Election campaigns can produce surprises - Macleans.ca

Election campaigns can produce surprises

Will Obama’s latest economic measures be seen as anything but too little, too late?


It is a truism in U.S. politics that, in an election year, once the Labour Day weekend passes, that’s when the real campaign begins. With most primaries done, the polls show a decided advantage for the Republicans, with generic poll numbers giving them a 6-10 point lead. The Democrats are realizing it is now a matter of cutting their losses in order to preserve control of Congress. With less than 60 days left before voters head to the polls, most pundits are predicting the GOP will win the House of Representatives and possibly even the Senate .

The economy continues to be the overriding issue. August numbers have clearly indicated a slowdown in the economic recovery, with unemployment at 9.6% and annual GDP growth stuck below 2%. Housing starts are down and the largest stimulus package in U.S. history has been mostly spent. The Republicans will benefit from the situation, not because of better policies, but rather from America’s bad mood. Some call it anger and point to the Tea Party’s growing influence as proof; others like Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson call it a temper tantrum by voters against the incumbents who happen to be the Democrats. Whatever it is, it is real and it is no fun.

Barack Obama is on the hustings this week, proposing new economic measures like an additional $50 billion infrastructure program, along with an extension of a business tax credit program for research. More announcements should be expected in the coming weeks. Already the Republicans are calling it too little, too late.

By the latter part of September, expect the GOP to roll out their proposals to jumpstart the economy and the real donnybrook will begin. The issue of the extension of the Bush tax cuts will be front and centre as they are due to expire come January. Within the Democratic party, the divisions are already beginning to show as the Blue Dog Democrats appear to be closer to the GOP, who wish to see these cuts maintained and fear that any change by the Obama administration will be seen as a tax increase. Meanwhile, Obama Democrats are lambasting Republicans for a continuation of the policies that led to the Great Recession.

Agree with him or not, Obama has kept many of his promises. The rap against the president is that his agenda was not sufficiently focused on jobs. This is why his latest political salvo is a means to corner the Republicans. Counting on the fact that the memories of voters can be short, the Democrats are essentially daring the Republicans to oppose a major infrastructure project and a business tax credit. Once it returns, Congress will likely be unable to translate these latest proposals into actual policy, so the voters will be faced with a choice of  ‘would-be’ policies.

Will this be enough for the Democrats? The short answer is NO. But it might mean the difference between a wave election and a setback. A recent WSJ/NBC poll had Obama’s approval ratings in the mid-40s, the Democrats’ favourables in the low 30s, and the Republicans trailing at 24%. A CNN poll also showed no movement for the Republicans, but rather a sour mood about the economy and the incumbents. A campaign is usually a time for debate and reflection, but it can be an occasion for surprises. The current Democratic thrust may be the last (and only) opportunity for the campaign itself to make a difference.


Election campaigns can produce surprises

  1. Republicans are peaking too early . They are to blame for much of what is happening .

    • They also have no leader,no plan beyond tax cuts, and a lot of teabaggery.

      • They have no shame !!

  2. Remember how last week the entire political world was breathlessly announcing that the Republicans have a 10 pt lead on the Gallup tracking generic ballot? If I recall, Paul Wells wrote "Gallup tonight is reporting the largest Republican lead ever over Democrats in a generic congressional ballot. Eh. Ver. Ten points."

    Oddly enough, I have yet to see any breathless posts about the latest poll. You know, the one that shows both parties tied at 46%. I guess it doesn't tie in as nicely to any tidy little media narratives as last week's.

    • Not as exciting a story I guess. But by the look of it Americans are as torn/divided as us, Ozzies, the Brits, Germans etc.

      • The TV age has finally fully arrived and with it, the realisation by the electors of many lands that the ruling political elite and practioners are bereft of ideas and morals. having learned that the emperor has no clothes, one tries to imagine what the electorate will go for instead. It roubles one to think about it.

        • Nothing else TO go for.

          Unless a new party comes along that knows how to create jobs.

          • wake up emily !!!!!The republicans will win both houses and theWH in 2012 . Only dumbs liberals can't see it . Capeeche ?

          • Well that's the usual situation in the US…everybody working against each other, so this fall likely won't be any different. As to 2012….beats me who they'd run as a candidate, but if they go all Repub the US is finished.

            I guess the liberals there would be surprised though! LOL

          • we are all united behind the TEA Party. wake up Emily and smell the roses . You liberals are out of it .

    • Well said , Richard . Not over 'til the fat lady sings !

    • Are you joking? You must be joking. Are you serious?

      Do you seriously believe that one single poll out of the last 8 polls which was slightly more favourable than the other 7 is news? http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/gen

      You must be joking. Look at the graph!

