On the Polls

One of the more interesting stories of this election has been the strangeness of the polls. I don't simply mean the way they are being interpreted by Democrats as clear evidence of a definite Obama victory, while at the same time by Republicans as suggesting a huge Romney landslide. That's to be expected: even if you're not spinning polls at all, it is natural for the partisan mind to weight explanations and interpretations that give favor to their side.

No, what I mean is better brought out by this Washington Post piece. It's an argument against interest on the House elections, but think about what it says.
President Obama remains at least an even bet to win reelection. Democrats are favored to hold on to the Senate — an outcome few prognosticators envisioned at the beginning of the year. And yet, with a little more than a week to go, the party holds almost no chance of winning back the House.

“They called the fight. It’s over. We’re going to have a House next year that’s going to look an awful lot like the last House,” [said] Stuart Rothenberg[.]
In other words, during the worst economy since the Great Depression, in spite of the deep unpopularity of every political branch, in the face of a government so badly run that their idea of smart budgeting is to dive off the fiscal cliff rather than pass a budget... the polls suggest that Americans will use the election to endorse almost exactly the same government for the next two years.

There are two possibilities here. One is that the polls are fundamentally wrong: some aspect of their methodology is distorting the picture badly. The other possibility is that we have structured the political system in a way that is too stable for its own good.

If it were only the Presidential race, it could be something about the candidates. But it's not: the polls suggest stability across the board. It could be that some combination of gerrymandering, ideology, and the like has brought us to the point that most Americans no longer face a real choice at the ballot box. There's a candidate they have to support as the lesser of two evils, because the other guy is somehow deeply against the things they care about. If that's the case, then even in the face of a government as badly run as this one, the democratic mechanisms can no longer make a significant adjustment.

Is that the case? Well, we had wave elections in 2006, 2008, and 2010. It's hard to believe that the picture has since solidified in that way.


Dale Day said...

I'm truly sad about your pessimism on this but I sincerely hope it's misplaced.

Just read an article on this at Political Pistachio @ http://politicalpistachio.blogspot.com/2012/10/2012-election-map-prediction-political.html that just may change your mind.

In addition, Good Government has more on the same.

I'm praying with all my strength you are wrong. IMHO, we will see Pres Romney sworn in in January after the Senate swears in a GOP majority and the House GOP strengthens its numbers.

I guess it's just that I have more faith in "common" Americans than you. They are already turning out to have their voices heard in disagreement with the last 4 years.

Grim said...

I don't think you're reading me correctly. What I'm saying is that it's hard to believe the polls when they offer this picture. The suggestion of stability arising from the polls seems suspect on its face, given the recent wave elections.

Anonymous said...

I suspect (and hope) that people have gotten very tired of the polls and of being berated when the polls do not support what the media/academia/intellectuals/beautiful people want. So they say, "I'm supporting so-and-so" and then will vote their conscience.


bthun said...

//steps back, tilts head and closes one eye and stares just a tad off axis at the poll(s), decides that it's a case of same as it every was then says//

Those polls, they seem to be a might tilted, as is often the case.

//returns to standby and waits anxiously for November 6th poll results//

Texan99 said...

The government is too stable for its own good? I don't think it's a question of needing a change for the sake of change. I believe some policies work and others don't. I'd oppose change that would make it more likely for the bad policies to prevail; rather than that, I'd take another couple of years of status quo. The problem is that we don't have a consensus about what policies will work. We have a stalemate over which direction to change towards.

Grim said...

Again, I don't think that's the case. However, if the government had successfully gerrymandered America such that electoral stability was a fact even when the people are extremely unhappy with every branch of the government, then it would be the case that the government was too stable for its own good. For then an electoral adjustment would not be possible.

Instability arises when voters have a real choice -- for example, in the primary here in the 9th Congressional District, the situation was unstable because both candidates in the runoff were acceptable. It could have gone either way. When a district is gerrymandered to the point that there is only one candidate who is at all acceptable to the district's voters, then the outcome is not in doubt. Such a system is highly stable -- the election won't disrupt the power structure at all -- but not desirable.

If we wake up in a week or two and find that the government is being returned essentially unchanged after this election (i.e., that these strange polls were right, as I do not expect is the case), we will have reason to worry about that.

DdR said...

I don't feel that I have a real choice. This year, I chose to stop supporting "the lesser evil" and wrote in a candidate. I've been told that I'm terribly wrong and am throwing my vote away, but I have come to disagree. I feel that the limited system is wrong, and it will never change as long as the majority of Americans keep supporting it or abstaining.

douglas said...

Ddr, I'd think about this- has the GOP moved toward being more true to it's claimed conservative values in the last few years? Yes. Why? I'd suggest that the Tea Party is a big reason, and the fact that it didn't spawn a new third party, but instead gave voice to many in the GOP (and outside) who wanted a return to conservatism and constitutional government. This served to push the GOP to the right. You change a party from the inside, not from the outside. Just ask Ron and Rand Paul. Work to change the GOP, don't make a protest vote that no one will care about or remember unless it throws the election to someone, and then only for that.

Grim said...

Well, staying inside hasn't worked for me with the Democratic Party. I just exist to remind them of what they used to believe.