The blizzard of polls that emerged yesterday afternoon had morphed into an Obama avalanche by the time dinnertime rolled around. Surveys at the national and state level disagreed with the results of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, which show a tied race around 47 percent. Every other survey, with the exception of one in New Hampshire, showed Barack Obama ahead, and in most cases ahead outside the margin of error. That includes polls of the swing states Mitt Romney has to win if he is to prevail in November.
I said yesterday afternoon that the polls suggested Obama was ahead, but by a little, not a lot. How does that conclusion stand after the data onslaught?
Look, when every poll but two points in the same direction, it would be madness to say signs point to the opposite. Clearly, Obama is leading, and maybe by more than a little. More damaging for Romney’s prospects is the fact that the lead is either stable or strengthening in those battleground states.
Or is it?
A flurry of surveys with wildly contradictory results at the national and state levels has caused the New York Times‘s polling guru, Nate Silver, to throw up his hands. This afternoon, he tweeted: “The. Polls. Have. Stopped. Making. Any. Sense.” This may understate the case. For ten years now, pollsters have acknowledged their jobs are becoming more and more difficult, what with the multiplicity of phones people use, the time they spend on the Internet, and the fact that more and more people screen their calls. The poll madness today suggests that the difficulty may be blossoming into a full-bore crisis—even as the media hang on every number because we need something, anything, that seems like an empirical data point to evaluate the state of the race.
So trying to figure out where the presidential race might be at present is total guesswork, based on data that don’t correlate and are being gathered according to suspect means. So here’s mine: Obama is ahead and Romney is behind. But not by much, and within the margin of error.
Given the steadiness in the findings of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, both of which essentially echo each other with a 47-46 result over the past several days, their agreement would seem to be closer to the truth than longer-term polls showing a far wider margin in Obama’s favor. But the existence of those polls, and the lack of existence of a single poll showing a wider margin for Romney, is suggestive of something.
With apologies to the late William Safire, who came up with this imaginative format:
“So Netanyahu wants to meet me when he comes to the States for the U.N. General Assembly. Of course he does. Last time he was here and we met, that arrogant SOB showed me up during our joint press availability and delivered me and America a lecture on Palestinian intransigence. Then he goes and gets dozens of standing ovations speaking before a Joint Session of Congress. He makes me look bad, I find myself with fundraising problems, and the chance that in an incredibly close election even the loss of 10,000 Jewish votes in Florida could make all the difference. And who is to blame for my difficulties? Netanyahu. He has stoked this. He has nurtured this. He has made this flower.
“Now here we are, and he wants to corner me again. He wants to talk about Iran. He knows we’re just a few weeks from the election, when it would be best for me to look really tough. But that’s not my strategy here. I want to do what I can to squeeze Iran, but I want to make sure the Iranians have wiggle room to get themselves out of the nuclear trap they’ve walked into without looking as though they’ve surrendered. What does he want? He wants me to establish ‘red lines’ for Iranian conduct that will set up a tripwire. If they cross those lines, war begins.
Eight weeks from today, 140 million people will go to the polls to elect a president. According to the most confidently expressed theories about this election, the result is already determined. It is the operative theory at Romney headquarters that their man is going to win because the economy is so sour, two-thirds of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, and the small number of undecided voters will break for Romney three-to-one and he’ll edge across the finish line in first place.
The Obamans appear to believe that their man is going to win because he was ahead in the polls after the conventions and the candidate ahead after the conventions usually wins (except in 2008, when John McCain was ahead, but whatever). He has a four point lead today in the Real Clear Politics average and, as former George W. Bush pollster (and later political turncoat) Matthew Dowd said today, “A 4 or 5 point lead in this environment is as significant as a 10-12 point lead 15, 20 years ago.” Polls suggest voters like Obama more than Romney; there’s even a data point on one today about whom you would like by your bedside when you are sick, a question the very existence of which indicates we are halfway on the road to Idiocracy. One eager-beaver website has even already declared Romney the loser of the debates.
So here’s my question: Why campaign at all? If it’s all baked in the cake, why will the candidates travel relentlessly, spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and wake up in cold sweats five nights out of six?
Because, of course, it’s not.
Five Democrats broke with their party to support the bill to repeal ObamaCare, which is just two more than in 2011. House Republicans supported it unanimously, Fox News reports:
House lawmakers voted Wednesday to repeal the federal health care overhaul — the latest in a long line of anti-”ObamaCare” votes, but the first since the Supreme Court upheld the law and defined one of its key provisions as a “tax.”
