It is a little less than two months before the election and pundits are having a terrific time. Nearly every day we hear about a "game-changing" moment and new declarations that the "election is over." Whether it is a foreign affairs event like the recent violence in the Middle East or another verbal slip by one of the candidates, the headlines jump to declare momentum shifts.
The reality is that there is still a race. It is far from over. So far, we have had political party pep rallies, negative advertising, snippets of leaked off-camera dialog, meaningless rhetoric, and mountains full of fiction being passed along as facts but we have had little that resembles substance. The incumbent has to defend his record of performance and explain how four more years will be different/better than what we have seen so far. The challenger has to explain what he will do differently if he gets elected. So far, neither party has made much of an effort to do what I described above though the Romney campaign has fallen further from the mark. The Economist, a weekly magazine that clearly leans conservative, has called the Romney/Ryan ticket to task on their lack of transparency and the fact that they have not made their positions clear.
So here are a few thoughts on what can we expect going forward:
(1) Swing states: Voters in swing states will be flooded with negative advertising while the rest of America will be mostly ignored. Due to the flaws in our Electoral College, most Americans won't have much of a say in selecting the president but at least voters in swing states have enough of the candidates' attention to demand some substance in their messages. Polls matter, so people being polled should express a desire for content.
(2) Presidential debate: If the format allows for more than simple soundbites then it is possible that there can be some meaningful discussion. This is not an impossible dream. The third presidential debate in 2008, though far from ideal, allowed for some meaningful discussion. Let's push for a format that creates the opportunity for dialog between the candidates.
(3) Media: TV and radio pundits will jump and shout. They are paid to do so. We shouldn't take them too seriously but rather should focus on what more objective analysts identify. Personally, I enjoy reading Nate Silver's column and playing around with my own scenarios of which states go which direction.
(4) Fact checking: There are countless rumors spread across Facebook, Twitter and other online sites. Before you nod your head because a rumor completely reaffirms your preconceived notions or reject something entirely because it disagrees with what you "feel in your gut," see if a more objective fact checking site has examined the claim. Some sites you can use include: factcheck.org, opensecrets.org, snopes.com, truthorfiction.com, hoaxslayer.com and politifact.com
(5) Independent voters: Only a small percent of our voting population are truly independent voters (disgruntled party loyalists who would never cross party lines are not independent voters). Candidates usually try to find the happy balance between rallying their base while not being labeled extremists who will turn off independent voters. That balance will not be found this election.
(6) Getting out the vote: Romney's choice of Paul Ryan, with his unambiguous conservative positions on issues like social programs and women's rights, has served to rally the base of both parties while Romney is busy denying his previous moderate positions. Both candidates will be pressing to get maximum turnout. The Obama camp left many young and minority voters disenchanted these last few years. They will try to generate enough fear of an ulta-conservative Romney government that these important voting blocks will show up in 2008-like numbers. Meanwhile the Romney campaign will continue to shout words like "socialist" to draw Americans into fears of an Obama-driven nanny state.
(7) Lack of transparency: The Romney campaign has dug in their heels on not releasing previous tax records or clarification on some of his shakier claims such as living in his son's basement in 2010 or his exact role in Bain. Romney either (a) does not want to start releasing details for fear of looking indecisive or pandering or (b) is actually hiding something. While the media and public should keep clamoring for more details on both candidates and to demand an equal level of transparency, I expect that we won't see much more information voluntarily released though we may see some interesting leaks. This lack of transparency will serve as great pundit fodder before, during and after the election as they try to assess whether or not this secrecy was the right strategy.
It's only September. There is a lot more time left in this campaign season. I plan to continue monitoring the news, watching to the debates, following the polls and ignoring most pundits as I am convinced that the reports of the Romney campaign's death have been greatly exaggerated.
Regardless of what the polls currently predict, I encourage people to stay involved and informed. America is stuck with its anti-democratic Electoral College once again but please don't let the media, the electoral process, barriers to voting, or our limited set of voting options dissuade you from voting. Millions of people around the world have died for this right, so please let's use that right and use it in an informed manner.