Michael Barone is one of the few poll watchers I respect. I’ve watched him in any number of elections and he’s objectively called it the way he saw it, usually spot on, for whomever the facts indicated was in the lead. No spin, just good analysis.
Well, in this season of polling chaos, Barone is out with his look at some of the key indicators that help him analyze election trends and he seems to think we are seeing a preference cascade begin ala 1980 … just slower:
My other alternative scenario was based on the 1980 election, when vast numbers of voters switched from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan after their single debate one week before the election. In that debate, the challenger showed he had presidential stature and the incumbent president seemed petulant and small-minded.
We saw an even more vivid contrast between challenger and incumbent in the Oct. 3 debate. In the next two debates, Obama was definitely more focused and aggressive. But Romney held his own, and post-Oct. 16 polling showed him improving his standing even though many debate watchers thought Obama won on points.
What we may be seeing, as we drink from the firehose of multiple poll results pouring in, is a slow-motion 1980.
That reinforces my point about the first debate and something we’ve been saying since Oct. 3. That is the debate that mattered. And note also that in debates 2 and 3, Obama pulled a Carter. His stature was diminished by his actions. He, as Barone and many others have observed, came across as “petulant and small-minded”. Add arrogant and condescending, and you’ve captured it. Oh, and by the way, his record, like Carter’s, is dismal.
Romney, on the other hand, came across exactly as he had to come across – competent, presidential, confident and, believe it or not, likable. He did what Ronald Reagan did – unfiltered by the media, he was able to convince Americans who tuned in that he was Presidential material. That he was a more than acceptable alternative to Obama.
All of that said, Barone isn’t claiming that this is a done deal by any stretch (“don’t get cocky kid”):
The usual caveats are in order. Exogenous events could affect opinion (Libya seems to have hurt Obama). The Obama ground game is formidable. Voters who switched to Romney could switch back again.
And if there is a larger reservoir of potentially changeable voters than in 2004, there was an even larger reservoir back in 1980, when Carter attracted white Southerners who now are firmly in Romney’s column.
Mechanical analogies can be misleading. Just because Romney has gained ground since Oct. 3 does not guarantee that he will gain more.
But also keep in mind that Romney gained not just from style but from fundamentals. Most voters dislike Obama’s domestic policies and are dissatisfied with the sluggish economy. And now they seem to believe have an alternative with presidential stature.
So, while we apparently have a preference cascade beginning, is it enough? And will it peak at the right time. Will it be a slow steady climb to election day? Will it plateau? Will it stop short of the majority Romney needs? Obviously we won’t know that until election night (or, perhaps, the next day). But suffice it to say, the upward trend is obvious.
How it will play out, however, remains to be seen.
As I’ve been saying for months, the “atmospherics” which surrounded the Obama win in 2008 just don’t exist in 2012. They’re just not there. The excitement has vanished, the “hope” has been dashed and the “change” – well, it’s not at all what those who hung their own meaning on the word thought they’d see.
In other words, the President is and has been in deep electoral trouble for some time. The only thing that has really helped him and propped him up is the media. Many in the media have spent an inordinate time trying to explain away or cover up very serious failings on the part of his administration. The media has also constructed a strawman Mitt Romney which they used to “help’ Obama as well.
Two events have sort of tipped the scales against the incumbent, however. The first debate (Romney unfiltered, Obama unenthused) and Benghazi. It is those two events which have, in my opinion (note the word), started the preference cascade toward a Romney win.
Indicators? Well there are quite a few.
One, for instance, is a newspaper endorsement from a very liberal paper. That would be The Tennessean. Why is that significant? Well, as Glenn Reynolds points out, it provides “social permission” to deviate from the Democratic norm. And that sort of permission is necessary to begin a preference cascade. Today the Orlando Sentinal also endorsed Romney. Expect to see more of these sorts of endorsements in the coming days.
