Sunday, January 13, 2008

Blue about Red-ily Blackballing Candidates

My friend and colleague Anne has recently and rightly been complaining about all the political pundits declaring candidates out of the race, washed up and through after only a few state caucuses. Seemingly not having learned their lesson after New Hampshire, reporters and pundits continue to talk about the fate of candidates with little information to go on.

Pundits and predictors rationalize the NH error: people strategically voting for McCain to upset Romney even though they support Obama. Women voting for Hillary because of her show of emotion or to give the middle finger to the news elite who seem to fondly bash on Hill and Bill. Or perhaps it was undercover racism: people said they were going to vote for the black man so they wouldn't look bad, but behind the curtain they put on their pillow cases. Probably the most reasonable explanation I've heard is that people didn't actually pay attention to the numbers. Looking long term, all the polls showed Clinton as the clear victor except for a small, recent blip. I've heard but haven't had time to verify that even the caucus day polls actually showed Clinton as the victor, but they weren't interpreted correctly.

The most interesting thought I've heard on this is from a reporter on NPR who discussed why he felt imbedding reporters in campains was a bad idea. He discussed how easy it is to loose perspective and how the current news structure is set up to cause failure of pundits. He said that after following a candidate around, he needed about four hours to research and process information to give him context. Events and receptions can appear drastically disproportionate to the larger picture, but immersed in that candidate's world for days, the reporter fails to see that.

Of course in this 24-hour news cycle that type of time is a luxury. And, really, the news outlets don't seem too interested in balanced, contextualized reporting. This reporter supported assigning staff to issues; as he correctly points out, the Clinton reporter's expertise in environmental issues doesn't come close to the expert who was hired to formulate the Clinton position on the environment, or on the economy, middle-east relations, etc. You need time to talk to a bevy of experts and the compare multiple candidate's positions against what your source experts tell you. This seems like a reasonable argument to me, but one not likely to happen in journalism that seems to favor the soundbite more than the reasoned argument.

I think there's a real hunger for solid information out there, but I don't know by how much of the population. Unfortunately our society seems heavily favored by people who only want to know where candidates stand on just one or two hot-button issues. I personally don't get enough information that I find easily accessible on the history candidates have on an issue. Candidates are naturally going to show their most favorable side on a public issue and it can be difficult to discern where they stand unless they are Mitt Romney, the John Kerry of the Republican Party. For instance, Obama I think does underplay where he has supported the Iraqi War, acting as if his stance has somehow been different from Hillary, when it's pretty much the same. Bill took him to task on this, but prior to that it hasn't received much press attention. This may not make you (or me) not vote for him, but it can make selecting the person to be your best candidate difficult.

To help simplify this process, there are a few resources available:

Mother Jones offers a comprehensive chart of candidates on a variety of topics
(thanks, Anne, for that referral)

A less reliable, but possibly more fun candidate selection tool
This piece of software takes it information, right and wrong, from here.

Now, it's still FUN (if you're a geek) to make predicitions; although I don't claim any level of expertise in this area, I still do it. And some of my predicitions probably aren't rocket science. For instance, I think Huckabee will win the South and McCain will show very well, either second or first possibly in some states. Romney will fall behind in the South but do better in other states. That's probably a safe answer, but it's fun to speculate. On the Dem side, Obama takes the South pretty easy with Edwards possibly doing better than Clinton, but not by much. I'll go out on a little bit of limb and say Romney will not do as well as he hopes in Michigan, possibly taking first, but with a close McCain second, and possibly falling to second himself. Guilliani's gamble in Florida will not be as profitiable as he hopes; I'm putting him second there.

Who is the final nominee? It's impossible to predict at this point. Although it's a bit of interesting psychology to note that most people vote for the most hopeful candidate in an election. I've been trying to gauge who sounds the most positive and hopeful of the future in speeches (it's fakable short-term, but difficult in the long run) and perhaps more importantly in their "regular" interactions, which are possibly more telling to make a prediction based on this little bit of research.

It's hard to tell: my guess at this point for the Dems would be Obama. I think he's capitalizing well off of the hope and change factor. That could well carry him past the well-oiled, funded, and supported machine of Clinton, but the instrument behind her is so strong it will be tough to overcome.

For the Republicans, I hope it's McCain at this point. Huckabee is a huge step backwards, but I think he has a real chance. Romney I think is a no-go. He doesn't seem the least bit positive and hopeful to me. He's aloof and unlikeable. While that might not get him disqualified as the Republican candidate, I think it would as president. Still, despite his wealth, I think another candidate will win the nomination here.

We'll see how it falls out and how close these well-hedged predictions comes. Of course, don't listen to me, I didn't even look at polls when I made these guesses!

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