links, commentary, toons, pics, fun!

Friday, October 26, 2012


The last few days we've been in this weird situation where poll analysts see Obama as the heavy favorite to win (see Nate Silver, these guys and others), while much of the media sees hints of a Romney victory, or at least a Romney "surge."  Paul Krugman explains:
If you’re new to this, there are two basic approaches to election analysis at this point. One is the campaign reporter style, full of impressionist reporting about who won the news cycle and who has “momentum”, whatever that means (politics ain’t beanbag, but it ain’t billiards either). The other is poll-based. And that mostly means state-level polls at this point: there are more of them, and we have an electoral-college system, not a popular-vote system. 
The impressionistic style has been all about Romney on the rise, a narrative that is to a large part being fed by the Romney campaign itself. But the state-level polling doesn’t show it. 
In fact, the state polls pretty much say that Obama would win if the election were held right now, taking Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa, and quite possibly Virginia. Florida is a dead heat, too. (See the Pollster map). Nor is there any sign of movement in Romney’s direction after his big post-first-debate bump.
Whatever is really going on, we’re now getting close to a showdown between styles of political analysis. By inclination, I of course trust the nerds. But we’ll soon see.

I too tend to go with the nerds...  I certainly prefer the current situation to having the roles reversed.  Still it's disconcerting to see the media so easily played because the Romney camp is trying to create this narrative in hopes of generating a bandwagon effect, and perhaps it could work.

Jonathan Chait had a good post on the topic, noting that a big part of Karl Rove's 2000 strategy was all about projecting confidence.  Michael Tomasky argues these are the most crucial days of the election because now is when the narrative for the home stretch takes shape, and that Republicans are doing all they can to shape it to their favor:
At worst from Obama’s perspective, the thing is tied. As far as we know, looking at all the averages, on a state-by-state basis he’s ahead. If you assume seven or eight states in play and go through all the permutations, Obama often wins by taking just two or three of them. Yes, a lot hinges on Ohio. But he can win even without it (he needs a strong inside straight, but it’s possible). Romney absolutely cannot.

Conservatives know all this. But they’re constructing an opposite reality. This is at the heart of everything going on right now, I think. It’s what they can do that liberals can’t really do. They've always done it. “Romney is going to win” in 2012 isn’t so different from “We’ll be hailed as liberators” in 2003. They say something and try to make it so, and the media go for it time and time again.

Yep.  Commenting along the same lines Josh Marshall mentions a certain site/publication that seems to have an outsized role in setting the conventional wisdom:
Whenever the polls are this close, either guy can win. But the momentum is not on Romney’s side at the moment. They’re trying to punk reporters — thinking particularly of the Politico set here, and others who like to be punk’d — into creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Politico, in its eternal quest to 'drive the news,' has been at the forefront of this story, trumpeting the Romney camp's assertions of "momentum" even when there's little empirical evidence for such claims ... Marshall is on to something when he says they like to be punk'd.  They are admirers of the game and those that can play it, even when, especially when, the game is playing them.

(To be clear, I'm talking specifically about the opinion-setting front page political writers that define their publication... you can certainly find high-quality, substantive journalism at Politico 'below the fold.')

Their reaction to the last debate illustrates the point.

From a purely optical standpoint I thought the last debate was the inverse of the first, with Obama giving an impressive performance while Romney tried to run out the clock, looking worse for it.

But the more significant take away was well described by Joan Walsh at Salon ("The Man Without a Soul"):
Beyond scoring the debate on style points, though, why aren’t more people horrified by Romney’s capacity to disavow virtually everything he’s said on foreign policy and cuddle up with Obama, in order to seem less frightening to voters? On Afghanistan, on Iran, on abandoning Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, on killing Osama bin Laden, on Syria, on drones, Romney mostly said “me too” to Obama’s policies. And it’s not as though the debate merely gave Romney the space to explain foreign policy positions that may have been misinterpreted. After a year spent attacking Obama’s “weakness” globally and promising to be hawkish, he was, at times, the dove, insisting more than once “We can’t kill our way out of this.” And when he wasn’t echoing Obama, he sounded like a schoolboy reciting what he just learned in world geography class. 
I found it chilling. Once again I thought to myself: Who is this guy who’s trying to imitate a cautious, sober global statesman (albeit one who sweats a lot)? I just watched Doris Kearns Goodwin on “Morning Joe” say Romney did the right thing because his goal was not to scare anybody and lose the momentum he gained from Debate 1, and everyone seemed to agree. But in what new realm of cynicism is it the right thing to hide your real policies in order to become president?

This is the realm of Politico.  They didn't invent the stuff, but they've claimed the mantle.  I happened to watch the debate through their online stream and afterwards the Politicos came on and intoned that Obama's jabs at Romney only diminished his stature and made him seem less Presidential, and that Romney won the debate when he backed off insisting for more time and conceded to Shiefer that he had also been attacking his opponent.  This, they said, is what viewers were looking for.  That Romney was introducing entirely new policy arguments that often contradicted his previously held positions at the last debate before the election did not seem to bother them... presumably because they didn't think voters would care about that either (talk about self-fulfilling prophecies!)...   

John Sides shows how over a couple of days Politico went from describing Romney as "surging" with Dems scrambling to play defense... to providing the GOP a "cold shower" re: their electoral prospects...  all over the course of a couple days in which there was no discernable movement in the polls.  They're just spinning yarn over there!  Their current headline story is "the Momentum Wars," which makes no mention of their own participation in said 'wars.'

I recommend this TNR piece by Alec MacGillis about the media's love of / need for narrative, which perfectly describes the dynamic at play. (and is kind of hilarious)

To be clear it's nothing nefarious or even ideological, and is hardly limited to Politico, but it sucks because this kind of stuff does affect how people view the campaign and the candidates, and in a race this close could easily tip the balance in one direction or another.

More soon...

No comments: