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November 04, 2009

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There is one important bit of information that elections give you with certainty and polls don't: who bothers to walk/ride/drive/crawl to the polling place on election day and who does not. There is a difference between saying something to a pollster and actually doing something.

Those two WSJ quotes aren't contradictory. In fact, the earlier quote also says the election will shift the "poltical terrain".

A Republican sweep in Tuesday's key contests would at minimum show that Democrats face much tougher political terrain than they did a year ago. GOP victories would also help the party's fundraising and candidate recruitment for 2010, providing backing for arguments that Republicans have the momentum, and that voters are turning against the Obama agenda.

It's not a contradiction to assert that these changes will take place even though yesterday's elections are less-than-certain indicators of 2010.

Brendan mentions polls, but I think they all have specific limitations. Polls on health care reform are all over the place, depending on the precise wording of the question. Polls on 2010 elections aren't terribly certain, because the election is a year off. Polls on Obama's popularity don't necessarily show how much he can help other candidates.

One thing this election told us that could not have been learned from polls is that President Obama lacks clout. Even though he is personally popular, he failed in his effort to transfer his popularity to Dems in VA and NJ. His heavy involvement didn't move many voters.

Maybe it's time to retire the metaphor, which lets reporters vaguely suggest that things have changed without specifying how.

Amen.

One thing this election told us that could not have been learned from polls is that President Obama lacks clout.

I think that was the point of Brendan's post. Presidents never have the level of clout that the press assigns to them. This isn't unique to Obama.

In any case, this year's elections don't predict next years midterms any more than last year's elections predicted the results of this race.

Aside from the meaninglessness of the WSJ's metaphor, there the vagueness of the phrase "...isolated, off-year contests aren't always reliable indicators..."

Are off year contests sometimes a reliable indicator? How often are they reliable? What characteristics make them more or less reliable? Has their reliabillity changed over time?

I've read similar comments to the WSJ's in other places. My impression is that the writers are puposely vague, because they don't know much about the meaning of off year contests. This might be an opportunity for Brendan or one of his students to research the matter. It might lead to a publication.

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