The House has voted more than 30 times to scrap, defund or undercut the law since Obama signed it in March 2010. As with those bills, the repeal bill approved Wednesday on a 244-185 vote faces certain demise in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
But Republicans were looking to get lawmakers back on record on the law in the wake of the high court ruling last month. The ruling upheld most the law as constitutional, but in doing so determined that the controversial penalty on those who do not buy insurance technically qualifies as a “tax” and not a “penalty” as the administration had claimed. That definition fueled GOP criticism of the law, and put some Democrats in a politically tricky position.
The bill won’t actually go anywhere — Harry Reid would block a Senate vote on it, not that it would have a chance of passing there anyway. As a completely gratuitous precaution President Obama has also vowed to veto the bill if it miraculously ends up on his desk.
Despite the Democratic Party’s determined efforts to paint Republicans as out-of-touch with the mainstream (particularly on contraception issues, women’s rights and foreign policy), President Obama’s numbers are sliding in general election matchups with the GOP candidates, according to the latest Rasmussen and Washington Post-ABC News polls.
Rasmussen found that Obama is now trailing Mitt Romney by five points, while WaPo/ABC found him tied with both Romney and Santorum.
The left-wing J Street lobby has failed to gain much traction on Capitol Hill in its four years of existence. So it was hardly surprising that it would attempt to gain some publicity on the eve of the annual conference of AIPAC, the organization it once hoped to supplant. The group released a memo by its pollster Jim Gerstein that, it claims, debunks the notion that President Obama is in any danger of losing his stranglehold on the Jewish vote this fall.
Gerstein’s numbers and analysis are, however, merely a rehashing of much of what we already knew about the Jewish vote. It also largely mischaracterizes the debate about the issue. No one is disputing that Obama or any Democrat with a pulse will get a majority of Jewish votes in 2012. But neither is there much doubt that there is much chance that he will not get the same 78 percent of Jewish support that he got in 2008. The question is, after three years of distancing himself from Israel and engaging in disputes with the Jewish state, how big will be the drop off this year? The jury is obviously still out on that, but Gerstein’s assumption that it will not be much seems unfounded. Equally unreliable, as well as telling, is his argument that few Jews vote on the basis of U.S. policy toward Israel. Given the all-out charm offensive that the Obama administration has been directing toward Jewish voters in the last few months — which will reach another crescendo today as President Obama addresses the AIPAC Conference — it would seem the White House has a different view of the question than its J Street idolaters.
During the first three years of the Obama administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visits to the White House have been the occasion for some memorable fights with the president. He has been ambushed, insulted, lectured and, on at least one occasion, gave back as good as he got as he pushed back against Obama’s attempt to undercut Israel’s negotiating position with the Palestinians and its rights in Jerusalem. But Netanyahu’s next visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will probably be a very different one entirely. With the president fighting hard to retain the votes and the financial support of American Jews and other friends of Israel, Netanyahu can expect that Obama will be on his very best behavior when he arrives next month for a visit that was announced yesterday.
With the threat of a nuclear Iran hanging over both nations and with the United States eager to dissuade Israel from striking first on its own, the two men have some serious business to conduct. But it is impossible to ignore the political implications of this summit. With evidence mounting that Obama and the Democrats have been bleeding Jewish support in the last year, the visit will take the president’s charm offensive aimed at convincing the Jewish community he is Israel’s best friend to a new level. Netanyahu has good reason to play along with Obama’s pretense, as he may have to go on dealing with him until January 2017. But the question remains whether the two men can sufficiently paper over their personal hostility and policy differences in order for the visit to have the effect the president’s political handlers are aiming for.
Those who have pointed out that Rick Santorum’s reputation as the scourge of gays and his opposition to contraception will be serious liabilities in a general election are right. But his stance on gambling that Alana noted yesterday ought not to be lumped in as yet another instance of the former Pennsylvania senator acting out his role as the national scold. Santorum’s opposition to the spread of gambling, and specifically the legalization of Internet gambling,is neither overly moralistic nor hypocritical. What’s more, I highly doubt Democrats would seek to make this a campaign issue because it would cast them not so much as libertarian defenders of the right to gamble as the defenders of a dangerous social pathology.
As Alana wrote, Santorum recently reiterated his long-held belief that allowing legalized gambling to spread from its previous enclaves in Las Vegas and Atlantic City is a terrible idea for the country. But, contrary to Alana’s assertion, this doesn’t make him an advocate of a nanny state. The analogy here is not so much to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on trans fats as it is the decision about whether this country will legalize marijuana or even heroin.
While Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 largely on the notion that he was a post-racial and post-partisan political figure, its rapidly becoming apparent that many Democrats are hoping he can be re-elected by smearing his opponents as racists. That’s the upshot of a feature in Politico today that takes note that many liberals are using the image of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer wagging her finger at the president during an airport confrontation as proof that Republicans are racially biased.
