To its eternal discredit, polling is never omniscient, especially in a tight race such as this one. “The interesting dynamic in this race is the number of toss-up states has expanded in the last three weeks,” says John McIntyre, founder of Real Clear Politics. “It reflects the uncertainty out there. We don’t know what’s going to happen. No one knows what’s going to happen.”
The churn of polling results, too, feeds a fast-twitched Internet not known for sowing a deep understanding of our country. State polls, national polls and surveys of all kinds keep landing, multiple times per day, giving Linkville just what it’s built for: a never-ending string of revisions, corrections, annotations and amplifications, each one worth more page views.
Yet whatever its drawbacks, a media world populated by more and more Nate Silvers and their reams of data promises a brighter future than the one to which Americans had resigned themselves: the world of the pundit. As Silver himself says, “I think we represent a counterweight to a lot of the BS, frankly, that you hear in the mainstream media.”
One example here: “momentum,” a poisonous word for Silver but one frequently used by pundits to describe a campaign’s ups and downs. “When the term ‘momentum’ is used, I think that’s a red flag that the coverage you’re reading is suffering from bias,” Silver says, noting that the bias could take any form, from a pundit’s political leanings to simply a desire for a close contest that’s more fun to cover.
Everyone agrees that Romney secured “momentum” around the time of his shellacking of the president in the first debate on Oct. 3. But how long did it last? In an Oct. 25 post, Silver argued that if public opinion mattered in computing momentum, Romney’s version would have petered out a week or two after the debate. However, he said, pundits kept referring to it as an active dynamic in the race for weeks.
On the “Today” show on Oct. 27, Scarborough minted this take on the election: “So for Romney, I think he’s going to be hoping more for this momentum that is sweeping from the first debate to continue forward and carry him over the finish line. And it’s just momentum versus the Obama ground game.”