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October 15, 2012 9:35 AM Defining the Horse Race’s New Normal

By Ed Kilgore

After two weeks of turbulence and furor over highly contrasting measurements of the presidential contest—not just by polls, but via CW—today’s new WaPo/ABC and Politico/Battleground/GWU national surveys arrive today with the sodden weight of superficial authority. The former puts Obama up by 3 points (49/46) among LVs; the latter has him up 49/48. But perhaps more importantly: In both cases, the numbers are virtually identical to those taken by the same firms before the first presidential debate.

The powerful suggestion is that the “Romney surge,” at least in national polls, is over, and we’re looking at a contest in which Obama maintains a small lead—not one in which excited conservatives are about to snake-dance to the polls to lift Mitt to a smashing victory over a dispirited president and his demoralized troops.

And this, for better or worse, is going to be the background that will frame MSM coverage of tomorrow night’s second debate. Yes, there will be an enormous amount of talk about Obama’s “energy level,” setting an extremely low threshold for estimates of the president’s engagement in his own campaign that he ought to be able to manage to his advantage. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, will have to find ways in a less than ideal debate format to reinforce the fragile new impression that he’s the guy who governed Massachusetts from 2003-2007 rather than the guy he’s been almost every moment since.

Put it all together and there will be enormous pressure on media types to pick a winner tomorrow night and then frantically ensure the public agrees with that assessment. This in turn will prime spotlights to find a “zinger” or some sort of “defining exchange” that can be used to encapsulate the event and help viewers avoid any deeper assessments of what they just saw.

In other words, get ready for some serious political and media malpractice.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Th on October 15, 2012 9:58 AM:

    I just hope Obama has come up with a six point plan to revive the economy to out do Romney's five point plan.

  • Robert on October 15, 2012 10:01 AM:

    The corporate media never ceases to amaze me...How corrupt must they be if they don't have a clue as to how the rest of the country now looks at them. They have now become the "political hacks" they have been railing against...All of the talking heads...the "Very Serious Persons" of the beltway do nothing but try for the headlines...They are part of the corruption and vileness of today's politics...Who is supposed to keep these "VSP's" honest anyway, self-regulation? That worked well on Wall Street and the banks huh? I might have to self-deport to Kolob before the crowds get there...

  • T2 on October 15, 2012 10:12 AM:

    tomorrow's "debate" is in the Town Hall Meeting format. Normally I'd give Obama the nod as he can work a crowd pretty well. I would think Romney's robot-like movements will be more visible here than they were in the first debate, where he could hide behind a podium The deal will be the questions the two of them get....will the "citizens" in the town hall be asking questions? Or will it be the moderator...Candy Crowley. If it is Crowley, look for some softballs lobbed at Mitt, and a string of gotcha's thrown at the president.

  • thewarthatkilledachilles on October 15, 2012 10:15 AM:

    Not to change the subject because I think you are right , which I do , but I do not believe the little guy who married that big beautiful girl will be happy with the sand kicked in his face .
    It may matter that the people around our president are more involved with the same things that are happening to all of us who are not fifth , quarter , half , or all the way billionaires . Things like the absence of magic , once called money , in the population , once called the middle class , which leaves a lot of time for boot licking or resolve .
    If you have the magic , or money , to look events in a repeatable , realistic , manner you may have the resolve to call that stink by its name . Regardless of how even spoken and cool one is when you surround , scheit , the outhouses it familiarizes , those sort of things just don't have a glamour the kool kids wavy hair , winks and nods imply that it does . Why you can even call Romney and Ryan what they are without losing dignity . That is because it doesn't take magic , money , to understand that calling a magical talker , money talks , from a magical walker , bullscheit walks , money talks magic to starving ears , and the other motivates the least in us .
    Obama has a lot to answer , but he is answering . Romney Ryan won't even talk to you , that is Obama's job to clarify .
    Nice work if we can keep the vote ...