The idea that Brewer’s finger wagging was racist is beyond absurd. Their argument had nothing to do with race. Moreover, Obama has made a habit of lecturing and wagging his own finger at opponents while nose-to-nose with them. As Politico notes, Brewer was even criticized for noting that it was Obama who was attempting to intimidate her and that he was intolerant of criticism. But equally absurd is the idea that Obama has been subjected to more abuse than his predecessors or that Republicans are using “dog whistle” racist arguments to whip up sentiment against him. Having failed to govern effectively during his three-plus years in office, Obama can’t run on a record of success. So he must instead seek to demonize his opponents and, indeed, all critics, by trying to still their voices by making them fear they will be accused of the one political sin for which there is no forgiveness in contemporary Western society: racism.
As Florida voters went to the polls on Tuesday, those journalists trolling for evidence of a shift in the Jewish vote seized on a slight decline in Jewish turnout in the Republican primary as proof the GOP hadn’t made much progress. Those who did so were mistaken, because the sample size was so small and the willingness of Jews to change registration to vote in a primary isn’t indicative of how they’ll actually vote in November. But a new Pew Research Poll released this afternoon about party affiliation provides clear proof that a long-awaited shift among Jews away from the Democrats may have begun.
Republicans have gained nine percentage points in the last three years among Jewish voters polled about whether they identify with or lean toward either party. In 2008, Democrats led among Jews by a hefty 72 to 20 percent. In 2011, the margin was 65 to 29 percent. While that still gives the Democrats a commanding lead among Jews, the gain for the GOP could be enough to significantly affect a few states where the voting may be close this fall. Just as importantly, while some of this could be attributed to general dissatisfaction with the administration’s record on the economy, it will be difficult for Democrats to argue it is not also at least partly the fault of President Obama’s quarrels with Israel during the last three years.
In recent weeks, as the Republican presidential field has been busy tearing each other apart while the primaries heated up, Democrats have been feeling a lot better about their chances to re-elect Barack Obama. The spectacle of the GOP’s internecine warfare and slightly better, though by no means encouraging, economic statistics have led some to believe the president may have an easier time this fall than many had thought just a few months ago. But the latest Gallup survey of the president’s approval ratings tells a very different story. Breaking down the job approval numbers state by state, Gallup presents a picture that ought to be deeply distressing to the White House.
If you add up the states where the president has a net positive approval rating in 2011, you only get a total of 215 electoral votes, while those where he has a net negative rating amount to 323. If these numbers remain unchanged through the fall that would mean a decisive loss in the Electoral College for Obama.
President Obama launched his re-election campaign tonight with a State of the Union speech that attempted to conjure up the spirit of an earlier era of national unity even as he sought to focus national resentment on wealthy Americans and his political opponents in Congress.
With no record of accomplishment to his credit, other than the unpopular Obamacare and stimulus, Obama put forward a limited agenda of government intervention in the economy and the tax code in a laundry list of initiatives that did little to break new ground on any issue and was bereft of the passion and vision that drove his 2008 campaign for the presidency. All in all, it was 65 minutes that ought to worry Democrats more than it annoyed Republicans.
For one day at least the national political spotlight returns to the man Republicans are vying for the chance to defeat: President Barack Obama. Tonight’s State of the Union speech will be the unofficial start of his re-election campaign, and there should be plenty of not-so-subtle hints about the direction he will attempt to take the country in the coming years. Moreover, the invitation to billionaire Warren Buffet’s secretary — whom we are told pays taxes at a higher rate than her boss — to sit in the gallery, will no doubt signal that “fairness” or to be more blunt, class warfare, will be at the top of the agenda.
The release of Mitt Romney’s tax returns today is a serendipitous coincidence for a White House that will be eager to paint a picture of the Republicans as the party of the rich who are indifferent to the sufferings of those less fortunate. Though he was elected promising an era of post-partisanship, this president has tilted heavily to the left throughout his first term, and tonight’s speech ought to serve as a reminder for GOP voters of what they seek to avert: a second term in which Obama’s vision of expanded government will be further entrenched.
As Alana noted, Republicans are rightly concerned about Ron Paul playing a destructive role in the presidential campaign this fall. Efforts to keep him on the reservation are already beginning, and there is little doubt the significant number of delegates he may win for the party’s national convention in Tampa will have to be dealt with carefully lest they cause trouble and sabotage what will in all likelihood be Mitt Romney’s coronation.
But I think the GOP would be foolish to go too far in seeking to make nice with Paul. His followers are just as likely to vote for Barack Obama or simply stay home as they are to back Romney or any other mainstream Republican. That’s why giving Paul a prime time speech at the convention would be a disaster.
