Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Q & A With the Blogger

Reader JDL submits the following question: "Is it true that today is going to decide the election, Jeff?"

Thanks for asking, JDL. More than the interesting question, I appreciate that you actually regard my answer as something worth solicitation. (I know a couple of psychiatrists who can help you with these types of harmless delusions.)

The short answer is no, it will not. Here's the conventional wisdom:
  • If Obama sweeps, Hillary is more or less a dead duck, but
  • if Hillary sweeps, Obama is potentially fatally wounded, yet
  • these two scenarios are academic, since they'll split the states and we'll grind on to West Virginia (current trend: Clinton by 134%).
Conventional wisdom is predicated on the notion that perception matters more than fact. And the facts will be: in any combination of wins and losses, it will still likely be about a wash. Even if Obama were to win convincingly in NC and eke out a win in Indiana, he still only gains a few delegates. Hillary only gains a few if she wins in Indiana by 10 and ekes out a win in NC. Essentially, today is meaningless except in perception.

So, what about perception? The battle here is for superdelegates, the only folks who can alter the course of events. Hillary's plan has been to so badly tarnish Obama that the SDs turn to her as the last grasp at winning. I suppose this could happen. We're in uncharted territory, so it's hard to make any reasonable predictions. But it seems like an incredible longshot, for these reasons:
  • Obama is expanding the party by millions; Hillary will shrink it down. It's in no one's interest to opt for the weaker long-term prospect;
  • Obama will lead in states won, delegates, and the popular vote, meaning that to steal the election from him would recall Bush v. Gore;
  • Obama's a black man, and screwing him at the finish line is a far harder thing to do than if he were just a random bubba Southerner, like Hill's husband; and most importantly
  • Hillary's strategy may cause Obama some damage, but it's clear that it's hurting her every bit as much. She can hardly argue that she's more able to withstand McCain when she drags the highest disapproval into the general and when 60% of Democrats think she's a liar. Finally, she doesn't make Dems feel good about themselves, and if they have to take a damaged candidate into the general, they'll take the black guy who isn't slimy and live with the results--which even in the case of a loss lead to a strengthened, unified party.
So sit back, it's going to be a bumpy night.

And here's a bonus, random thought as we start to hear tales from the polling booths. I am getting mighty tired of the "I know what will happen in this election because my [fill in the relative], a [fill in the party affiliation], says s/he is planning to vote for [pick one: Obama Clinton], and this is so unusual since he's an old white coot who has never voted for [a woman, a black man]." Variations on this include the "won't vote for" version, the "is excited for the first time in their life" version, and a few others. Look, in any losing campaign, lots of people go against their bloc. Blacks vote for Clinton, working-class, bigoted whites vote for Obama, and so on. Anecdotes are powerful because they give voice to a surprising counterfactual, but they should never be considered data.

Sometimes an old coot's just and old coot.

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