Calling the Vote Before the Ballots Have Been Cast
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Barack Obama has a problem: He's going to sweep so many Democrats into Congress that he will "face high expectations," as the New York Times put it, to deliver on his promises.
Obama will attempt to fashion a "new New Deal," most likely with Larry Summers as his Treasury secretary, New York magazine says.
"John McCain's defeat will be a lonely one," Newsweek reports, but Sarah Palin could revive the Republican Party for 2012.
So much for the formality of next week's election. Many pundits and publications seem so certain of a big Democratic win that they're exploring the intricacies of an Obama administration and whether the party will have a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate.
"If the mainstream media are wrong about Obama and the voters pull a Truman, that is going to be the end of whatever shred of credibility they have left," says Tobe Berkovitz, associate dean of Boston University's College of Communication.
Cokie Roberts says she resisted a request to talk about Palin and the GOP's future on National Public Radio yesterday because it was premature. For journalists, she says, "you're kind of at the point where you've said everything there is to say. We've gone through the voter groups, the issues, the running mates, the profiles of the spouses. Now you get to the last week, the polls don't seem to be budging, and it becomes: 'What else am I going to talk about?' "
If, as a former McCain strategist put it to Politico, "the cake is baked" for his man's defeat, it's fair to ask whether the media have provided the flour, the frosting and the candles.
To be sure, the forward-looking pieces in the Times, New York magazine, Newsweek and elsewhere are sprinkled with caveats about "if" Obama wins and the "possibility" of a Democratic sweep. But the lack of similar speculation about a McCain administration makes clear which way the journalism world is leaning.
"Everyone wants to be the first to call it, to see the next thing around the corner," says Slate correspondent John Dickerson.
Given mounting signs of the Democratic nominee's strength in key battleground states, he says, "we're not crazy to think it's all going Obama's way." But, Dickerson says, "we've seen how this can go horribly wrong when you call the thing too early, and voters find it offensive when journalists skip over the event the voters are supposed to be taking part in."
Reporters and commentators invariably point to polls that have given Obama a comfortable lead nationwide and in such previously red states as Virginia, Iowa and New Hampshire.
But there has been great variation in the plethora of polls financed by media organizations, and several have been tightening. A Washington Post-ABC tracking poll yesterday had Obama ahead by seven percentage points, down from an 11-point margin one week ago. The latest Rasmussen and Zogby surveys give Obama a five-point edge.