Dissent Within the Ranks

Larry Gerston blogs about the elections

Updated October 27, 2008        9:00 PM
Dissent Within the Ranks…

The last thing Republican presidential nominee John McCain needs now is dissent within the ranks, yet that’s exactly what he has from vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.  
In the past couple of weeks, Palin has criticized McCain for pulling campaign funds out of Michigan; supported a U.S. Constitutional amendment denying gay marriage when McCain wants to leave such decisions to the states; and blamed McCain’s staff for her poor standing with the press.  It’s commonplace for staff to point fingers when campaigns go bad, but the V.P. candidate?  Whatever you want to say about Sarah Palin, she was virtually unknown before her selection as McCain’s running mate.  And now she’s moving into the big time on her own.  
Why?  There are three theories.

First, Palin feels that she has suffered because McCain’s people never understood her talents.  As such, she wants to redeem herself before the campaign ends.
Second, Palin doesn’t realize that her independent streak is causing yet another problem for the plagued McCain campaign.

Third, Palin is separating from McCain now to prepare for the 2012 presidential nomination.  The best way to do that is by catering to the conservative base.
Which is the answer?

Forget theory #1.  Palin has an ego like all self-respecting politicians, but she’s not going to let that get in her way.  Forget theory #2, too.  Palin may be rough around the edges, but she’s a lot smarter than people give her credit.

That leaves theory #3.  Aware that the ship is going down, she’s paddling on to the next election, and the best way to win is to be as far away from John McCain as practicable.  

Save the scolding.  Politics is a rough game, and few people reach the heights where Sarah Palin now resides.  She’s looking ahead to 2012, with the specific goal of positioning herself on the inside track against Mitt Romney.

My goodness, have we put the 2008 election behind us before it’s over?  That’s what happens when you’re a political junkie.  

Updated October 30, 2008        9:00 AM


Is the McCain campaign throwing stuff against the wall, throwing in the towel, or throwing up?  Maybe all of the above, always my favorite answer in a multiple choice test.

With five days to go, perhaps the most spectacular observation is the extent to which all of the major polls point to the same conclusion: Democrat Barak Obama is leading in the presidential race.  It’s not that Republican John McCain can’t win—he can win, but only by assembling the most improbable assortment of states, many of which seem to be in Obama’s camp.  For Obama, the polls show that he can win the presidency by taking any one of several different paths—surely, it seems that one or more routes will prevail.

If Obama wins—and it’s always IF in politics until the results are in—his victory will not be because of last night’s infomercial.  Rather, it will be due to the incredible ground game that has been in play for months, leaving no detail behind.

Last night an Obama supporter told me that the campaign organization has scheduled California volunteers alone to make 1,000,000 calls per day between now and election day to selected battleground states (no, that’s not a typo).  Another Obama supporter says that the organization has more than 10,000 lawyers signed up in every state to petition judges for relief in the cases of voter fraud or mismanagement.  Are these claims true?  Hard to know unless you’re on the inside, which I’m not.  But after seeing so many other assertions substantiated (e.g. key state primary victory forecasts, fund raising predictions), it’s hard to dismiss these words as sheer hyperbole.

No, it’s still a long time until election day, but if the McCain campaign is queasy, you can see why.

Updated October 31, 2008        6:00 PM

About Those Polls…

For several weeks, the national polls have suggested a convincing win for Democrat Barack Obama on November 4th in his presidential election contest with Republican John McCain.  But the polls are reflections of what people say and think at a particular moment in time, and those processes are not always as precise as we would like to believe.    

All polls have a “margin of error,” usually plus or minus three or four percentage points of what actually may be the case, which a potential swing of six or eight points.  That’s why these instruments of the public pulse need to be appreciated in the perspective of their limitations as well as capabilities.  

Here are four problems with the pre-election poll data that leave the November 4th election much more in doubt than some would like to believe:

The Bradley effect—First discussed after the defeat of African-American candidate Tom Bradley in his quest for California’s governorship in 1982, this phenomenon focuses on those people who claimed to be Bradley supporters than voted otherwise in the privacy of the voting booth.  Purists will suggest mitigating factors such as a gun control initiative on the ballot at the same time that may have been the real reason for the anti-Bradley vote.  But in state after state sizable percentages of whites have claimed to be for an African-American only to act otherwise.  Are such times behind us, or will the pollsters be fooled yet again in 2008?

The anti-Bradley effect—There is another group of voters who may be for Obama but do not say so publicly because of family loyalties, peer bonds, or work relationships.  In these cases, they may quietly vote for Obama after telling pollsters and others their support for McCain.  This may occur in states like North Carolina or Missouri, where strong traditions discourage overt support for an African-American, but where a new generation of voters may be ready to break from those conventions.  As with the Bradley voters, pollsters will be unaware of these dispositions.

Cell phones—Most polling companies don’t have the technological wherewithal to include cell phone owners in their samples.  They assume that cell phone owners are similar to land line owners, but such notions may not necessarily be the case.  We know that cell phone owners are disproportionately young and disproportionately first-time voters.  Can we assume, therefore, that they will vote like non-cell phone owners?  Without polling, we really don’t know.

Third party candidates—Most polls test the presidential race with the two major party candidates.  This discourages discussion of the roles of the minor party candidates, but that doesn’t mean that the respondent won’t vote that way.  Currently, Libertarian Bob Barr and Independent Ralph Nader are each pulling 2 or 3 percent in most surveys.  If you don’t consider those numbers significant, just think back to Florida in 2000 when Ralph Nader drew 3 percent and Al Gore lost by 533 votes. 
Hmmmmm.  This year Bob Barr might make the difference in Georgia.  Third party voters tend to be more unpredictable than any other group.  

None of this is to dismiss the value of polls; they play an important role in painting the big picture.  But in a close election, it’s the fine strokes that complete any complex portrait.

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