Politics & Media
Sep 11, 2012, 09:45AM

Election Polls Mean Little Until After the First Debate

Peggy Noonan cuts to the crux of Obama vs. Romney.

Photo.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

As an active observer of the 2012 presidential election who didn’t watch a single minute of either the Democratic or Republican Conventions (watching a Houston Astros game held far more interest), I read Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column today—“Everyone Will Watch the Debates”—with as much enthusiasm as one can muster in this never-ending campaign. It was a welcome tonic from the thousands of stories and tweets about that bounce, bounce, bounce Barack Obama received last week, the bleats of glee from the President’s unabashed media supporters and the mostly unnamed GOP sources who’ve told eager reporters than Mitt Romney’s already blown it.

I think Noonan’s a bit optimistic when she writes: “Convention viewership may have been down, but almost every voter who can, will watch at least some of the debates,” which gives far too much credibility to the anachronistic idea of “civic responsibility” among the electorate. Still, because the debates are less scripted than the conventions, with the tantalizing possibility that one of the candidates will make a Jerry Ford-like gaffe (I’m discounting the Biden/Ryan session on Oct. 11, which will be viewed more as a sitcom), ratings will be high, particularly for the first match-up on Oct. 3, just two days before the final jobs report before the election is released. It could be that after the second debate—Oct. 16—that the aggregation of polls could actually point to the eventual winner.

Noonan echoes the long and mostly interesting Atlantic article by James Fallows (his quadrennial exercise) that, boiling it down, said Obama’s not terrific at debates and that Romney, unless caught off-guard by an unanticipated question (fairly likely) is quite good. Noonan: “[Obama] won the election in 2008, so people think, retrospectively, that he was great at debate. But he wasn’t, he just never lost an inch to John McCain and seemed steadier, less scattered. But he never said anything interesting.”

Perhaps out of respect to McCain, Noonan—while completely accurate about Obama’s uninteresting performances—doesn’t mention that even had the bumbling Senator not been an untethered candidate, weighed down by Republican fatigue, Sarah Palin and his own incompetence, the election was all but over when Lehman Brothers went down on Sept. 15 of 2008, the penultimate signal, for those who didn’t already realize it, that the nation’s economy was in a state of collapse. On Election Day four years ago, I spent most of the day in Manhattan’s financial district and the people I spoke to, predominantly Republicans, were far too preoccupied with matters more important than the election. The view was: well, who knows, I’ll take a flyer on Obama, he certainly can’t screw things up worse. And then it was back to the phones and wondering aloud how the markets had turned into a Las Vegas casino.

But Noonan hits paydirt in her conclusion, refuting the—pardon the cliché—conventional wisdom that Obama’s “likability” will ensure his reelection, despite the crippling unemployment numbers. I’m a Romney supporter—although like so many others, I think he’s the definition of a mediocre candidate—but what’s not to like about Obama? He’d probably be fun to hang out with, talk sports, politics, shoot the shit.

Noonan: “America is in a crisis. It needs to get out of it, shake it off, move forward. America needs leadership. What Mitt Romney has to show is command, talent, resolve… Americans don’t really want someone they’d like to go out and have a beer with, they want someone who can help them afford a beer.”

And that, despite current polls, is the Big If in this campaign. The economy’s still in the sewer and if Romney, during the three debates with Obama, can convince just a relatively small percentage of voters that he’ll get the country out of the present Jimmy Carter-like “malaise,” he’ll win. Conversely, if he doesn’t offer a compelling alternative to Obama’s frightening economic policies, he loses.

  • Never got why you like Noonan. On T.V. she comes off as an out-of-touch snob holding court at a Hamptons cocktail party (preaches to the choir but greets dissent with empty condescension). In print, I think she doth protest too much. Remeber, she defended Palin; thought McCain was a great candidate, and thinks Mitt is the bees knees. I agree that Obama is not a great debater but Romney has demonstrated zero substance and the pressure is mounting from both sides. If he continues to be vague about just about everything, it won't matter how good he is at debates, he will be slammed for lack of detail. Details are the only thing that can save Romney at this point, short of an uncontrolable disaster laid at the feet of Obama.

    Responses to this comment
  • I don't know Russ. Lots of people saw the conventions; maybe more, maybe less'll see the debates. Nothing's moved the polls much, and I doubt the debates will either. What we've got is a mostly evenly divided electorate and a slight advantage for Obama. If the economy tanks, or there's some sort of catastrophic mistake on Obama's part, Romney'll win; if it's the status quo (mediocre debate performance for both) Obama will probably win.//I also don't buy that the debates are to Romney's advantage. The more people see of him, the less they like him. He may win on points, but the idea that he's going to clearly best Obama seems unlikely to me.

    Responses to this comment
  • Please look at the swing state polling, folks. Please. Two of the best analysts in the country--Nate Silver and the guy at Princeton Election Consortium--have Obama as an heavy favorite, upwards of 80 percent. As for the fantasy that Noonan has that things don't get started in earnest until the debates, well, the woman is a professional republican.The Obama camp has thoroughly defined Romney. They've professionally skewered him: He can't talk about ObamaCare, he can't talk about Bain, he can't talk about his riches (because of the tax issues). They've done to him what Muhammed Ali did to Floyd Patterson. Anything can happen--nobody has voted yet, after all--but you folks should actually look at some of the polling data,not just go on your gut instincts and people like Peggy Noonan. If you haven't seen what happened this summer, you are really not paying attention.

    Responses to this comment
  • I'm just worried how colossally screwed we'll be if Romney does win on a fluke. 80% for Obama seems high but what do I know. I love how Noonan praises Romney's "command, talent, resolve," when she was probably complaining about how awful a President he would be not even six months ago. Obama needs to remind people that the economy could be much, much, much worse - remember how many jobs we were losing in 2008? We're maintaining now but at least we haven't entered a depression. That said, I can't wait for the debates because you know something hilarious is going to happen with Obama vs. Romney. Ryan v. Biden should be spectacular too. Where can I get tickets?

    Responses to this comment

Register or Login to leave a comment