It is painless and safe to make public predictions months away from Election Day. But on November 3rd, there’s nothing safe about it.
Yet if there’s any value in handicapping political outcomes beyond the lure of self-promotion—and I think there is—why are so many analysts hiding now?
I include myself in this gang of suddenly-quiet pundits. In both private conversations and on-air, I’ve wiggled out of many pleas for prophecy. I’ve learned to respect polls as a snapshot in time of a given population and to look beyond them as insufficient barometers of what the sum of voters will do behind the curtain. We mostly hide, or become uncharacteristically nuanced, on November 3rd because we simply don’t know what will happen, and the chances of people remembering our ignorance is just too high.
But today I’ll throw caution (and self-defense) to the wind in the name of the greater good and towards a more honest post-election analysis of where we are as a nation and what matters to us. Once again, if I am reading this correctly, I will repeat what I said on October 16th — the 2008 election will be closer than many polls are saying it will be on the eve of the election.
Today The Huffington Post prominently and proudly displays two of the newest and last polls of the election season, drawing samples from Saturday and Sunday polling results: CBS News gives Senator Obama a thirteen point lead among likely voters and USA / Gallup puts Senator Obama up by eleven points in the same group. Three days ago The New York Times also gave Senator Obama an eleven point lead nationally.
These polls understandably tempt journalists to suggest the race has been “clinched” by Senator Obama (as John King did recently did on CNN). — I hope such predictions won’t affect anyone’s interest in voting.
Here are my reasons for believing the race will be closer than these polls indicate:
1) According to varied professional sources with whom I have spoken, there exists a proportionally high number of potential voters who are refusing to be polled or express their opinion publicly. In a historic, high-octane race like 2008, I believe there are more reasons for a McCain supporter to stay silent than for an Obama supporter. It is understandable to imagine McCain supporters fearing labels such as “racist,” “homophobe,” “single-issue-voter,” “warmonger,” or “against change,” even if the voter is none of these.
2) Similarly, pollsters have reported higher than usual numbers of undecided voters or voters still capable of changing their minds. People know Senator McCain. Do they know Senator Obama well enough to break for him this late in the game?
3) Most importantly, in 2004, pollsters were caught by surprise by the amount of voters who left the polls saying “social issues” were most influential in determining their vote. In 2008, the media has been mostly silent on these causes, focusing instead on the economy and Iraq. This focus ignores an important reality. The “Value Voters” block of mostly Evangelicals and a good percentage of conservative Catholics and others, may indeed be wrapped up in these urgent headlines, but there is no convincing data to suggest they have inverted their voting priorities, turning away from abortion, traditional marriage, limited government, etc. If Senator Kerry’s policy proposals were enough to get this voting block to the booth, Senator Obama’s policies should bring them out in droves.
So there you have my November 3rd take.
And if I’m right and the vote is close in 2008, when the Democratic Party has every political reason to wipe out the Republicans, it will mean our country rejects major elements of Senator Obama’s plan to revolutionize important American values, beginning with the right to life. Then the Democratic Party may see the benefit of freeing itself from the stranglehold of the culture of death, forced upon it by extreme, and extremely powerful, interest groups. What a relief it would be for “Values Voters” to have a viable alternative to the very imperfect Republican Party.
And what is your November 3rd prediction?