I don’t watch the daily polls and I don’t like anybody who does.
Ok. I don’t like it when anybody does. My Twitter feed is full of poll obsessives who alternately drive themselves nuts and launch themselves into states of giddy euphoria as they watch the polls go up and down. People seem to think that any minute now a new poll’s going to come along that will decide things once and for all right now so we can all relax and stop worrying about November. I’ve actually unfollowed a number of people I like and admire as bloggers and twitterers because of their poll watching compulsions. Months before an election I don’t need to know. And I don’t need to spend the months before an election alternately driving myself nuts and launching myself into states of giddy euphoria over politics! I’ve got too much else to make me crazy and even a few other and better reasons to be euphoric.
Plus, there’s some arrogance at work.
I don’t feel I need to watch the polls because I’ve predicted the outcome of every Presidential election since I was a kid long before the second Tuesday in November. Every election has been decided in my mind by late spring. The only one that fooled me a bit was 2000. I thought Gore would win it a little more handily.
So I’ve been trying to ignore the polls, even when they’ve been good news for the President, which, the last few days, they certainly have been.
That shouldn’t be a surprise. Two things have been at work. The first is that it’s been a theme of Mitt Romney’s life that the more people get to know him the less they like him. It goes way back. It’s the subtext of the bullying and assault of that kid in prep school. Mitt was doing it to try to get the other students to like him. I don’t know why he’s had this effect on people. Probably lots of different reasons. I used to like him. Sort of. When he ran against Ted Kennedy. Massachusetts is kind of our second home state and I followed that race. I didn’t want him to win. But while I wouldn’t have voted for him against Ted I might have voted for him if he’d been running against some other Democrat. Massachusetts has produced some pretty lousy Democrats and I don’t mean of the Republican-lite variety. I mean corrupt, stupid, inept, or otherwise useless. Mitt didn’t strike me as so bad next to some of them. I didn’t like him as much when he was governor though. I liked him less when he ran for President in 2008. I couldn’t put my finger on why. But this time out I positively loathe the guy and I can tell you why. I have told you why, in about a dozen posts. Boils down to this. To him people are costs to be controlled. He’s the first person to run for President on a major party line who believes human beings are a problem.
If that’s what people are picking up on, it’s no wonder nobody likes him.
And virtually nobody does.
That’s one thing that has been consistent in the polls. People do not like him. Even people who plan to vote for him. This has been a point pundits and analysts in the Village media have studiously ignored, because they’ve been wedded to the idea that the President is doomed and if they included Mitt’s personal approval in their analyses they would be predicting that the American people are bent on putting a man they don’t like in the White House.
When has that ever happened?
Nope. Liberals didn’t like Nixon. Most people did. My grandmother loved him.
But my feeling---and that’s all it is, my feeling, not a prediction---that the President is on his way to re-election isn’t just based on Mitt’s being unlikeable and his convention giving more people the opportunity to learn not to like him.
I also expected the President’s convention to be just that---the President’s convention.
I expected that the more people saw of the President outside of the filter of Village Conventional Wisdom, the more they would remember that we don’t need a new President. We already have a pretty good one. I’m not talking about his effectiveness at getting this or that bill passed. I’m talking about his ability to be the many things we need our Presidents to be, all of which add up to giving us confidence that he is in command.
And if you think being in command means being able to make political opponents drop to their knees and beg for mercy with just a frown, you have watched too many episodes of The West Wing.
Even George Washington couldn’t do that.
FDR couldn’t even do it to his political allies.
Being in command or, rather, giving the people confidence that the President is in command, means giving them the confidence that the day to day running of the country is being taken care of and that if something happens, if there’s a crisis, the President will act swiftly, decisively, and competently to put things back to right. Again, this isn’t a matter of doing the right thing by anyone’s ideological lights or by Paul Krugman’s lights (bright and focused as they so often are). It’s more a matter of the passengers trusting that when the car spins out on the ice the driver isn’t going to panic and steer us off a cliff.
And this has been the basis of my “predictions” of who is going to be President. The guy who gives the impression of being the better driver wins. The re-election of George W. Bush would seem to refute this, but there are always other factors at work as well, and one of them is that Americans tend to like their Presidents and it takes a lot of work on the part of one to make them dislike him. Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter worked at it.
W. didn’t. Well, he didn’t work at anything. But people still liked him until Katrina hit and he proved that he wasn’t in command, and then it was too late.
What happened at the Democratic Convention is that people were reminded that we have a President. Bill Clinton tore Mitt Romney to pieces but after starting with the point that Barack Obama is Bill’s idea of a good President. From there on, everything he said about Mitt was an implicit or explicit comparison between Mitt and the President. And then, Thursday night, the President took the stage.
He didn’t come out as that hopey-changey guy from 2008. He emphatically put that guy in the past. He stood there as the President of the United States.
And a lot of people’s hearts swelled with pride.
I think the debates will accelerate both these trends, that the more people see of Mitt the less they will like him and the more they see of the President the more they will accept it and like it that he is the President.
That’s what I think. I’m not predicting. I’m just saying what I think and why. I think the President will be re-elected because he is the President.
The Village talk about the polls has been all about what a tight race it is, but the focus has been on the polls of likely voters and, for reasons of prudence, those polls have been based on a very strict and limiting definition of likely. The talk, though, hasn’t been simply a matter of prudence. It’s been colored by a number of assumptions. One is that that even though the President has generally been up a few points even among likely voters, because his lead is within the margin of error, the error will correct in Mitt’s favor. The other assumption is that the President is running against history.
Here’s the CW in a nutshell: “Obama’s in deep trouble because no modern President has won re-election with economic numbers as bad as the numbers the President has had to deal with.”
“Modern” means since World War II, so how many incumbent Presidents are we talking about?
Jimmy Carter and George Herbert Walker Bush.
I’m not including Gerald Ford because he’s a special case.
How many other un-elected Vice Presidents who became President because the sitting President resigned in disgrace and left town one step ahead of the law and who then pardoned that disgraced President ran for what wasn’t in fact re-election but election for the first time?
But here’s the thing.
They’re all special cases.
Jimmy Carter and George Herbert Walker Bush were running for re-election when the unemployment numbers were bad but not as bad as they are now, true. But weren’t other things going on too?
Off the top of my head I can think of a few things that might have hurt Carter beside unemployment.
A thirteen percent inflation rate.
Lines at the gas stations.
The world’s biggest, meanest, fastest-swimming rabbit.
My mother would add one more.
He stopped smiling.
I could write a whole post about how this all adds up to people having the sense that Carter wasn’t in command. Maybe I will. For now, though, the point is that it’s not just the economy, stupid.
By the way, the sign Carville put up in campaign headquarters was “The economy, stupid” not “It’s the economy”. It was a reminder to anyone talking to the press to stay on message. Keep the focus on the economy because that was President Bush’s main weakness. Mitt Corp went off message. Probably because they realized that the economy wasn’t going to be as much of a weakness for the President as they hoped it would be and panicked. But that’s yet another post.
So, that’s what I think has been happening. I also think that as the election gets closer more people are going to move into the likely voter category and more of them will be people who plan to vote for the President.
But we’re still two months out. All kinds of things can happen. Even if the trend continues in the President’s favor he’s still going to need every vote he can get.
One more point.
It’s not enough that the President gets re-elected.
We need to take back the House and hold the Senate and I haven’t seen polls showing that either is guaranteed.
But then, like I said, I’m trying to ignore the polls.