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The Dinkins Effect in the Presidential Race

Andrew Malcolm at Investors Business Daily has an interesting column on whether those who are telling pollsters they intend to vote for the president really are going to do so. The vast majority of them surely will, of course. But politics, like baseball, is a game of inches. If only two percent of those saying they will vote for Obama go into the voting booth and vote for Romney instead, that’s a four-percent shift, turning a comfortable 52-48 win into a 48-52 loss. If they simply stay home, that turns 52-48 into 50-50.

There are numerous signs the Obama campaign is very, very worried. His fundraising has not been the money machine it was in 2008, despite Obama’s burning out the engines of Air Force One going, hat in hand, from one group of fat cats to another. He is running through the money he does raise at a furious pace, mostly running negative ads in toss-up states. He is trying to shore up his base rather than reaching out to the center as he would if his base were secure. That doesn’t bear much resemblance to Ronald Reagan’s “It’s Morning in America” campaign of 1984, does it? There are even those who say Wall Street’s recent climb, despite very gloomy economic news, is due to a growing conviction on the Street that Obama is toast.

And yet pollsters all have the race tight as a tick, as Karl Rove terms it. What’s going on?

I think what I call the Dinkins effect is in operation. David Dinkins was the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York in 1989, having defeated three-term incumbent Ed Koch in the primary. His Republican opponent was Rudy Giuliani. The polls all showed Dinkins well ahead, but he won the race only narrowly. In 1993, there was the same match-up. The polls all showed Dinkins (who had a lousy record as mayor) as narrowly ahead. Giuliani won in a walk. The reason the polls were so wrong, I think, was because Dinkins is black and some people were simply unwilling to say, even to a pollster, they were voting against the black guy. Racism is nearly extinct in this country, but the fear of being thought racist is pervasive, and the willingness of some people on the left to play the race card apparent.

Could that be why President Obama has high ratings in polls asking about his “likeability”? My dislike of his politics probably clouds my judgment somewhat, but I don’t find him likeable at all. He’s arrogant, often mean-spirited, sometimes downright nasty. He avoids taking responsibility for failure but takes all the credit for success. He doesn’t have much of a sense of humor that I can see. He’s, well, chilly. I don’t like Bill Clinton’s politics much either, but I’m sure I’d have a great time having dinner with him some night. He may be left-of-center and more than a bit of a scoundrel in his personal life, but likeable he most certainly is. Obama, simply, is not.

Also, of course, a lot of people might be unwilling to admit they think they were sold a bills of goods in 2008 by a political flim-flam man. No one likes to admit they were cheated. So they say they’re voting for Obama but then won’t.

I’d certainly advise the Romney campaign to ignore all this speculation. No one ever lost a political race because they assumed they were ten points behind and acted accordingly.



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