As my last couple of posts should demonstrate, I can’t write about all politics all the time. I wouldn’t want to. But this is a political season, and there’s no doubt that the topic is on the front burner. We can all understand the reasons why.
We are seven days away from a momentous change in this country. One week from today, all the waiting and the suspense and the anticipation will be over, and Barack Obama will be elected president.
There are still a few people—skeptics and pessimists on the liberal side, delusionally wishful thinkers on the conservative side—who doubt this outcome. You can’t trust polls, they say. And even if you can, they’re “tightening” for McCain. Besides, the Republicans known how to steal win elections. They’ll launch some sort of “October surprise”—Rush Limbaugh has been talking again about a Michelle Obama “whitey” tape. Maybe all the undecideds will tip toward McCain, and he’ll take the swing states. Maybe Obama’s voters will get complacent, and if not the GOP will still keep turnout down in key districts (or “challenge voter fraud,” in right-wing parlance). Maybe the voting machine companies will rig the results.
And so on.
But really, people, this one is in the bag. You can’t take anything 100% for granted in politics, true, and Obama is warning his own supporters against complacency—it’s still important to get every possible voter to the polls—but it would take an epic, absolutely unprecedented electoral catastrophe at this point for Obama to lose. All the fundamentals are on his side.
- Huge majorities—three-quarters of Americans polled—say that the country is “moving in the wrong direction.” The incumbent party always takes the hit for that (not unfairly in this case, as the Republicans have clearly driven the agenda for years now, and richly deserve the blame).
- The economy… well, the economy speaks for itself. Consumer confidence is at the lowest level ever recorded. And hard times also work against incumbents.
- The “Whitey” tape has been an unsubstantiated rumor for months. It’s too late to be keeping powder dry. If Rush or Steve Schmidt or anyone else had that or any other serious “October surprise” up their sleeves, they would have launched it already, before the early voting started.
- Speaking of the early voting—which is allowed in 32 states now—the turnout levels so far have reportedly been staggering. This is the leading edge of a groundswell expected to continue through Election Day itself. And high turnout traditionally tends to favor challengers.
- Even aside from tradition, much of that turnout is due to new voters, and the Democratic party holds a huge advantage in new voter registration: “Obama’s aides said data show that in 13 swing states, there are 1.49 million more Democrats and 61,438 fewer Republicans registered” than in 2004.
- Obama has a 4-to-1 financial advantage over McCain. And he’s not just spending that money on ads (although he has plenty of those), he’s also spending it on a powerful “ground game” in state after state, driving a GOTV effort that from all accounts swamps the Republicans’ in terms of organization, discipline, and enthusiasm. (And this is not just smart campaign strategy—it also speaks well for the sincerity of Obama’s rhetoric about re-engaging ordinary Americans in political life.)
- Electoral chicanery has certainly turned elections in the past—Ohio in 2004 springs to mind, and the GOP is obviously not above similar efforts this year. But such tactics can only really work when the numbers are fairly close. In most places, they just don’t look that close this year.
- That leads us to the polls… and there’s a good argument to be made that pollsters are actually calling the race closer than it really is for a couple of reasons. First, their “likely voter” models underestimate what the real turnout will be. Second, they underpoll cell-phone-only households, which demographically tend to be younger and more liberal, to an extent that multiple analysts say could amount to two or three percentage points. The countervailing so-called “Bradley effect,” meanwhile, has been shown not to exist.
While any single poll of 500 or 1,000 people may have a large margin of error, a weighted average of multiple polls over time is much, much more reliable. I’m not a statistician or a polling expert. But I’m inclined to trust those who are. And praise be to the Internet, unlike in past election cycles where we had to rely on sporadic data fed through a mass-media filter, this time around there’s a surplus of riches for those who want to see the real numbers. Poll tracking and electoral projection sites I visit regularly include RealClearPolitics.com, Pollster.com, Electoral-Vote.com, the Princeton Election Consortium, and (my personal favorite) FiveThirtyEight.com. It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency, and as of today these sites are respectively projecting Obama’s electoral college numbers at 306 (with 90 still as tossups), 306 (with 75 tossups), 364 (with 17 tossups), 311 (with 67 tossups), and 351 (using a different method, averaging multiple computer simulations). Tightening? According to poll-analysis wunderkind (and fellow U of Chicago alumnus) Nate Silver, not so much.
Hell, right now Obama even has the highest level of support among white voters of any Democratic candidate in over 30 years.
