Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Liberals freak out!

I'm still on holiday, and in transit from the Devon countryside to the big city of Bristol today, so just a quickie:

A post by Rebecca Curtis in The Huffington Post entitled "Summer Love, Fall Freak-Out: The Bradley Effect and Why Obama Will Lose Without Hillary" sums up the kind of panic spreading among some Obama supporters when they see the fluctuating presidential election polls. The Bradley Effect, as some will recall, refers to the 1982 California gubernatorial election, which Tom Bradley appeared to be winning handily according to the polls but lost by a wide margin. The received wisdom has always been that white voters somehow just couldn't bring themselves to vote for a Black man on election day, even though they intended to and told pollsters they would.

You will have to read Curtis' full post to get the flavor of this argument, which seems to have many Obama supporters freaked out despite the solidity of the most important polls of all: The electoral college vote, which has consistently put Obama way ahead week after week.

Of course, that too could change, but the important issue is: What should the Obama campaign be doing about the uncertainties and challenges of running against McCain? Too many well-meaning supporters are reaching for the kind of desperate, anything-to-win measures that are sure to be transparent to voters and undermine even further Obama's image as a bold leader who truly represents something different. His shifting positions on nearly every issue of the day, clearly influenced by the coterie of "advisors" around him (why is the role of an advisor nearly always to give bad advice?), have already done him damage, and handed McCain a lot of ammunition to use when the debates get underway.

And I find Curtis' post particularly objectionable, because it basically implies that Americans will simply find their inner racists on election day and pull the lever for McCain as if in some sort of spell. This ignores the enormous sea change in attitudes that allowed Obama to win the Democratic nomination, and most importantly, it ignores the important lesson that racism is best dealt with straight-on (as Obama has done when at his best), and not by shucking and jiving and pulling Hillarys out of hats.

More about Obama: For a healthier attitude towards the campaign and its challenges, see this commentary online in The Nation by Robert Borosage and Katrina vanden Heuvel. And for a different view from a different Balter, see the Comments section of this post. I would be interested in hearing from others as well!


jqb said...

Oh brother ... Rebecca Curtis is one person, not "liberals" or "some liberals", and her thesis doesn't get much support in the comments on her article. I see no evidence that her article "sums up" anything, or that there is anything identifiable as "the kind of panic", or that it's "spreading among some Obama supporters" (unless "some" refers solely to Ms. Curtis), or that her argument "seems to have many Obama supporters freaked out" (although it does seem to have you freaked out). As for "the fluctuating presidential election polls", that's not a very accurate characterization -- a visit to shows a steady drop in Obama's national numbers since mid-June. Yes, he's ahead week after week in the EC tally, but not consistently if that means his lead hasn't changed. It's no time for panic or for Curtis's bogus arguments for Hillary as VP, but there is reason to be concerned and not to rest on any assumption that Obama has this thing tied up.

"His shifting positions on nearly every issue of the day"

Let's not panic and repeat the Republican's bogus talking points and dishonest characterizations -- almost all of their claims of shifts of position, from campaign financing on, are false (although he did renege on his promise to filibuster the FISA bill).

jqb said...

P.S. Another good poll analysis site is Sam Wang's, which shows a slip of 40 EVs in the 95% confidence estimator during August. However, Dr. Wang notes (in

"Last week the fact that my jerseyvotes calculation (as previously defined) identified non-battleground states seemed like an error. But it gave the expected results for a race that is less close - and evidently that’s what the Obama strategists are expecting, despite Obama’s recent slippage to near-parity. In summary, the Obama campaign’s spending makes sense if they believe that the recent decline in their candidate’s fortunes is transient, and the advantage they enjoyed in July will return in the fall. To put it another way, they are acting as if they have enough eggs to put into multiple baskets."

jqb said...

And from

While voters constantly complain about negative ads, campaigns use them because they work. A new LA Times National Poll shows that a month of ads attacking Obama as a lightweight unready to lead have erased his lead nationally. The two are in a statistical tie. Obama's advantage in the electoral college has also vanished.

And shows Obama at 274 to McCain's 264, not "way ahead".

Those are the facts, which are quite separate from short-story writer Rebecca Curtis's fiction about the Bradley Effect (it did not occur in NH) and her PUMAish pushing of Hillary Clinton for VP. The one thing she got right is "John McCain may be temperamental, erratic, and suffering from early-onset dementia, but he's nonetheless viewed as moderate." As Frank Rich said, McCain is The Candidate We Still Don’t Know, and concluded "As everyone says, polls are meaningless in the summers of election years. Especially this year, when there’s one candidate whose real story has yet to be fully told." But this underscores the importance of the Obama campaign -- and all of us -- educating the American people about the real John McCain (because you can bet that "the press", John McCain's "base", won't do it).

jqb said...

