October 2012: Five campaign questions about to be answered

A tip of the hat to the legendary New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon for borrowing his signature phrase: nobody asked me, but…

Here are five questions that will be answered next Tuesday as America elects a President:

  1. How closely will actual vote totals align with the wildly volatile public opinion polls of the last several months? Conservative commentator David Burge summed up the current state of the polls quite well on Twitter: “Political polls accurately reflect the opinions of the bizarre 9% who agree to participate in political polls.”

    Most polls in the key swing states show President Obama with a small lead over Mitt Romney. Many of the national polls, including Gallup and Rasmussen, show Romney with the lead by two to three points. The professionals aren’t quite sure what to make of this divergence.

    It may be that we are witnessing the effective discrediting of political polling as it becomes harder and harder to draw a representative sample of voters. In fact, flipping a coin will probably turn out to be just as effective a predictor as the 2012 polls.
  2. Will the first presidential debate in Denver, where Romney outperformed Obama, be seen as the pivotal moment where the Republican challenger won the election? Or will an Obama victory suggest that the President recovered with stronger showings in the next two debates?

    One thing is certain: it is highly unlikely that in future debates any Presidential candidate will ever show as little energy as President Obama did in Denver. Those advisors prepping the candidates next time around will emphasize the importance of projecting vitality and confidence—qualities that clearly impress voters.
  3. Will the Obama campaign’s strategy of targeting Romney with negative commercials in Ohio and other swing states pay off on Election Day? The Plouffe-Axelrod team decided to borrow George W. Bush’s 2004 playbook—where the incumbent highlighted the challenger’s faults with attack ads rather than promoting his accomplishments.

    If Obama wins a very close election (and overcomes the burden of a lackluster economy), then the scorched-earth tactics will be validated in narrow political terms. But it could prove to be a Pyrrhic victory, however, guaranteeing second-term gridlock as Congressional Republicans hold a grudge over the no-holds-barred approach.
  4. Will newspaper endorsements matter in the swing states? Some eleven newspapers that endorsed Obama in 2008 have shifted their editorial support to Romney. The most interesting, and perhaps most significant, was the nod to the former Massachusetts governor by the Des Moines Register-Tribune in Iowa, a paper that had backed Obama in the prior presidential election.

    If Iowa and New Hampshire voters favor Romney, will the endorsements have played a part? It’s doubtful that the exit pollsters will ask this question, so we may never know. (Not that the exit polls are particularly accurate…)
  5. Who will partisans on either side blame if their candidate loses? Will they see the causes of defeat as internal (and self-inflicted) or external? Will they chalk up the loss to a failed message or a failed candidate?

    Democrats are likely to blame the President’s debate performance, their belief that Romney and Ryan lied about their true positions on the issues (masking their radical conservative agenda), and the difficulties any incumbent faces in defending a soft economy.

    Republicans will blame the alleged “demonization” of their ticket by the Democrats, what they see as clear bias by the mainstream media (not pressing Obama on the Fast and Furious scandal and the Administration’s responsibility in the death of Americans in the attack on Benghazi), and the Romney campaign’s inability to make the election a referendum on Obama’s performance in creating jobs.

    What’s sure is that this time around there will be lots of sore losers. It’s been that kind of election.

I suspect most Americans are quite happy that this political season will end next week. The 2012 campaign has been a rancorous and bitterly-contested affair. With a closely-divided electorate, it’s unlikely that the winning candidate—or his party—will be able to claim a mandate on Tuesday. With that being the case, you can expect a divided government where whoever wins will find forging compromises on the significant issues of the day—entitlements, the debt, immigration, healthcare—will continue to be a difficult task.

That’s not a particularly appetizing outcome for the country but to borrow the words of that eminent philosopher Bill Parcells: “It is what it is.”

Copyright © 2012 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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