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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Not Winning Good Enough to Win

Despite the evidence for it I'm about to present, this isn't going to be another boring, pointless post about early horse race polling. At this point in the race, polling is still pretty meaningless. You can use them to measure the effectiveness of new messages or the effect of bad press on the campaigns, but you'd be a fool to think that the numbers will reflect the final results in November.

But this is the dead zone in the general election, after the primaries but before the conventions, when news organizations are forced to report on things that don't really matter all that much. So we're beat over the head with daily tracking polls and speculation over who's going to be who's running mate. The polling I can take, but if someone actually uses the word "veepstakes" to my face, I might wind up in jail. Name one candidate in history who's ever won the presidency because of their running mate. And no one's ever lost because of a bad choice, either. If a bad choice were death to a campaign, we wouldn't even know who George W. Bush was, since choosing that half-wit Dan Quayle would've killed his dad's chances. It's a choice that should be more important than it is to voters -- fourteen vice presidents have become president. With only forty-four VPs, that works out to better than a quarter. Those are better odds than anyone else has. Still, it doesn't seem to influence anyone's vote.

But I brought up polls, so here ya go:


In the two months since Barack Obama captured the Democratic nomination, he has hit a ceiling in public opinion polling, proving unable to make significant gains with any segment of the national electorate.

While Obama still leads in most matchups with John McCain, the Illinois senator’s apparent stall in the polls is a sobering reminder to Democrats intoxicated with his campaign’s promises to expand the electoral map beyond the boundaries that have constrained other recent party nominees.

Why, oh why, oh why isn't Obama winning better? That seems to be the big, stupid question that the media asks when they aren't beating us brainless with the "veepstakes."

But why Obama is winning isn't getting a lot of coverage and the question of why McCain is losing is completely alien to the conversation. McCain is trying his little heart out, but he can't seem to get anywhere. He's in the middle of an ad blitz -- one that's not suffering any lack of news coverage -- and it's not putting him over the top. But the question we're being told to ask is "Why isn't Obama winning by more?"

First and foremost, winning is winning, If you get more votes it doesn't make you more the president; you either are or you aren't. There isn't any gray area here, the US doesn't have runoff elections.

Yet the polling analysis is hopelessly skewed toward McCain. CNN reports that "Obama squeaks by McCain in polls," while reporting a 5% lead. "[I]t’s almost as if news outlets are trying to convince people that a six-point lead against one of the nation’s best-known, media-loved politicians, who has spent every day for weeks bashing the hell out of his less-known Democratic challenger is some kind of disaster," writes Carpetbagger Report's Steve Benen. "It's not."

Benen points out that Obama's up six in a new AP poll and up five with the aforementioned CNN poll, as well as five in a new TIME poll. Obama's ahead, McCain's behind, but somehow the narrative has it that Obama's the one with the problem.

That's right, the guy who's winning is in trouble and the guy who's losing is sitting pretty. What kind of a bass-ackward idea of reporting is this?

Once again, I give you the "tight race narrative." Nailbiters bring in big ratings, so dammit, this race is going to be a nailbiter right down to the wire -- even if the media has to force it to be. Forget "liberal bias" or "conservative bias" -- most networks and news outlets are "ratings biased" or "circulation biased" or "web hit biased" or whatever. Other than outlets like FOX News, they don't exist to help candidates or parties, they exist to make money. A lot of it. All the goddam time. If a "tight race" turns out to be a license to print money, then you're watching a tight race. If the situation were reversed, we'd be watching Wolf Blitzer ask a panel why John McCain wasn't winning good enough right now.

Go back to the primaries. After it had become absolutely impossible for Hillary Clinton to win the nomination, all the news organizations were busy offering scenarios where "Hillary could still win it." They all wanted a brokered convention and they reported on the Democratic primary as if it were impossible that it would turn out any other way. A clear winner wasn't clear enough. The media, not reality, drove the story.

And so it is now. The media is reporting on a supposedly "tight race" where one candidate is always in the lead. To get this to work, they pretend to worry that the lead isn't big enough -- despite the fact that it's consistent enough.

Maybe they should let this non-story alone for a little while. Still, it beats pounding us stupid with the "veepstakes."


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Anonymous said...

AWESOME article!!! I LOVE IT!!! Told TRUE!! These "why isn't Obama winning by more" articles & reports are sickening to say the least. Regardless of the fact that Obama has been leading since the nominees were chosen. Like u said, if McCain were leading it would be "why isn't McCain winning by more. They have 2 continuously keep people watching and wondering.

Wisco said...