Thursday, November 05, 2009

In Case You Didn't Have Enough, More Election Analysis

There is only one thing certain about analysis of election results. Most will be wrong.

This post may be no different. Still, it’s fun, and easy, to criticize a post-mortem from an accomplished journalist which provides a two-fer: two major ideas- and both wrong, if not in letter, then in spirit.

In John Dickerson’s “What a Difference a Year Makes” posted on on November 4, the author states his themes in the opening sentence of two paragraphs in the middle of the article.

While undeniably technically true that “the evening was not a referendum on Obama,” such an assertion is misleading. There will never be a “referendum on Obama” other than his election on November 4, 2008 and (barring impeachment and conviction, a decision not to run for reelection, or that which is too horrible to contemplate) his reelection bid to be held on November 6, 2008. Short of that, however, this election was at least closer to a referendum on Obama than perceived by someone who could write (was it with a straight face?) “by clear majorities, voters in New Jersey and Virginia said they weren’t basing their decisions on the president. The 60% who said so in New Jersey….”

That leaves 40%, an awfully significant slice of the electorate. Many voters doubtless believe that admitting their vote was based on an estimation of someone not on the ballot would mark themselves as unsophisticated or petty. There is a reason voters frequently boast “I don’t vote for the party; I vote for the candidate.” Though it may indicate otherwise, it appears to identify that individual as someone contemplative who decides on the basis of issues. For upwards of 40 of the electorate to concede that their vote was not based on a thoughtful consideration of issues suggests that President Obama was a major, not minor, factor.

A red flag needs to come up when anyone says “Here’s more bad news for (insert name of candidate and party) in (insert next election year). “ Dickerson does not disappoint, remarking “Here’s more bad news for Obama and Democrats in 2010.” Perhaps it would be bad news for Obama and Democrats in 2010- if (in alphabetical order) it were not for abortion, Afghanistan, crime, energy policy, gas prices, gay rights, health care, immigration, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Palestine/Israel, the stock market. And that list omits the economy, generally something of a consideration when voters go to the polls. And, yes, the quality and likeability of the particular candidates.

Dickerson points out that despite visits to their state by the President, the party’s gubernatorial nominees in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania lost amid turnout of Democrats that “wasn’t very good." He contends “the president can explain that he has more influence over issues in the national conversation that will be part of the 2010 races- and that he wasn’t on the ballot anywhere in 2009.” He believes Tuesday’s results will make members of Congress, oradinarily “a nervous bunch…. more so.” They would be right, but not for any reason Dickerson observes: while Obama is a spectacular draw and good fundraiser, there is limited evidence that he has long coattails.

In his original (prior to the 11/4/09 update), Dickerson refers to a program which aired Monday night on HBO, in which

the images of Obama's promises of change seemed disconnected from the familiar small politics of this year's election cycle—and the big one to come next year. The change hasn't come. Perhaps the more helpful message was playing just a few channels away on PBS. On Nova, a program traced the story of the evolution of man more than 3.2 million years ago. The message: Change takes time.

But perceptions play a critical role in voting. And many voters, disinclined to give Obama and company ten months to make change, are going to be even even more incensed if change does not come in the twenty-two months from January, 2009 to November, 2008. After all, while evolution does take time, creationism, an article of faith with a healthy chunk of the electorate, takes far less.

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