight. And because close elections make it easier to raise money, neither party will tell you before election day that this one seems to be wrapped up.

Still, as even a Fox News contributor pointed out a couple of weeks ago, “The bottom line is that President Obama’s path to electoral victory seems clear.” So there you have it–feel free to ignore the summer “close election” hype. Rather than sending your hard-earned 10 bucks to a presidential candidate, use that money to take your kids out for ice cream.

Memorial Day update: Here’s another “poll of polls” that indicates it will be tough for Obama to lose: polltrack.com.

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 21 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 »