After strong showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Ron Paul is starting to get some respect from the media, even if it is grudging. But while no one, not even Paul himself, seems to believe the libertarian extremist is any threat to steal the Republican nomination from Mitt Romney, there is growing sentiment that his appeal to young voters, Democrats and independents will be a problem for the GOP frontrunner in the coming months as well as the general election.
While Paul has tapped into some Tea Party support outside of his own constituency with his rigid stance against virtually all government spending, the idea that he could sabotage Romney with an unlikely third party run or that his supporters could cost the Republicans the election in November is, at best, an exaggeration. Paul’s top three finishes in the first two states to hold primaries were the result of him bring bringing out to the polls voters who are attracted to political outliers and protest candidates. Though any group, no matter how small, may prove decisive in a close election, Romney’s presidential hopes will not rest on the affections of youngsters who want to legalize pot or those who like Paul’s isolationist foreign policy. Even more to the point, as the primary season advances and Paul’s results start to decline, talk of his influence on the election will fade.
A constant refrain from conservatives in the past few months has been that Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy is merely a re-run of past failed runs by GOP moderates like Bob Dole and John McCain. According to their reasoning, a candidate like Romney can’t fire up the Republican base and get them to turn out (the conceit behind Karl Rove’s successful campaigns for George W. Bush) in large enough numbers to win in November. Even more than that, conservatives assert that more Americans will be attracted to a conviction conservative (i.e. Ronald Reagan) than to a wishy-washy Republican who tried to be all things to all people. Romney’s centrist appeal to independents is, they claim, a snare that has trapped the GOP into putting up certain losers.
While Romney and his supporters have treated this line of attack as more the result of self-interest by his rivals than genuine analysis, these are serious arguments, and the former Massachusetts governor’s chance to win the nomination will turn on his ability to answer such challenges. Even more importantly, with the rise of Rick Santorum, it must be conceded that Republicans now have someone who is, as Charles Krauthammer noted this week on Fox News, plausibly presidential and who might actually test the conservative thesis.
The conventional wisdom among liberals is that despite a sinking economy and poor personal polling numbers, President Obama is actually in a good position to be re-elected. Democratic optimism stems from a belief that the Republican field is so poor the president can’t help but be made to look good by comparison. The evidence of considerable support for Ron Paul, who is a genuine problem for the Republicans, the unlikely rise of Rick Santorum, the comic antics and mishaps afflicting Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and the now withdrawn Herman Cain have been enough to convince even some conservative commentators that the GOP dustup in Iowa has been an embarrassment for the party.
But Obama and his political team would be well advised to put aside this foolish optimism. The GOP field’s behavior hasn’t always been edifying, but the way the race has developed is not to the president’s advantage. Whether or not Mitt Romney finishes in first tonight, the most electable Republican will emerge from the state strengthened and with no credible alternative in position to stop him. That is the last thing Obama wanted to see happen in Iowa and what will follow in the upcoming states is likely to bring him even worse news.
A month ago, Jeffrey Goldberg provoked a fair amount of scorn for proclaiming his belief that Barack Obama would “save Israel” from a nuclear Iran. But though Goldberg’s faith in the president’s willingness to use force to stop the Iranian nuclear program goes against everything we’ve learned about Obama in the last three years, Washington appears to be trying to sell the same bill of goods to the Israelis. As Eli Lake reported yesterday in the Daily Beast, “the Obama administration is trying to assure Israel privately that it would strike Iran militarily if Tehran’s nuclear program crosses certain ‘red lines,’ while attempting to dissuade the Israelis from acting unilaterally.”
Given the problems a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran would entail, these assurances might be enough to dissuade the Netanyahu government from acting on its own. But given the contradictory signals the administration has been sending about the use of force on Iran and the differences between the two countries over intelligence on the threat that Lake reports, there is little reason for Jerusalem to be comforted by Obama’s promises. Israel’s leaders would be well advised to see this latest shift on Iran as intended more to convince American voters of the president’s good intentions than to make Tehran step back from the brink.
Watching House Republicans steer their party straight into a ditch over their failure to pass a version of the payroll tax cut has been like observing a car crash in slow motion. But along with the backbiting and second-guessing that have done little to enhance the reputation of the GOP House caucus or that of their leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor, the debacle also ought to illustrate to Republicans the political resiliency of President Obama and the fact that a GOP victory in the 2012 election is not a foregone conclusion.
That’s an important lesson. Many Republicans have approached the presidential nomination process as if any GOP candidate with a pulse could beat Obama. The ease with which the president has run rings around Boehner on the payroll tax cut not only should bring back disturbing memories of how Bill Clinton beat Newt Gingrich like a drum back in the 1990s but should also show what happens when ideological inflexibility on the part of the GOP allows the Democratic incumbent to play to the center as well as to the left. A few more debacles like this one and Obama won’t have to channel Harry Truman in order to portray his opponents as do-nothing losers.