Another is found in polls showing the unexpected. For instance, Romney with a chance in PA? Really? Well apparently, if this poll is to be believed, it’s more than a chance. And that may have downstream effects if true. Meanwhile, in MO, the odious Todd Aiken has gone ahead of equally odious Democrat Claire McCaskill (great choice you have there, MO). That’s important for a very good reason – it has do with enthusiasm and which side appears to have it.
Additionally, both the Romney and Obama campaigns are pulling out of NC. Why? Because it appears the state’s results are no longer in doubt. It will not go to Obama this time and, apparently, that’s not even iffy. Florida seems to be going that way as well and my guess is VA too.
In OH, coal miners are mad as hell. While that may not put OH in total jeopardy, it doesn’t make a state that was comfortably Obama’s in 2008 the same in 2012.
Other indicators? How about the defection of this one-time solidly Democratic demographic?
Romney’s surging poll numbers in the crucial state of Florida reflect his growing success with Bubbie Molly and her unemployed grandson Adam, who both thought their right hand would wither if it ever pulled the lever for a Republican.
The signs and portents are everywhere, beginning with the special election of a Republican in Anthony Weiner’s heavily Jewish, New York congressional district one year ago. Now a startling new poll even has Romney performing the ultimate miracle: the parting of the blue states, winning the Jewish vote by a healthy 44% to 40%!
Florida activist Alan Bergstein described his recent experience advocating for Romney in the Jewish stronghold of Delray Beach. “Of about 100 entering and leaving the Bagel Tree eatery in that plaza, we ran into only two Democrats and loads and loads of Romney supporters. They stopped to talk to us, to congratulate us and to support us with their views of the Ryan/Biden debate. They were militant and fearless.”
Why? Well, for every effect there is a cause. In this case, it’s pretty clear:
The Democratic Party booing God and Jerusalem: At their national convention, Democratic leaders attempted to do undo the political damage of stripping all mention of God and Jerusalem as Israel’s capital from their party platform. But when they asked for a floor vote to add God and Jerusalem to the platform, the delegates loudly booed – three times. As the cameras revealed the hate-filled faces of the jeering delegates, some Jews felt frightened by the ugly scene.
Obama’s open contempt for Prime Minister Netanyahu: From the beginning of his presidency, Obama has seemed to enjoy humiliating Israel’s elected leader. He walked out on Netanyahu in the White House, claiming he had to eat dinner, and refused to pose for an official photograph with him. Now, as Iran races to complete a nuclear weapon, Obama rejected Netanyahu’s request for a meeting in New York, choosing to appear on The View instead. And when Netanyahu spoke at the United Nations, Obama instructed both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice not to attend.
Fawning over the Jewish people’s enemies: Obama bowed to the Saudi king, gave a high-profile speech in Cairo, apologizing to the Muslim world, and ordered NASA to make “Muslim outreach” its foremost priority. Over the objections of Congress, he gave at least $1.5 billion to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which advocates for “holy jihad” against Israel. And when Muslim terrorists murdered our Libyan ambassador, Obama responded with a speech at the UN, in which he stated, “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”
Appointment of anti-Semites to high government positions: Obama just appointed a Muslim leader who blames Israel for the 9/11 attacks to serve as US delegate to a Warsaw human rights conference. Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), openly supports Hizbollah and Hamas. Al-Marayati is only the latest of Obama officials hostile to Israel, including foreign policy advisor Samantha Power and UN Ambassador Susan Rice.
Obama’s long association with anti-Semites: Obama spent 20 years in the Chicago church of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who maintains, “The state of Israel is an illegal, genocidal…place.” Obama’s biggest contributor is George Soros, who is a prime funder of anti-Israel NGOs. And Obama’s close association with Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi is still being kept under wraps by the Los Angeles Times, which refuses to release a video of a reportedly inflammatory toast to Khalidi by Obama at a 2003 dinner. Breitbart News is offering a $100,000 reward to anyone with a copy of the tape.