  • LAC on October 15, 2012 10:18 AM:

    Thank God for this post. Made the mistake of listening to Cokie Roberts (or "Conventional Cokie", as I call her) spin this poll as good news for Romney (the republicans are muy enthusiastic about teh Romney, apparently). She is one of the reasons why I stopped watching "This Week with Old White Folks" on Sunday a while ago (Hawaii is an exotic state for a vacation, dontcha know).

    All the hysterics and yet Obama still has a narrow lead in national polls and swing states. Jaysus...

  • Sharon Green on October 15, 2012 10:20 AM:

    WaPoll poll -- D+9 sample

    Dems will have to increase turnout by +2 over 2008 to match that

    lol

  • c u n d gulag on October 15, 2012 10:29 AM:

    David Gregory finally did a great interview yesterday.

    That clown was interviewing America's greatest satirist, Stephen Colbert.

    I wish they'd give Martha Raddatz ABC's Sunday gab-fest, send that Disco Dancin' fool packin', and let Rachel do MTP, and see if CBS can convince Chris Hayes to take over FTN.

    Maybe then, the Sunday bloviation fests will be worth tuning in to.
    The only time I watch, is if I see Krugman's on ABC. I love watching him make George Will cry.

    Network news suckd donkey dong.

    I do still love MSNBC - after 4pm, anyway.

    FOX is the world's unfunniest joke.

    And as for CNN - some please shoot Ted Turner, so he can start spinning in his grave.
    Just put a TV set to CNN by his grave, and his spinning would probably power at least 1/2 the country.

  • stormskies on October 15, 2012 10:33 AM:

    And let's remember the astonishing fact that the corporate media called the pathological liar Romney the 'winner' in the last debate even though he lied 27 times in 38 minutes.

    And that he got this fucking 'bounce' in our country because of his pathological lying ? If that is actually true then what does that say about the very nature of the American person ?

    And this fact also was immediately erased by the corporate media: Biden of course wipe the floor with the boy scout called Lyin' Ryan. And the CBS instant poll showed a 51% to 31% advantage for Biden. Yet within minutes of that CBS poll there was another by CNN. And in that poll CNN pretended that the boy scout won by 48% to 46%.

    They took this down and erased it as if it never happened. Yet it did. And what this fact demonstrates in just how corrupt CNN, and the corporate media in general, is. This would mean they had a predetermined result of lyin' Ryan.

  • max on October 15, 2012 10:37 AM:

    Dems will have to increase turnout by +2 over 2008 to match that

    No sweat! Thanks for pointing it out so I can say it's going to be plus three our way! Have a nice day!

    Ed:The powerful suggestion is that the “Romney surge,” at least in national polls, is over, and we’re looking at a contest in which Obama maintains a small lead—not one in which excited conservatives are about to snake-dance to the polls to lift Mitt to a smashing victory over a dispirited president and his demoralized troops.

    I don't know why anyone though they would. The whole elections years has been a) astroturf b) rich guys threatening to fund commercials c) the economy d) a bunch of Republicans not being happy with Romney.

    D contradicts A completely, C is phasing out (not that it ever really phased in) and B) appears to be a non-factor except in the sense that it helped D fundraising. Tie goes to the incumbent. (If they couldn't snakedance to the polls in 2008 I've got no reason to think they will now. 2010 wasn't a snakedance - 2010 was the same old same olds showing up and our side failing to do so, which was always going to be our main worry.)

    Mitt Romney, meanwhile, will have to find ways in a less than ideal debate format to reinforce the fragile new impression that he’s the guy who governed Massachusetts from 2003-2007 rather than the guy he’s been almost every moment since.

    Or he can go all right-wing, which he just might do.

    In other words, get ready for some serious political and media malpractice.

    What would election season be without that?

    max
    ['Have you noticed all the self-selected 'undecideds' that horn they way into the national convo sure do sound like Republicans? How many Reagan-loving R's do you think voted for O? A coupla hundred, maybe?']

  • Tom Q on October 15, 2012 11:20 AM:

    My take on the whole debate kerfuffle is, it's close to a replay of the dynamic of 1984.

