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Monday, October 08, 2012

Post-Debate Bounce Not as Big a Story as Everyone's Pretending

ROmney in Detroit
I was pretty busy last week and didn't get a chance to write anything substantial about the first presidential debate. By now, it's old news and I won't bore you with yet another rehashing of a debacle; suffice it to say that Mitt Romney flung the BS fast and furious and this is enough to get you declared a winner of a debate these days. When I was in high school, debaters had to cite facts. Apparently adults running for office get to be much more creative and the media will actually applaud lying.

So what's the damage here? Reports have it that Romney is climbing in the polls, momentum's behind him, and the world is his oyster. He's definitely going to be the next president of the United States and, if you check FiveThirtyEight, you'll see that he's now projected to have a 78.4% of winning to President Obama's 21.6%.

Oh wait, that's all backwards and wrong; Obama's 78.4% and Romney's 21.6%. Further it's starting to look like Romney's topped out, so his chances aren't going to get any better. According to FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver, "polls released on Sunday did not tell quite as optimistic a story for him as those in the debate’s immediate aftermath." He also calls Romney's current polling a "bounce."


So what's with the media all but declaring Mitt Romney the winner of the 2012 presidential race? Simple: bias. But it isn't political bias, it's ratings bias. Remember, the job of the TV pundit isn't to help you understand anything, the job of the TV pundit is to get you to watch TV. And that means drama and excitement. A big turn-around for the Republican candidate qualifies. When the news stories were starting to look like the Romney Campaign Deathwatch, things got a little boring in the political news world. So they'll make this whole poll bounce a bigger story than it actually is. Someone has to watch those ads.

That's not to say that Obama supporters should be sanguine. But there was never really a point where they should've been. It was always going to be a tight race and it's still going to be a tight race. Silver's percentages are wide, but they predict a final popular vote tally of 51% Obama to 47.9% Romney. And according to him, if polling trends settle where he thinks they're headed, the economy will determine the outcome of the election, but "it would no longer be as appropriate to think of Mr. Romney as being an underachieving candidate."

But the anchors dragging Romney down are still there. ABC News' Amy Walter (TV news, I know. But there's an exception for every rule) says the "fundamentals" still point to Obama winning. Like Silver, she sees an economic election and points out that "Romney is not seen as better able to handle the economy." Further, despite national polls tightening a bit, Mitt's road to victory is still very narrow.

Despite earlier predictions by the Romney campaign that they would be competitive in traditionally blue states like Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, they are putting no serious effort into any of them. Moreover, the Paul Ryan pick gave Romney only a short-lived bounce in Wisconsin. The latest polls in the Badger State show Obama with a healthy advantage in the state.

This has left Romney has a very narrow path to 270, and no room for error. If Romney loses Ohio and Wisconsin, he would have no choice but to win almost every single other battleground state to win.

None of which is to say that Obama is guaranteed a win. Mitt Romney's slim chance has improved slightly -- but only slightly. Anyone measuring the curtains for him is likely to be disappointed come November.


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