      Even if we were to ignore all other polls and all other polling companies, the fact that the Gallup poll shows them tied is also highly unusual historically! Gallup even says so! Republicans have almost never been tied on that type of poll in the last 100 years. One of the sole exceptions was 1994.

      But I digress. You must be joking.

  3. It's a shame they can't be blessed with minority government.

    Oh wait …. they are !

  4. Why is it "no fun" I wonder?

  5. Obama is self destructing and there is nothing he can do about it. If the Republicans win both the House and the Senate he will be a lameduck president for the next two years.
    After Hilary's comments on the debt being a threat to national security etc. today I would not be surprised if she challenges Obama for the nomination in 012.

  6. "the Democrats are essentially daring the Republicans to oppose a major infrastructure project and a business tax credit. Once it returns, Congress will likely be unable to translate these latest proposals into actual policy, so the voters will be faced with a choice of 'would-be' policies."

    This is so besides the point and irrelevant.

    When you've already blown $800 billion on stimulus, the vast majority of that being spending, then another $50 billion is an insult to the intelligence of the voters. Puhleaze. Does any intelligent adult believe that spending $50 billion is a magic bullet when the $800 billion failed miserably?

    On top of that, he's proposing an extension to an existing tax credit program, while he's still planning to raise taxes in other ways.

    Voters are not idiots.

    These items are negligible, they are way too little and way too late.

    • Wrong !!!The stimulus worked in saving jobs and beginning to restructure the economy . Republicans will now be scrutinized and orange skinned Boehner has no appeal or intelligence.Republicans are reactionnaries wanting to return to failed Bush policies and near depression.Who really likes these guys who lied us into a war ? Wake up s_c_f and die naturally!

      • I take that back: most voters are not idiots.

        You know, there's always people like you commenting on Parisella's blog but not elsewhere, uttering partisan tripe with bad spelling and grammar and the usual mindless talking points. I've got a sneaking suspicion you are not who you claim to be, you're someone playing games, maybe you're Parisella himself.

  7. The poll hit a level it had never hit in history. Ever. That's news. The fact that it's no longer at that record level, that's it's just a few points below the record level, and that being a few points below the record level is also unusual historically, that is not news. Especially when lots of other polls are also hitting the same record levels.

    To most people this is obvious.

    • The same polling company showing a dramatic reversal of fortunes (5 pts lost by the Republicans and 5 pts gained by the Democrats in ONE week) should, by your logic, also be news.

      This, to most people, is obvious.

      MY point, is that the first poll wasn't news, or rather should have been treated with the obvious caution that Gallup's generic polling warrants. The fact that it wasn't and the second poll is, speaks volumes about the state of media in the United States.

      You seem hell bent on making this a p*ssing contest about who's polling worse. I'm not arguing that, so please stop.

      • "rather should have been treated with the obvious caution"

        Why treat it with caution if every other poll is showing the same thing?

        If you have a single poll showing a wild swing, that's not news, that could be a rogue poll. If you have numerous polls and numerous polling companies showing similar results, then it's not rogue, it's news. So the "dramatic reversal of fortune" is not news, because you'd need more than a single friggin poll to know that it's not just the usual polling error, which is +-3 points usually. It's not a dramatic reversal of fortune at all.

        If you have one poll at 50-50, the next one at 55-45, and the polling error is 3 points, then clearly the most logical conclusion is that support is around 53-47. You don't make the ridiculous conclusion that support has instantly dropped or risen 5 points!

  8. Election campaigns can produce surprises, but they tend to do so in rather predictable situations, such as:

    1. Voter attention pre-campaign was low, so early polls largely reflect name recognition or the opinions of an enthusiastic few.
    2. The number of undecided voters is large
    3. A major scandal occurs during the course of the campaign
    4. The electoral coalition of one or both sides is unstable.

    You could probably think of other drivers, but these four are most likely to move some numbers. How likely is it that there will be a big shock during the 2010 midterms?
    1. Attention is abnormally high for a series of midterm elections. Although Republican numbers may be influenced by the enthusiasm gap, the lower voter turnout that typifies midterm elections make that an advantage.
    2. America is more polarized than ever, and undecided voters are few.
    3. Since this is not a truly national race, the effect of a scandal in one race will be limited in its impact on others.
    4. Republicans are reasonably unified, although there are a few cases (esp. Nevada) where tea party candidates could cause some trouble.

    I had predicted the Democrats would maintain their hold on the house earlier, largely because I believed the economy would be in recovery by now. That hasn't happened, and even a late recovery will probably be too late to save the Dems.