As every single person in the U.S. who lives on the electrical grid knows, the polls are a mess. In a single day they can have the president up three points, down two or tied – all within the same demographic. Obama has 310 or 290 or 245 electoral votes but the election will still be decided by the House of Representatives unless there is a 300 percent turnout in Michigan. Oh vey!
The polls, whatever their worth, are either national in scope or they focus on the seven, ten, or 12 so-called swing or battleground states. The number of these states also swings almost daily but always includes Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. We get only the briefest glimpses at broad brush strokes about the other forty or so states. Could all of those polls rather than informing us about the election be actually obscuring an undercurrent that could change that election? Even worse, maybe that binocular vision is itself changing the election’s ultimate outcome.
Let’s suppose for a moment that there are undetected shifts going on in some preordained states. Take my state, Georgia, as a for-maybe. This is a solidly Red state but with a very large minority population in Atlanta and several other population centers. The President made a respectable showing here in 2008 but no one imagines he can win it this year. Still, while it is anecdotal, we are seeing some interesting stuff in my county – a Tea Party stronghold – among older white voters. They are expressing concern about their Medicare and Social Security and some outrage over the infamous 47 percent videotape. Is this elderly disquiet enough to turn Georgia into a horserace? Probably not, but how would we know?
Perhaps there are similar stirrings in solidly blue states. We see poles tightening in Ohio despite what seemed an overwhelming Obama margin only weeks ago. Maybe there are similar gains being made by Republicans in states the polls and the media are ignoring. Like Maryland for example where a gay marriage amendment might pull out otherwise politically disinterested values voters in this deep blue state at the same time that Romney is somehow managing to narrow the gender gap.
Now let’s suppose that both Republicans and Democrats in Georgia and Maryland are taking their respective positions for granted. Democrats are convinced they will lose the former and win the latter while the Republicans mirror these convictions. Therefore members of the respective parties maybe going through the motions, voting of course, but not going full throttle to win because they are either sure they will or sure they won’t.
Another factor is at play in the non-battleground states. I am in the Florida media market so am beneficiary or victim of the ad wars that are playing out there; ugly, accusatory, and largely untrue television spots that never, ever end. They are generating an intense loathing of the process, partisan anger than is ruining friendships, and a please-just-let-it-be-over attitude, all of which inhibit civil discussion. But in other parts of this state and in other vast stretches of uncontested America the absence of superpac money enables retail politics to proceed more normally. Candidates and canvassers are going door to door in those states, engaging voters who might not be sick to death of the spin and the partisanship and perhaps even amenable to reasonable discussion and actual persuasion.
This is both an opportunity and a trap. If both sides accept the common wisdom regarding their state and simply run out the clock then the status quo will prevail and the Red State/Blue State map will be preserved. If both sides rev up the troops and employ their arsenal of get-out-the vote strategy the same thing will happen, a zero sum game. But if the favored players rest on their laurels while the underdogs dig in and work their little tails off, an electoral majority can be lost – or won – right under the radar and the eyes of the polls.
So progressives, here’s the deal. Forget for the next two weeks that you are in an inevitable blue state or a red one. Pretend for a moment that those ubiquitous electoral maps portray your state as purple or yellow or tan. Of course you intend to vote, but what if you could convert one more person to your side? What if you got one disaffected Democrat to stop whining about third parties just long enough to vote? Can you convince one moderate Republican that his or her party is every bit as bad as he or she suspects it is?
You are sick of this campaign, everyone is, but it is only two more weeks so keep making those calls, ringing those bells, and making reasoned arguments to family and friends. If you have an extra five bucks buy a yard sign or give it to a worthy down-ballot candidate. Don’t lose a state you think is already won or fail to capture one you didn’t think you could.
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful and unifying thing if Obama not only won, but won states no one dreamed he could because all of the Republican and Democratic strategists; all of the pundits, pollsters, and experts forgot a simple fact. Every vote counts.