Iran’s Growing Nuclear Capabilities: Obama has seemed more interested in deterring Israel from defending itself than in stopping Iran. His Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff explicitly stated he doesn’t want to be “complicit” in an Israeli attack on Iran, implying such an attack would be criminal. Now counter-terrorism expert Reza Kahlili is reporting that Obama’s emissaries have struck a secret “October surprise” deal with Iran, in which Iran will announce a halt to their uranium enrichment, in order to enhance Obama’s presidential prospects. The deal reportedly was negotiated in Qatar with former Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Velyati, who’s wanted by Argentina for the Jewish community center bombing in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people. If Obama has lost the trust of Jewish voters, they may not dismiss these reports as completely impossible.
That’s a very long and compelling list. Long and compelling enough to see a usually reliable demographic begin to seriously question their support for the incumbent.
Indeed, what Obama is facing for the first time in his life is having to live up to his real performance. No excuses. No BS hype and pretending. No Nobel prize his first day in office. He is being judged on performance, merit and judgement. He’s apparently being found less that adequate in all three by a huge part of America.
Add to that the fact that he seems to have no discernable plan to alter or correct his deficiencies or those of his administration and policies. That’s probably because he doesn’t think he has any (remember, he thought he won the first debate). How does one “change” if there’s nothing that needs changing?
So, all that being said, it is my opinion (again note the word) while reviewing the evidence at hand that the preference cascade we’ve talked about for months is beginning if not well underway. Look for a lot of “whistling past the graveyard” as the Obama campaign and their surrogates downplay and ignore the gathering bad news.
But in the meantime, watch the indicators. At the least, they promise an excruciatingly tight vote. And, if they say what I think they’re saying, Obama will be back in Chicago on January 21, 2013.
And what a mess the new president will inherit from him.
I wonder about the validity of these sorts of numbers:
While rising 14 points since February, Romney still trails the president, who currently has a 56% favorable rating, with 42% saying they hold an unfavorable opinion of Obama. The president’s favorable and unfavorable ratings are unchanged from CNN polls in March and April.
“The biggest gap between Obama and Romney’s favorable ratings is among younger Americans. More than two-thirds of those under 30 have a favorable view of Obama, compared to only four-in-ten who feel that way about Romney. Romney is much stronger among senior citizens, but the gap is not nearly as big," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Romney may have a small advantage among independent voters, but that is offset by his lower favorable rating among Republicans than Obama has among Democrats."
A couple of things – how strong, really, is Obama’s favorable ratings among a demographic scared to death of being called a racist if they happen to have an unfavorable view of our first black president? That’s a legitimate question.
Old folks, for the most part, don’t give a damn about that and may more closely mirror the real feelings out in fly over land.
The reason I say that is Obama’s “favorable ratings” have continued to stay high while his job performance numbers have continued to fall. That seems somewhat unlikely. Usually the two show some movement in the same direction even if one is higher than the other.
Romney is going to grow on Republicans if he continues to attack (i.e. not be the designated place holder for the GOP and refuse to do what is necessary to win as did John McCain), keep the campaign focused on the real issues of the campaign (and Obama’s record) and not fall for the distractions that are sure to be tossed out to the media every week by the Obama campaign. Republicans are eager for someone, anyone, who will carry the political battle to the Democrats.
John Hayward talks about the Glenn Reynolds “preference cascade”, a phenomenon Reynolds notes while talking about the collapse of totalitarian regimes. Hayward describes it here:
A large population can be dominated by a small group only by persuading all dissenters that they stand alone. Most of their fellow citizens are portrayed as loyal to the regime, and everyone around the dissident is a potential informer. A huge dissident population can therefore be suppressed, by making them believe they’re all lonely voices in the wilderness… until the day they begin realizing they are not alone, and most people don’t support the regime. The process by which dissent becomes seen as commonplace, and eventually overwhelming, is the preference cascade.