This isn’t just dumb luck. He’s run a consistently smart, principled campaign. Heck, at this point, he has McCain so flustered that he’s going around repeating a line that works better for Obama than it does for him—talking about Obama’s desire to “spread the wealth!” Obama’s original words to “Joe the plumber” certainly express a reasonable sensibility:
My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody. If you’ve got a plumbing business, you’re gonna be better off if you’ve got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, and right now everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.
McCain’s tactic here might have worked a decade ago, when middle-class Americans all thought they were getting rich in the stock market, and “spreading the wealth” would only benefit the “other guy.” But these days, it’s very clear to most people that shared prosperity is something that benefits “us,” not just “them.” The right-wing base with which McCain is now constantly surrounded may buy that as a scary evocation of “socialism,” but to the vast majority of other Americans, the phrase evokes positive ideals about both prosperity and fairness.
So when all is said and done, I expect Obama to win this thing in a walk. I still stand by what I wrote two weeks ago: I anticipate at least 350 electoral votes, at least 28 states, and possibly a double-digit popular vote margin. I’d add at least a 25-seat gain in the House, and at least 58 seats out of 100 in the Senate. (I’d love to see 60, a filibuster-proof majority that would allow the party to send Joe Lieberman packing, but although there’s a chance it’s not a likelihood.)
And what does all this horse-race stuff amount to, after the numbers have been tallied? Let’s stop and step back for a minute.
We are living through history. This is arguably the most important American election in three generations. It will represent a paradigm shift, a realignment on the order of 1932. In years to come, we will tell our children and grandchildren about this. (I speak metaphorically here, being childless.) It will be transformational.
Even in ordinary times, electing the first African-American president would be momentous. It will reshape America in the eyes of the world, and have a profound effect on our own culture. But these are not ordinary times (and it’s quite possible that if they were, Obama wouldn’t be electable). These times are strange and dramatic, and the stakes are high.
America has suffered through a 40-year slide of increasingly debased politics, an increasingly unsustainable economy, increasingly divisive right-wing public discourse… and this downward spiral has only accelerated in the last eight years.
Life in America since 2000 has felt strangely unreal, as if we were in a holding pattern. This couldn’t really be the 21st century, could it? This wasn’t what we signed up for. It was depressing, dispiriting. When could we stop waiting and start moving forward? When would life start making sense again?
This country has suffered bad times under past administrations. We’ve had presidents who rose to office on waves of mean-spirited, divisive politics. We’ve had presidents who left the country drowning in debt. We’ve had presidents who mired us in ill-conceived wars. We’ve had presidents who sent our economy spiralling into recession or depression. We’ve had presidents who have dragged our country’s international reputation through the mud. We’ve had presidents who made unconstitutional grabs for power. We’ve had presidents who were ragingly unpopular with the public. We’ve had presidents who were dimwitted and inarticulate. But when have we ever before had someone manage all of the above? Bush overwhelmingly stands out as the Worst. President. Ever.
And to far too great an extent, he has defined the times.
It is crucial, it is vital, that we repudiate this administration and its politics in every way possible. Failure to do so would represent an abdication of any hope for restoring the values this country stands for. And that repudiation isn’t just personal—it has to be systematic. It has to include the party that has unhesitatingly lined up to support this pernicious downward trend. John McCain isn’t Bush, true, but he has been and remains part of the problem. An electorate that would ask for more of the same would deserve nothing better.
We must turn the page. We must start fresh. There is no choice. We are the frog in the pot of simmering water, and we must jump out before it reaches a full boil. And Americans, in overwhelming numbers, clearly understand this.
Obama understood it sooner than most, and laid claim to representing “change” in a year when that would be the single essential issue uniting all others. And if the challenges facing him (and all of us) now are greater than even he could have expected, if he cannot possibly be all things to all people and will almost certainly disappoint in some ways, still… he does represent a fundamental change. He embodies a turning back toward mature, intelligent, serious leadership. A turning away from fear and anger and destructive, short-sighted politics. A vision of the future that can uplift and engage Americans of every stripe.
The details of policymaking in the days and years ahead will be formidable, and I’ll certainly write of those in posts to come. For now, however, the important thing… the inspiring thing… is that we’re a week away from celebrating America’s last, best chance to salvage a livable 21st century. Something geniunely new is emerging, and we’re all part of it. We will remember these days.Tags: economy, Election 2008, George W. Bush, McCain, Obama, polling, voting