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Richard Brodsky

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Obama Is Ahead/Behind: When Polls Lose Meaning

Posted: 06/21/2012 5:08 pm

It's been a bad couple of weeks for Obama, right? Job data, European financial meltdown, Romney's raising a lot of cash, Holder's in contempt. All the objective data that underlies the opinions of the chattering class was headed in the wrong direction.

So what's the impact? A Bloomberg poll showing him up 13 percentage points among likely voters, with measurable leads in swing states sufficient to re-elect him. What's a boy to do?

Well, you can't ignore the data, polling has to mean some damn thing, right? And you certainly can't let the one result, out of step as it is with the others, change the narrative on what's going on in the country.

A better explanation is that given the limitations of polling, they're all correct and all meaningless. We may be in an election cycle where almost everybody has made up his or her mind, and we all should take the rest of the year off. No matter what answers you get on polling questions, the pro- and anti-Obama camps are fixed in concrete and there's going to be very little change over the next four and a half months.

The reasons are not complicated. The narrow and narrowing slice of Americans who vote are more intensely engaged than the country as a whole. If jobs, or abortion, or Israel, or the 1%, or gay marriage matter to you, you know what's happening and you know who's likely to get your vote. Is there really anyone left who looks at Romney or Obama and can't make up his or her mind?

The benefit is that no matter how deeply we care, we can take the summer off, and probably much of the fall. Watching Romney struggle to get back to the middle and Obama attempt to blame the Republicans for the stagnant economy will seem like sitcom situations. Woe to those who live in a swing state and like to watch television.

But there will come a time, around the 15th of October when the scales will drop off our eyes, when the collective consciousness will come alive and we will grasp how much is at stake on November 6. This election really matters, and we will shake off our lethargy and engage for two intense weeks, when the polls will shift and move and the news will have an impact and the reasons why American democracy functions will again become apparent. But for now, Obama's ahead/behind.

 

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