With the departure of Rick Santorum from the Republican primary, we’ve renamed the Tuesday feature, turning our attention to the general election. As in the primary, there is a lot of silly coverage out there, and here are eight especially egregious acts of pundit malpractice.
1. Obsessing over national polls in April (or May or June). Like those early primary polls, virtually no national poll’s top-line numbers are significant right now. The contest is an electoral race to 270, not a popular vote. And, moreover, few polls at this point have identified likely voters.
2. Confusing congressional popularity with the presidential contest. Congress is perpetually unpopular. It was when Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was speaker of the House, and it is now. Moreover, half the legislative branch is in Democratic hands, so it’s not a particularly helpful gauge as to which party will control the Senate or House. (For that, look to how voters feel about their representatives and/or the generic poll.) Liberal bloggers have taken false comfort that the president’s favorable ratings are miles ahead of Congress.
3. Expressing certainty. Pundits and pols who are sure their side will win the White House are spinning or uninformed. The president’s approval ratings have hovered between 45 and 52 percent for quite some time. He no longer has the center-left coalition that helped him win in 2008. But he has a solid base of support of 45 to 47 percent. The same is true of that “generic Republican” (which turns out to be an apt description of Mitt Romney). Turnout matters, but the race is essentially about that 6 to 10 percent of the electorate in the middle.
4. Claiming President Obama is safe so long as the economy doesn’t get much worse. Romney has been careful to frame his argument this way: “The economy is not in free fall, but the recovery is anemic due to the president’s policies. Unless we change presidents there will be more of the same.” (You can understand why David Axelrod’s comments were greeted with glee by the Romney team.) This is the same sort of argument that Bill Clinton used in 1992 and John F. Kennedy used in 1960. Now, an unexpected double-dip recession or, conversely, an economic improvement will affect some voters, but those 6 to 10 percent in the middle may not be swayed by economic numbers alone.
5. Claiming you can ignore the rest of the world for now. Despite Obama’s efforts to avoid conflict at all costs (even to the detriment of U.S. interests), the world does not cooperate. The Iranian threat looms. Syria is a bloodbath. And the Euro crisis is far from over. (“Just weeks after European officials defused a financial time bomb in Greece, the ticking is growing louder in Spain.”)
6. Arguing conservatives are unenthusiastic about Romney. Romney has won already almost 4.6 million Republican votes in the primary, many from self-described conservatives. Polling suggests that he and Obama have roughly the same level of support among members of their respective bases. The Hilary Rosen flap showed just how easy it is to remind conservatives of how much they disagree with the left’s world view. And with Obama running a 24/7 negative assault you can bet they will stay engaged.
7. Claiming Obama is in big trouble with Big Labor. Liberal pundits will cringe whenever a union boss hollers that Obama hasn’t been solicitous enough. But union bosses know how much is at stake — access to the White House, right to work legislation, Davis-Bacon (which requires government contractors to pay union rates) and control of the National Labor Relations Board. Whether members listen to the bosses is another matter, but you can be sure union chiefs will spend handsomely to re-elect Obama.
8. Arguing that this is the most negative campaign ever. Abe Lincoln was portrayed as an ape. Grover Cleveland was accused of fathering an illegitimate child. (“Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?”). Many consider the 1828 contest to be the dirtiest. Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams exchanged charges of adultery and murder. So when Obama and Romney go at it, remember, we’ve seen a lot worse.