Monday, November 3, 2008

It's Almost Over!

Election day, t-minus 1. Time to get out some thoughts that have been rattling around my head.

The polling in this election has been unbelievable. Everyone has commented on the way polls seem to oscillate wildly, yet most still generally believe that Obama will walk away with it. I'm not so sure.

I'll concede that it's very unlikely that McCain can pull out a victory. And that victory would likely come from somewhere near his colon. But it's possible. Why?

Every poll either queries registered voters, or relies on some calculation of "likely" voters. I submit that the estimation of who's likely to vote and who isn't is wrong. The common wisdom currently suggests that we'll see a surge primarily among two groups: youths and african americans. The latter is probably right—blacks have finally achieved the top, with an african american as a major party nominee—but the former is unbelievable to me. It seems that every few years (most recently in 2004), we're told that the young people are energized, and passionate about this election. I don't buy it.

I didn't save the link, because I didn't anticipate starting this blog today, but I read this morning that young voters make up 17% of eligible voters in states that offer early voting. They've turned out thus far as something around 8% of the early electorate. That's 47% of eligible young people turning out, which is slightly higher than typical (around 45%), but not much. And, if you think about it, early voting is more likely to appeal to young voters who lead busy, social lives, and would appreciate the flexibility of voting over a period of time rather than on one date.

If the youth do not turn out as expected, then every poll of "likely" voters is wrong. And since the youth overwhelmingly support Obama, this represents a serious drop in expected support for the Democratic ticket.

Another key element is the undecided vote. Ordinarily, undecided voters who break late go to the challenger. The closest thing to a challenger in this election is Obama, since his campaign has had a large degree of success in linking McCain to the incumbent administration. The problem here is the nature of this election. Purely anecdotally, I know several voters who were undecided until a few days ago. By in large, these are people who traditionally (or even recently) have voted Republican, but are upset by the current behavior of that party. When forced to choose, however, these people were never really going to vote Obama. Everyone I know who is voting Obama made up his mind long ago. Everyone I know who has been struggling with it seems to be coming down for McCain, though holding their noses to do it. (See e.g. Mike Rappaport).

If undecideds do break for largely for McCain, this becomes an entirely new election. If they stay home, things will stay pretty much as they appear.

For more on this, with particular reference to the "spiral of silence," a British polling issue, read Daniel Finkelstein's piece for TimesOnline.

The performance of the Media in this election has been embarrassing. No two ways about it.

The best summary of their poor performance that I've seen is probably Douglas MacKinnon's blog post on the subject for the NYT. He points to a Politico piece from last week, asking why McCain has been "hosed" in the press, drawing particular attention to the conclusion "So what?"

I remember reading that last week, and thinking very similarly to MacKinnon:
“So what?” Those two cavalier words alone speak to the larger problem. Who cares if “80 percent or more of journalists covering the 2008 election” will vote for Barack Obama? Journalists, their editors, management, the candidates and the American people should care.
I agree. We should all care. The press has consistently given Obama a pass on what should be major points of contention. They've also done his dirty work for him, conducting opposition research not just on Republican agents, but the now-famous Joe the Plumber, whose only sin was to be home when Obama came to his house.

The performance of the media has been shameful. Let's just hope that if Obama does win this thing, they pull an about-face and take their responsibilities more seriously.
I may have more comments as the day progresses, and as news coverage comes out tomorrow. Even though no one is reading this, check back for more!

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