Watching the Sunday Morning talking heads on Meet the Press and This Week was kind of a surreal experience. For a minute I thought it was next Sunday, because they were all talking about the election in the past tense, with questions like "when was it that John McCain lost this election?" The discussion came down mostly to how much of a landslide the election is going to be for Obama, with no consideration of the possibility of any other outcome.
Apparently the media has entirely convinced itself that exit polls of early voting can accurately predict the overall outcome of the election, despite the fact that it has been definitively proven that people lie pathologically to exit pollsters, as was demonstrated in 2000 and 2004. In addition, all of the polls are using weighting systems based on hypothetical assumptions about demographics, voter turnout and voter attitudes which have no basis in anything except the partisan wishful thinking of the pollsters and their employers. With McCain running such a wildly unconventional campaign, clearly based on a completely different set of assumptions, the talking heads seem foolishly arrogant in their premature conclusions. It is almost enough to raise the suspicion that they are engaging in psyops-style vote suppression and attempting to convince people not to vote because the outcome is predetermined.
One of the fundamental mistakes the punditocracy and the pollsters seems to be making is the assumption that high voter turnout means that lots more Democrats are voting and that independents are turning out to vote Democrat. This seems to be based on the theory that only Barack Obama can inspire people to vote and that those people can only be voting for him. They seem to be overlooking the reality that Obama is a polarizing figure and his power to turn out voters may very well include the power to turn out a lot of voters who oppose him. This is clearly what the McCain campaign is banking on by painting the Obama's negatives in broad strokes and making sure that those who have concerns about Obama are given plenty to worry about.
A second important mistake is the assumption that Obama has a strong appeal to the middle and working class. There's very little evidence to actually support this theory. Obama has become clearly associated with the ruling elite of the left and has consistently alienated the working, tax-paying segment of the population who turn out to vote more than any other segment of the population. Despite the claims of Obama's spokespeople, McCain has been aggressively campaigning towards that demographic and based on the impressive and increasing turnout at McCain and Palin rallies in key working class areas, he seems to be making huge inroads in that traditionally Democratic population. The predictions of the pollsters and pundits seem to give no consideration at all to the possibility that Obama may be losing a remarkable number of votes among the white middle class to whom the McCain message and Sarah Palin's union background and populist persona are very appealing.
The third mistake is the chronic Democratic assumption that voters are stupid and uninformed. The pollsters and the pundits are basing their conclusions about the election on the very questionable belief that McCain's message and his efforts to educate the public about Obama are not reaching the voters. It's a purely anecdotal and personal observation, but from what I've seen, a lot of people have gotten the message that Obama's background and ideology are extremely troubling and ultimately unacceptable. Fear of Obama is very real and very powerful, and it will motivate voters to turn out in large numbers to stop the threat to the nation which they perceive Obama to be.
Finally, there's still the issue of voter doubt which the pundits and pollsters seem to have forgotten all about. Even if McCain's case against Obama is not conclusive, he's raised so many doubts about Obama so successfully that there is bound to be a trend of voters making a last minute decision to play it safe, change their minds and vote McCain, even if they later tell exit pollsters that they voted for Obama. Some of them will make that decision based on race, but what the experts seem to be missing is that far more are likely to make that last minute decision based on ideology and fear of change. The Obama campaign's critical blunder, which no one is calling them on, is their basic message of change. Even when times are bad, people have a gut instinct to fear the unpredictable and to fear risk, and that's what change is all about. In the dark of the voting booth a lot of voters are going to play it safe and vote for McCain.
The media makes much of the huge crowds which turn out to see Obama's speeches. What they seem to be missing is that Palin and McCain are making far more appearances between them, seeing far more of the voting public on a more direct level, and turning out enthusiastic crowds of 25,000 and more at every one of these appearances, often in states where, if Obama is actually doing as well as the experts claim, they ought to be getting the cold shoulder. There's a very real possibility that the McCain/Palin campaign is largely flying under the radar and that their successes are being almost entirely overlooked by those who are watching the election.
The McCain campaign is not like other Republican campaigns of recent years. It targets different people and may be using Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber and strong negative arguments against Obama to more effect than anyone realizes. McCain is campaigning to a different audience and with a different message, and if it works, the surge of middle and working class voters it could bring in will swamp any increased turnout among young and black voters for Obama.
We could be looking at one of the great upsets of presidential campaign history, to rival the Truman-Dewey surprise. It's not the foregone conclusion the Punditocracy would like us to think it is, so be prepared.