Thursday, October 23, 2008

Have we been here before?

Let's face it, we're impatient. We want to know what's going to happen. We don't want to wait. It's comforting to know (or at least think we know) what's ahead. We think we need to prepare ourselves for the outcome.

There are entire industries based on this very aspect of human nature. We've got news prognosticators, economists, odds-makers and weathermen (the kind on TV, not the underground kind who selflessly seek to reform education for the underprivileged through pipe bombs). There are even people who expect to be paid in order to look at your palm and tell you a dark, mysterious stranger will soon cross your path. These people exist solely to tell us what the future holds.

This presidential election is certainly no exception. Everyone wants to know what is going to happen on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (or as ACORN calls it, cigarette and dollar day in Ohio).

I'm equally qualified to read your palm or predict the score of MSU vs UM this week (State 31, Michigan 20) as I am to see the outcome of McCain vs Obama. The fact is I don't know. Nobody does. All anyone can do is look to the past for similarities and project based on that outcome.

Here's what I think with less than two weeks to go.

First of all, I don't see any similarities between today and 1992. George HW Bush was fighting a two-front war against Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. Bush found himself defending the economy (which was boom town compared to today) while not being able to tell a reporter what a gallon of milk cost. Ten days out, the polls were heavily in Clinton's corner. Pat Robertson went on the 700 Club and announced that God told him Bush would win. In the end Perot siphoned enough votes to give Clinton a victory with less than 50% of the votes cast in his favor.

We all know Clinton took his victory, combined with Democratic control of both houses as a mandate. He raised taxes (retroactively, by the way), sent his wife out on a double-secret mission to create government health care, and proceeded to welcome in the Republican Revolution of 1994.

I have also heard people comparing this election to 1996. Republicans nominated safe and steady Bob Dole to combat a yet-to-be-impeached Bill Clinton. Dole never got closer than nine points or so in the polls. Ten Days out, the polls were showing a double-digit Clinton lead. Dole predicted a strong finish. Republicans prayed for rain on election day. Clinton pulled another less than 50% vote victory. The final tally was an eight-point win.

Where I see a similarity to today is the GW Bush vs Al Gore election of 2000, but with the parties switched. With ten days to go, the overriding feeling was that W was really taking it to Gore. He was out-spending, out-polling and being out-"misunderestimated." The polls showed Gore with a 6-7 point deficit. The Friday before election day, Drudge posted that it was looking like a George Bush landslide.

Gore campaigned sleeplessly the entire weekend flying from rally to rally in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio at all hours of the night and day. That effort (combined with the famous 20-year-old GW Bush DWI story) literally closed a 5-6 point deficit. The outcome, of course, was the closest election in history. Election night turned into election month. Dem's fumed over the fact that Gore won the popular vote, but lost it in the electoral college.

So, the bottom line? I don't know what's going to happen. I do know it's not over. I also know the herd-mentality polling out there is different from what the candidates believe is going on. It could be a long election night (month?).

I hope Obama left his reservation for the Grant Park victory party open-ended.


Steve said...

I've not seen any of the pollsters tracking this, but over the last decade, a U of M victory in the MSU/UM games, has been predictive of a Republican victory in the presidential election. I'm wondering if you should be quietly pulling for the Blue Weasels on Saturday . . .

Jay said...

Now, Steve-

I'm all for saving the country from the economic tailspin caused by putting a tax and spender in the White House, but there's only so far that I'm willing to go.

Steve said...

You are too humble to point it out yourself, so I'll note that you were spot on with your prediction; MSU 35, UM 21.