Oops, that map shows McCain ahead at 274. I don't think that can be taken seriously, but it does undercut the claim that Obama is "way ahead" in the EC count, which simply isn't so at this date. From Sam Wang:

"Using only the most recent available poll, assigning every state to its more likely winner gives total EV counts of Obama 264, McCain 261, tie 13. This is the mode of the distribution ... However, that’s not quite right....The meta-analysis, which is probabilistic and therefore takes into account the uncertainty of polls, gives a current median outcome of Obama 280 EV (95% CI 251 to 320 EV), McCain 258 EV, Meta-Margin 0.94%. So it appears that the more likely winner today, by a hair, is unchanged. However, a change could happen soon."

Michael Balter said...

Hmm, when I look at's Electoral College count at this link it shows Obama 50 points ahead. Not a slam dunk, of course.

bystander.again said...

I've been following the polls at FiveThirtyEight.

On the popular vote it's a dead heat. However, FiveThirtyEight does show Obama ahead (272.3 to 265.7) in electoral votes. It's not as broad a spread as one might like. I found the analysis offered in this post Today's Polls, 8/20 interesting.

I think it could be very tight to the wire come November.

bystander.again said...

I would also recommend dday's post at Digby's joint.

Obama's Big Bet - The Power Of The Ground Game. I'm not inclined to rule this out as an influence on the outcome, and I'm not sure the polls can project a measure of this effect.

Anne Gilbert said...

At this point, it looks like the Republican side(or should I say "Rethuglican"?)is doing everything it can to paint Obama as a flip-flopping lightweight. And yet. . . .Obama is not, himself, going to wave a magic wand and "change everything". He is going to be a catalyst for change, as the editorial in "The Nation" suggested. If he gets elected. I don't know how close the election of Roosevelt was, but the election of Kennedy was pretty close. Both of them acted as "catalysts" for some pretty necessary changes in this country. I am backing Obama precisely for this reason. And I think a lot of other people are, too.
Anne G

terryt said...

I'm hoping he gets in, for the sake of the rest of the world. Of course it may not make much difference if he does get in but sure as anything McCain will be more of the same.

jqb said...

Hmm, when I look at's Electoral College count at this link it shows Obama 50 points ahead.

It says "Obama 228, McCain 174, Toss Ups 136 | No Toss Ups: Obama 264, McCain 274". You can't just ignore those toss-ups when they go so heavily to McCain. But those small leads are very fragile for McCain, and can be wiped out by Obama's great ground game, which is far advanced over McCain. And McCain has closed the gap by lying and misrepresenting, but there's a limit to that and he may have peaked. The Obama campaign has done a great job on the houses gaffe and the media has been forced to pick it up. And the McCain campaign coming back with this (paraphrasing) "he didn't even have a house when he was a POW" crap even has his media "base" reacting that he's overusing and tarnishing his POW/war hero brand, and Obama couldn't ask for a better gift than that. I'm still quite optimistic about Obama, but my main point was that the large advantage that he had, both at the national level and in the EC count, has been sharply reduced.

Not a slam dunk, of course.

We certainly agree on that. :-)

-- little bro (Jim Balter)

P.S. Many arguments can be made both ways, but I think Biden was a good VP choice -- certainly better than Bayh or Kaine (and the word is that HRC wasn't even vetted).

P.P.S. If McCain picks Romney, the number of their combined houses will be an even larger number. To his great credit, Joe Biden has not used his position to make himself rich, and I think they should hammer and hammer McCain-Romney on their economic distance from the American people.

Michael Balter said...

I agree that Biden is the best choice among the bunch. Picking Kathleen Sebelius would have been seen as a huge insult to Hillary supporters, although she would have been an interesting choice too. And I pray every night that McCain picks Romney.

jqb said...

Republican side(or should I say "Rethuglican"?)is doing everything it can to paint Obama as a flip-flopping lightweight.

And yet, he isn't ... he's been very consistent in his positions ... e.g., his his responses to the gun and death penalty SCOTUS decisions match what he wrote in his books. OTOH, McCain has flip-flopped on virtually every issue, including offshore drilling, which he flipped on, after opposing it his entire career, just when Bush lifted the moratorium (and the oil industry gave McCain a ton of money). See for a lot more. Again, the American people need to be educated about the real John McCain. It would be nice if pro-Obama bloggers (hey bro!) could put a laser focus on that from now until the election (and then immediately switch to holding Obama's feet to the fire).

jqb said...

Picking Kathleen Sebelius would have been seen as a huge insult to Hillary supporters

I think those who have said "no woman but Hillary" are sick people, who have turned feminism on its head, but I agree that many would have seen it that way, making Sebelius a problematic choice. But more important is that she's unknown and light on experience (but at least she wouldn't have cost a Senate seat).

I'm looking forward to Biden smiling as he destroys McCain on foreign policy.

It's late here ... nighty nite, bro. :-)