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Monday, July 28, 2008

Election '08 a 'Tight Race?' Yeah, About That...

Barack Obama played the lower expectations card this weekend. "I am not sure that there is going to be some immediate political impact," he said of his eight day, eight nation tour last week. "I wouldn’t even be surprised if that in some polls that you saw a little bit of a dip as a consequence we have been out of the country for a week. People are worried about gas prices and home foreclosures."

There's really no danger of that and recent polling shows it. Gallup's Daily Tracking gave Obama a 9-point lead yesterday -- call it the "Berlin Bump." Daily tracking doesn't really mean much to me. It's a good way to track the immediate effects of news stories and new campaign strategies on the race, but it's not very predictive. Still, check this chart out:

Poll graphic
Click for fullsized graphic

Notice how that dark green line is always above the other one? Keep in mind that graphic only represents the last couple of weeks, but I went searching for a general election poll that showed McCain ahead at any point -- I couldn't find one. Of course, I gave up after a certain point; you're welcome to try. Good luck with that.

-Continued after the jump-

It's been a sort of theme of mine that the media have been pushing a "tight race" narrative in order to boost ratings with a more exciting race. John McCain can complain the media's in the tank for Obama all he wants, but the media is biased the way they've always been biased -- toward whatever helps them at the moment. Anyone who remembers the run-up to the invasion of Iraq will recall that the reporting was hopelessly biased toward war. Why? War's good for the news business. Yes, the media's biased. But it's not biased toward any particular political ideology -- it's biased toward whatever brings in the biggest audience.

Finally, I can back up what seems obvious to me. But I have to go to freakin' Australia to do it. The story of the ratings-biased media isn't going to get a lot of coverage in the US.

The Age:

Last week three political scientists declared that the US media's presentation of the election as being close was a myth.

Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University, Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Larry Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia, accused the media of flogging a dead horse in portraying the White House race as a cliffhanger.

Allow me a moment to do a quick dance in the end zone before we continue.

"While no election outcome is guaranteed and McCain's prospects could improve over the next 3 1/2 months, virtually all of the evidence that we have reviewed -- historical patterns, structural features of this election cycle, and national and state polls conducted over the last several months -- point to a comfortable Obama-Democratic Party victory in November," the three wrote in Professor Sabato's Crystal Ball newsletter.

"Trumpeting this race as a toss-up, almost certain to produce another nail-biter finish, distorts the evidence and does a disservice to readers and viewers who rely upon such punditry," they went on. "Again, maybe conditions will change in McCain's favour, and if they do, they should also be accurately described by the media. But current data do not justify calling this election a toss-up."

Of course, this explains why neither candidate is behaving as if it were close. For his part, Obama seems calm and comfortable with his position, while McCain seems desperate and flailing. Campaigns have learned long, long ago that you don't get your information from the media. They do their own internal polling and analysis and they see the landscape as it is, without filters. McCain's complaints of pro-Obama bias aren't something he believes, it's something he hopes you'll believe.

"John McCain complaining about media coverage is a little like an oil company complaining about profit margins," writes Media Matter's Jamison Foser. "Hard to believe, and even harder to feel much sympathy." John McCain has never had much of a media problem. Inviting reporters to backyard BBQs apparently does wonders for press coverage. The guy who has CBS Evening News editing out his screw-ups for him doesn't get to complain about media bias -- not with any credibility, anyway.

Not that there isn't a tight race out there -- it's just not the general election.

Multichannel News:

On the news front, Fox News Channel topped all cable news services, averaging 1.5 million viewers, but CNN (961,000, up 26%) and MSNBC (690,000, up 45%) posted double-digit gains, due mostly to its presidential primary coverage. Fox News regained the lead with the adults 25-to-54 demo in the period, after relinquishing the lead to CNN, which surged on its election coverage, in the first quarter. That marked the first time that CNN held that distinction with the news demo since 2001.

Look at those percentages for the last quarter; +26%, +45%. News channels are making out like bandits with their "tight race." People don't glue themselves to cable news to watch "America's Election '08: Barack Obama's Nearly Inevitable March to the White House." No, that headline would be practically guaranteed to boost the ratings of American Idol.

So a tight race it is. Neck and neck, a nailbiter right up to the wire. Tune in to your one source for news, paste yourself directly to the TV screen, and buy lots and lots of Orange Glo, HeadOn, and gold commemorative coins. One problem; here's what this "tight race" really looks like:

Austin-American Statesman:

Pollster John Zogby says Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has a substantial lead over Republican John McCain in the Electoral College.

Zogby’s latest Electoral College map of the United States has Obama with 273 electoral votes to 146 for McCain.

McCain's down from 160. Zogby says 119 electoral college votes are still too close to call, so they aren't included in this count. But it doesn't matter -- you need 270 to win. Obama has the win by three even if all the still-competitive states go McCain.

I'm sorry, but that's nowhere near a "tight race."


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