    In 1984, the economy had come out of deeply hard times, and, while the unemployment rate was still well over 7%, the direction was clearly toward improvement. The president was charismatic and well-liked, and he'd been unchallenged within his party or by any serious third-party candidate. He seemed headed for fairly easy re-election.

    Then, in the first debate, he gave an uncharacteristically not-there performance that was exploited by his challenger and trumpeted by the press, which caused major doubt to spread through the electorate. For a brief period, the idea the incumbent might lose -- despite his many seeming advantages -- spread through the political world.

    Then Reagan tossed off a lame one-liner about Mondale's age, and generally seemed himself in the next debate; the electorate sighed in relief, and proceeded to do what it had all along planned prior to the weird debate: re-elected him by a wide margin.

    All this talk that Obama has to do X or Y in the next debate misses the point. All he has to do, like Reagan, is show that that weirdly absent figure who showed up in debate one has not suddenly replaced the president the country knows and (to a significant degree) likes, and voters will do what they were ready to do two weeks ago: re-elect him comfortably.

    Lost in all the chatter of the past two weeks: last week, consumer confidence hit a five-year high. This alongside continually improving job bumbers. Americans don't typically change presidents in such an environment. As long as Obama is recognizably the usual Obama in the remaining debates, he's home free.

  • Anonymous on October 15, 2012 11:36 AM:

    "No sweat! Thanks for pointing it out so I can say it's going to be plus three our way! Have a nice day!"

    You're saying that Deomocrats are 2% MORE enthusiastic about voting for Obama this year than they were in 2008? And more opposed to Romney/Ryan than they were to a ticket with Sarah Palin on it? I'd love to see what polling data you're relying on.

  • LAC on October 15, 2012 11:49 AM:

    God save us from undecideds - to me, they are just republicans who need a bit more a-wooing.

    The SNL skit on undecideds was not only funny, but a bit true("I need the candidates to explain this to me. How long is the President's term in office? 4 Years? 10 years? Forever? If it is forever, that is something I am not comfortable with.")

  • Peter C on October 15, 2012 11:53 AM:

    According to Poll Tracker (http://core.talkingpointsmemo.com/election/scoreboard), Obama peaked before the first debate and then lost ground through last Friday. However, this trend has again reversed, and all of the movement over the weekend was in Obama’s favor. This suggests that the slide may have ended.

    Poll Tracker divides states in 7 categories according to a composite of all current polls. States where one candidate leads by more than 10 points are ‘Strongly’ in that camp. States where the lead is between 10 and 5 points are said to ‘Favor’ that candidate. States where the lead in the polls is only between 2 and 5 points only ‘lean’. And states which fall within 2 points are designated as ‘toss-ups’. If you combine the ‘strongly’ and ‘favor’ categories and lump all the rest as ‘swing’, Poll Tracker puts the current state of the race as Obama 227, Romney 148, and ‘swing’ 163. The states in the ‘Swing’ bucket (in order of relative Obama preference) are: PA, IA, NV, OH, NH, CO, VA, AZ(!), NC, IN, TN, FL. Of these swing states, Obama must win only 43 electoral votes to win the election. In contrast, Romney must win 122 electoral votes from this bucket. So, the numbers don’t suggest that we should despair just yet.

    Now, admittedly, Poll Tracker is run by a liberal site. So, their overall assessment may be optimistic. However, I think the trend data is reliable, and it suggest that the slide as stopped.

  • BJ smith on October 15, 2012 1:17 PM:

    Why anyone still watches the broadcast Sunday shows is beyond me. Try watching Up With Chris Hayes on Sunday at 8-10 am on Msnbc. You will learn more than a month of the others in one show. He presents both sides of every situation & has the facts to back it up . This past Sunday he had the head of Staples,just to give you an idea. He also has a Romney advisor as a regular guest. He favors Obama, but doesn't always agree with him.He clarifies rather than distort & confuse as many of the others do. It is well worth checking out.