This analysis doesn’t have to be confined to the study of repressive, dictatorial regimes, or even politics. Consider the phenomenon of celebrity without merit – that is, people who are famous for being famous. Their popularity tends to evaporate in a preference cascade eventually, as people in the audience begin wondering if anyone else is tired of hearing about the ersatz “celebrity,” and soon discover that everyone is.
He then applies it to the politics of this race:
That’s what began happening over the past couple of weeks: a large number of people discovered it’s okay to strongly disapprove of Barack Obama. His popularity has always been buttressed by the conviction – very aggressively pushed by his supporters – disapproval of his personal or official conduct is immoral. You’re presumptively “racist” if you disagree with him
That’s what began happening over the past couple of weeks: a large number of people discovered it’s okay to strongly disapprove of Barack Obama. His popularity has always been buttressed by the conviction – very aggressively pushed by his supporters – that disapproval of his personal or official conduct is immoral. You’re presumptively “racist” if you disagree with him, or at least a greedy tool of the Evil Rich, or a “Tea Party extremist.”
A negative mirror image of this narrative was installed around Mitt Romney, who is supposedly a fat-cat extremist (and, thanks to the insidious War On Mormons, a religious nut) who nobody likes… even though large numbers of people in many different states voted for him in the primaries. Of course he has his critics, and I’m not seeking to dismiss the intensity or sincerity of that criticism… but the idea was to make Romney supporters feel isolated going into the general election, particularly the people who don’t really get involved in primary elections.
Both of those convergent narratives began crumbling this week: Obama is deeply vulnerable, and his campaign has no real answer to criticism of his record – they’ve even tried floating an outright fraud, the now-infamous Rex Nutting charts that presented Obama as some kind of fiscal hawk. (Stop laughing – major media figures took this garbage seriously for a couple of days, and Team Obama did push it.) Major Democrats, beginning with Newark mayor Cory Booker, expressed criticism of the Obama campaign… and the Left reacted with shrieking hysteria and vows of personal destruction for the “traitors.”
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney effectively presented both substantive criticism of Obama, and a positive agenda. Attacks on his business record that were supposed to destroy him through class-warfare tactics failed to draw blood. The idea that he can win became widely accepted. That doesn’t mean he won the 2012 argument… but unlike Barack Obama, he is offering one.
What is beginning to lose its effectiveness, it’s cache, is, as Hayward notes, " … disapproval of his personal or official conduct is immoral. You’re presumptively “racist” if you disagree with him …”.
But when polled, especially among younger voters, that presumption is still powerful enough I would guess, to see those voters lie to pollsters. It is a sort of social conditioning that has taught them to avoid such a label even at the cost of a lie (and even when speaking to a pollster).
So, and it is merely a guess, but based on a life long study of human nature, there is a distinct possibility that the “Tom Bradley” effect may be pumping up Obama’s popularity numbers.
And, as Hayward points out, as it becomes less and less effective or acceptable to accuse those who do not like Obama of being racists, the possibility of a preference cascade negative to Obama’s favorability is a distinct possibility.
No one who has watched the beginnings of this race can, with any credibility, claim the Obama campaign isn’t struggling. Donors are deserting him, his record is an albatross around his neck, there is strife between his administration and campaign and many of his political supporters seem luke warm at best with any number of Democrats running for reelection in Congress content not to be seen with the man. Too many indicators that point to the probability that the numbers CNN are pushing aren’t quite as solid as they may seem.
Hayward concludes with an important update:
I should add that the most powerful cascades occur when an artificially imposed sense of isolation crumbles. That’s very definitely what is happening here. Widespread popular discontent with the Obama presidency has been suppressed by making the unhappy campers feel marginalized. The failure of that strategy is akin to watching a dam burst under high pressure.
The race, once it gets into high gear, is what will cause the “dam burst” as more and more Americans discover they’re not alone in their feelings about the President and that they are not at all on the margins, but very mainstream.
Once that happens (and it will), when everyone finally realizes they’re not the only one who has noticed the emperor has no clothes, the chances of a one-term Obama presidency increase exponentially.