Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Myth of 1948

Every major national poll shows Obama leading McCain by at least three points, and the ones with the methodologies I trust the most show him up by even more. John McCain says don't be deceived; the polls are wrong just like they were in 1948.

“When I pull this thing off, I have a request for my opponent,” John McCain said at a rally [in New Mexico Saturday]. “I want him to save that manuscript of his inaugural address and donate it to the Smithsonian, so they can put it right next to the Chicago paper that says ‘Dewey defeats Truman.’”

Let's set aside for a moment the fact that that manuscript does not actually exist, but was merely a public literary device from a Democrat unaffiliated with Obama's campaign months ago. The Washington Post explains the Truman reference, and joins McCain in questioning whether or not the polls are accurate:

Could the polls be wrong? Sen. John McCain and his allies say that they are. The country, they say, could be headed to a 2008 version of the famous 1948 upset election, with McCain in the role of Harry S. Truman and Sen. Barack Obama as Thomas E. Dewey, lulled into overconfidence by inaccurate polls.

I would suggest that Senator McCain and the Post staff bone up a little on their recent American history. The 1948 polls that showed Dewey ahead of Truman were actually accurate. The problem was that pollsters stopped polling a week ahead of election day, and Truman's barnstorming whistle-stop tour around the country lambasting the "do nothing" Congress all week had a huge impact.

It's vital to remember: polls don't predict what will happen in an election several days or weeks down the line; they only tell you what would happen if the election were held at the time the poll was in the field. The Tribune headline got the story wrong in 1948 because it relied on out-of-date polls, not because those polls were wrong. A week prior to Election Day, Dewey WOULD have defeated Truman. But things change.

In 2008, out-of-date polls is the absolute last of our worries. Barring a severe backlash from tonight's infomercial or maaaybe Osama bin Laden's capture, Senator Obama will win this race and handily so; if not in a popular vote landslide, then certainly in an electoral bath.


James said...

The more I read your posts, the more I like you. Excellent post.

The only way McCain can win is if the Republicans steal a third election in a row. And I don't put that past them trying to do so.

Nathan Empsall said...

Aw, thanks, James! That's really reaffirming to hear. :)

I'm not too worried about this election being stolen... it would take too massive an attempt in too many states, there's no way anyone could pull that off.

Jordan said...

We will see.

Nathan Empsall said...

Well, sure, I could be wrong. If McCain finds a message as effective in as many places as Truman's for the last week, he could do the same thing. But it wasn't the polls then, and it's not the polls now. That's my main point. Even if he wins, it doesn't mean the polls were wrong.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Thanks. I just saw a replay of Obamas halfhour of reminding all of us who we REALLY are...enough already with the´s clearly time to honor one another and work toward loving thy neighbor...not exploiting thy neighbor...loving thy neighbor both at home and abroad.

Thank you

Fred Schwartz said...

There is an effect known as the "Bradley Effect" which could have a ma negative impact on the election. It is where those who would not really vote for a person of color say just the opposite until they get into the booth. McPain and Falin are pressing this issue through their campaign tactics and so the fact remains Obama could lose. 6 points could easily be made up from this impact. We need to keep the pressure on until the election is over.

Nathan Empsall said...

Fred, I'm aware of the Bradley effect, but I can't say I believe it. I'm not particularly familiar with Bradley's race in California, but I know that Wilder in Virginia actually performed about where he was polling; the Republican, however, overperformed because of a masterful GOTV campaign.

Obama's primary results were generally in line with the primary polls once the weighting was corrected to reflect actual turnout. I imagine the Bradley effect might be strong in some parts of the country, but generally I think it's overhyped. That is not to say, however, that I think we can grow complacent, I certainly agree with you about the pressure.

Giovanni said...

Barring... maaaybe Osama bin Laden's capture

Thanks a bunch, now you've given them the idea.