For those following the polls, the evidence of the last few weeks has been pretty obvious. Following the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney began to eat into the lead that President Obama had amassed. In the last week, he has caught and passed the president in most national polls, especially those without samples that are not overestimating the number of Democrats who will turn out to vote. The race remains very close, and the president is still ahead or tied in a number of the important swing states. Evidence that the Obama campaign thinks it is trailing is everywhere, as the president swings away at his rival as if he were the challenger not the incumbent. Even more telling is, as I wrote yesterday, the first evidence that some influential people within the president’s re-election team are starting to plant stories in the media alleging that an impending defeat isn’t their fault.
And yet despite all these signs of trouble for the president, the most popular story line for liberal pundits and analysts today seems to be an attempt to deny that Romney has momentum or to brand it a media creation. That was the conceit of a much talked about piece in the New Republic by Alec MacGillis. His thesis is that the media — including publications and broadcast outlets that tend to favor the Democrats — are trying to foist a misleading story line about Romney moving ahead in order to make the election a better story. Even most liberals aren’t buying that idea but other voices, including polling analysts like the New York Times Nate Silver and Mark Blumenthal at the Huffington Post, are on slightly firmer ground when they claim that their reading of the polls tells them that Romney’s momentum is over. In a race this close, one has to admit the possibility that they might turn out to be right. But these frantic denials of a Romney surge not only contradict the clear trend of the polls. They smack of the sort of desperation that is often in evidence as candidates who were once thought in a commanding position start slipping. After months of liberals telling themselves that Romney was a fake or a fraud that no one could possibly take seriously, they are having a hard time coming to grips with the possibility that he might be elected president in 10 days. If denial is the first of five stages of grief, liberal mourning about the possible end of the Obama presidency can be said to have begun.
Feeding this denial is the widespread oversampling of Democrats in polls that still show the president leading the race. The assumption that the turnout of the president’s supporters will match or exceed those that lifted him to a historic victory in 2008 seems to be based more on a leap of liberal faith than evidence, but it is statistical tricks like that that are keeping Obama’s head above water in the polls. Partisans always tend to believe polls that tell them what they want to hear, but systems that weigh polls in an arbitrary manner such as Silver’s forecast seem to be similarly positioned to keep Obama ahead for as long as possible.
Just as misleading is the fact that the heavy turnout in early voting states, like Ohio, of Obama’s supporters may be skewing likely voter formulas in the president’s favor. As Josh Jordan writes in National Review today, given the emphasis the Democrats have placed on getting their base out to vote early while Republicans count on theirs to turn out on Election Day, the president’s ability to stay ahead or tied in Ohio polls may be a statistical anomaly that won’t be corrected until the ballots are counted.
But even looking beyond the biased analyses being published by liberal sources, the refusal of many Democrats to accept the reality of the Romney surge may be rooted in something more emotional than just skewed poll numbers. Many if not most liberals share the attitude of contempt for the Republicans that were so easily discerned in the attitudes of both President Obama and Vice President Biden during the debates. Though most Americans have rejected the attempt by the president’s campaign to define Romney as a heartless plutocrat or a monster, liberals bought it hook, line and sinker. The idea that such a person could have caught and passed Obama in the space of a few short weeks seems impossible to them not so much because they think the numbers don’t support this thesis but because they just don’t want it to be so.
Rather than debunking Romney’s wave, liberal analysts who seek to deny it are merely confirming their inability to look dispassionately at what has occurred. Democrats living in liberal echo chambers need a reality check.
There will be no landslide in the presidential race this year, or even a decisive victory like the one Obama scored in 2008. It’s possible that the president can rebound in the last days of the campaign and that Romney could falter. But barring some late October surprise that would help the president (as opposed to one, like last month’s Libya fiasco, which hurt him), it’s hard to see momentum shifting back in his favor. If it doesn’t, expect liberal denial about Romney’s strength to deepen.