The media, liberal and conservative, might want to get a grip. Maybe the Post-ABC News poll released today showing the race a statistical dead heat, largely unchanged by the conventions, will help. (When they see Mitt Romney is leading by 11 points among independents they might calm down further. And when they notice the gender gap has largely disappeared — with Mitt Romney leading among men by three and President Obama leading among women by five — in a poll in which Republicans comprised only 23 percent of the sample they might feel a bit foolish about the outburst of anxiety — or elation — on display on the Internet and Twitter.) It certainly has not been an impressive display over the last few days.
It’s two months from the election and the media en masse globbed onto a few days of polling to conclude that Obama is winning and the Republican National Convention was a disaster for Romney. The GOP might as well fold up its tents now, right? Well, not exactly.
Perhaps the total dearth of perspective regarding polling stems from the ignorance of youth. The Obama poll bounce, which has created a press feeding frenzy, of a single digit rises from what we know following Michelle Obama’s and Bill Clinton’s speeches at the Democratic National Convention. It is far from clear whether Obama himself contributed, held or even dampened that rise. The poll average today is somewhat less than it was during the dog days of summer when the left was last declaring Romney dead in the water.
Let’s consider two interpretations.
The first goes like this: Romney got poll bounce with a huge increase in favorable rating that shifted him from net negative to net positive on likability, but the horse race (who would you vote for) number, which is generally a lagging indicator, moved up just a tad. (Look at the last week of polling in the Realclearpolitics.com chart). The bounce got shortchanged by the Labor Day weekend (when polling is difficult) and then the appearance of Michelle Obama on September 4 and Bill Clinton on September 5. (According to other polling the highlight of the convention was Clinton.) From what we know now, the Democrats’ bounce is modest by historic standards (Jimmy Carter, for example, got a 10 point bounce in 1980) and, if it hasn’t already topped off (the Post-ABC poll reports Obama led by six on Friday and was back to even on Saturday and Sunday), will fade within a relatively short time frame. What’s more, a number of polls show there is not much of a bounce in swing states.
The other interpretation is that Romney failed to galvanize forces, and Obama is invincible no matter how bad the economy gets. This is the beginning of the end for Romney who will never “break through.” We know this largely based on weekend polling following the DNC. Obama’s bounce is just starting; it will get bigger and bigger until it is outside the margin of error. The polling memo from the Romney camp shows panic has broken out inside the campaign, which translates to a reduction in support by demoralized followers and the hardening of Obama’s lead. PPP shows a dead heat in North Carolina and a bigger lead in Ohio. The die is cast.
You can pick your favorite interpretation. I think I know which is more likely, but I don’t know for certain (although the Post-ABC poll leads me to believe I’m right). And neither do the handwringers and talking heads.
The media poll hysteria tells us much more about the herd mentality in the press corps and its preference for easy, process stories (money, polls) over substance (the economy) than it does about the race itself. Social media and the Internet more broadly have heightened all these trends, which result in less and less actual reporting and the sharp diminution of useful material for voters. The media’s poll obsession makes for clicks online and cable TV news ratings, but it also encourages the candidates to pose as political commentators rather than answer substantive questions. I’m not sure exactly where the race stands, but I sure do know the trend line on media quality — steeply and quickly down hill.