soundtrack to the obamacolypse
(This song doesn't really have anything to do with the post; I just heard it over the weekend and really liked it.)
I thought Dave Weigel's response to the responses to polls was pretty dead on. And I kind of just want to give Andrew Sullivan big old hug right now.
One of the joys of political ambivalence (and I use the term loosely*) is that even when things look grim for your chosen horse, it's relatively easy to shrug it off and get on with your life. That said, I think it is worth considering for a moment the Big Swing. I'd offer up three (not mutually exclusive) hypotheses:
1) Polls really aren't that accurate after all.
2) The number of persuadable voters in this election has been vastly underestimated, by me and damn near everyone else.
3) This is an outlier election.
Addressing (1) is kind of a Schrodinger's Cat sort of situation, in that you only ever get to test the accuracy of any given poll once. Looking retrospectively at the data, it's pretty clear that poll accuracy (globally) is a roughly inverse function of time before the actual election. (Of course exceptions exist, particularly with exit polls.) But this doesn't exclude the possibility that polls are in fact very accurate snapshots of the electorate at the time they are taken. We just can't ever really know if this is true or not. So let's leave it.
Personally, I think that we're looking at roughly equal parts (2) and (3), and these are interrelated. The theme that could run through them both is that we have an incumbent that a lot of people are really unhappy with and a challenger that a lot of the same people are also really unhappy with. To my mind, that leaves a lot of people on the fence just waiting for someone to give them a reason to break one way or another. And the president's lousy performance in the debate may very well have been just the thing.
The Romney camp has been trying to paint this as a replay of 1980; Obama, as 1996. It's not hard to see why each would pick those years. But I actually think the best precedent in the modern era is 2004. Plenty of people were highly motivated to unseat GW Bush; very few of them (us) were terribly excited about voting for John Kerry. And we know how that went.
Obama would do well to learn from that election, and by that I do not mean taking heart in the result. This is the rare time when I would admonish him to emulate his predecessor--get out there, defend your record like you mean it, and act like you want to be the fucking president for another four years.
*Joy, I mean.