The 2008 election was historic. Media outlets reminded us of this repeatedly in the months following it. Four years later, the 2008 election is no longer considered historic by many pollsters but the new normal. The record turnout of African Americans, the record Obama-McCain vote disparity among young people, and the unusually defeatist mood of Republicans made Election Day 2008 a once-in-a-lifetime event. By definition, a once-in-a-lifetime event doesn’t recur every presidential election. But several polls, NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist, Pew, and CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac being the most prominent, anticipate Democrat enthusiasm to top 2008.
Signs abound that this may be wishful polling. Barack Obama, who filled a football stadium of feverish fans in Denver four years ago, abruptly moved his 2012 convention coronation from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium (capacity: 74,000) to the indoor Time Warner Cable Arena (capacity 18,500). The Obama campaign garnered $37 million in merchandise sales in 2008. According to USA Today, the campaign has ordered just $6.7 million worth of trinkets this time around. Celebrities, who in 2008 acted around Obama the way their fans act around them, no longer seem so star-struck. Singer Dave Matthews remarked that he would cast a “disappointed” and “slightly heartbroken” ballot for Obama, while actor Matt Damon said of the president: “I think he misinterpreted his mandate.”
They’ve lost that loving feeling. But it remains for several pollsters. Their models anticipate a more energized Democratic base than 2008. Or, as cynics believe, their models energize the Democratic base and suppress the Republican base.
Polls tell us as much about the pollster as about the polled. The objectivity of the results ultimately depends upon the objectivity, and discernment, of the pollster. Nobody knows which ones are wrong, but when competing polls show a ten-point spread between the candidates everyone can agree that somebody is wrong.
On the flipside, the reaction to polls also tells us as much about the responder as the poll. While the internals of several polls reveal bias toward the Democrats, the direction of nearly all national polls heads in the same direction: the president’s. Shooting the messenger only obscures Republican problems in effectively conveying their message. Stopping Obama’s Big Mo, rather than exposing Pew’s skew, should be the pressing concern for Republicans.
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