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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Settle Down, Obama's Still the Favorite

People I respect and think are well worth listening to seem to all have the same four words for Andrew Sullivan: "Settle the f**k down." On the subject of a debate which resulted in what was most likely a Romney bounce, Sullivan posted a piece he titled, "Did Obama Just Throw the Entire Election Away?" If it were a blogger who got less traffic on a regular basis, I'd suspect link baiting. But Sullivan is no slouch for eyes on ads, so it's clearly histrionic hyperbole and blind animal panic.

The Pew poll is devastating, just devastating. Before the debate, Obama had a 51 - 43 lead; now, Romney has a 49 - 45 lead. That’s a simply unprecedented reversal for a candidate in October. Before Obama had leads on every policy issue and personal characteristic; now Romney leads in almost all of them. Obama’s performance gave Romney a 12 point swing! I repeat: a 12 point swing...

For his part, Ed Kilgore says that Sullivan is guilty of confirmation bias. "He is someone who clearly thought the first presidential debate was a disaster at the time, and is now freaking out because he’s seeing confirmation of his worst fears," he writes. "So telling him that this is just one poll (or two polls counting PPP’s new survey showing Romney up by two points among LVs) won’t cut much ice, since he’s now expecting others to show the same confirmation of his own impressions of a catastrophic debate defeat for Obama."


It's important to remember that polls -- as people who love cliches will constantly remind us -- offer a snapshot in time. What the cliche-lovers don't remind anyone of is that the moment in time being captured isn't now. And different polling organizations have different methods of harvesting and organizing the data, so polls don't come out in the order they're taken. This isn't extremely important during the middle of a campaign, but at the end of it this tends to create some cognitive noise. If you account for that noise, Barack Obama is still the clear favorite; Nate Silver has revised his numbers down slightly to a 74.8% chance Obama wins v. a 25.2% chance of a Romney win, while the traders at Intrade give Obama a 62.3% chance. Remember Intraders have money riding on this -- they're betting on who they think will win, not voting for who they hope will win.

If you're looking for a rough ride, you've found it. If you're looking for a car wreck, you'll need to keep looking. Tracking polls, which are more reliable at this point, show Romney bouncing and receding. Nate Silver:

The most unfavorable numbers for Mr. Romney came in the national tracking polls published by Gallup and Rasmussen Reports. Both showed the race trending slightly toward President Obama, who increased his lead from 3 points to 5 points in the Gallup poll, and pulled into a tie after having trailed by 2 points in the Rasmussen survey.

In both cases, the numbers looked more like pre-debate data than the stronger numbers that Mr. Romney has been receiving since then. On average between the Democratic convention and the debate, the Rasmussen poll showed Mr. Obama with a 0.7-point lead (the Rasmussen poll is Republican-leaning relative to the consensus), while the Gallup poll had Mr. Obama ahead by an average of 3.4 points.

A third national tracking poll, an online tracking poll published by the RAND Corporation, showed essentially no change from Sunday. All of this seemed to be consistent with a story in which Mr. Romney’s debate bounce was receding some. (A fourth tracking poll, from Ipsos, had not been published as of the time we ran our forecast on Monday.)

And Romney is already back to making missteps. Yesterday's foreign policy speech do less to shore up Romney's world politics credentials and more to undermine them. Mitt Romney has not magically become more competent because his poll numbers are rising. The best thing to do would be for Romney and Ryan to wall themselves up in a cave until election day and not say a word. But that's not going to be possible and they will screw up. Already, the lasting impression from the debate seems to be that Romney wants to fry up Big Bird.

"Some people have said that Obama's performance was the worst in history, but that's just ridiculous," writes The American Prospect's Paul Waldman. "George W. Bush was much worse in all his debates in 2004, Bob Dole was terrible in 1996, George H.W. Bush was awful in 1992, and the worst debate performance was without question Ronald Reagan's in his first debate in 1984, where he was barely coherent and, in retrospect, probably showing some initial signs of Alzheimer's. You'll note that two of the people I just mentioned ended up winning. Obama didn't do particularly well last Wednesday, it's true. But he's a very competitive guy, and I'm sure he's going to show up next week with plenty more focus and vigor. There are a lot of other factors—a recovering economy, the fact that it now looks like he'll have more money, a superior ground operation—that continue to make him the favorite. So liberals can feel free to stop rending their garments."

Amen to that. If you're worried, volunteer, make calls, knock on doors. Hell, if you're not worried go ahead and do that. But the idea that Obama is heading for definite -- or even probable -- loss is really giving up way too early, with far too scant  evidence.

People need to settle the f**k down.


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