Election day 2009, a cautionary note

Much will be made of the outcome of today’s elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and a single congressional district in New York. That’s natural. Political junkies crave election results. Tonight, for the first time in a year, they will get some. Thus, quite apart from those who are in the business or habit of spinning results, the junkie class will read more into the results than they should.
But two points should be kept in mind. First, the best evidence of how voters view President Obama and the Democratic Congress is not the outcome of two races for state office and a single congressional seat. This would be true even if anomalous circumstances didn’t prevail in New Jersey (a third party candidate) and New York (the Republican candidate endorsed the Democrat).
The best evidence consists of the poll numbers for Obama and Congress. They indicate that Obama and congressional Democrats are somewhere around the break-even point. These will remain the current realities regardless of what happens in today’s elections.
Second, the views of voters on election day 2009 don’t necessarily reflect what their views will be on election day 2010, when it really matters. If the economy rebounds strongly, the sentiment of voters a year from now may well be closer to the sentiment of a year ago when Republicans were trounced. If the economy is thought to be in the dumps, the Democrats will look back fondly on the state of play in November 2009.
If today’s election have any significance, beyond the possibility that they will boost GOP morale, it is because the political class probably has even less perspective than your average political junkie. Thus, Republican victories in the three high profile races, or even two of the three, might spook some Democrats into backing away from President Obama’s most controversial legislative initiatives.
It’s mainly for that reason that I’m eagerly awaiting today’s results.
UPDATE: Bill Otis makes this fair point:

One thing election results tell you better than polling is the intensity of voters’ feelings. This is why I’m pretty optimistic about tonight’s results, except for NJ (which I expect to be stolen in the ususal fashion, i.e., after the late “discovery” of ballots in Democratic strongholds such as Newark and the state’s graveyards, and a “recount” hijacked by the partisan and ultra-liberal NJ Supreme Court).
The intensity of feeling on our side is higher than at any time since 1980. Even in 1994 it wasn’t this high. People rightly believe that their freedom, their standard of living, and the basic strength of the country are in danger.

I question whether the intensity of conservatives is higher now than in 1994, but there’s no doubt that it’s high. And it doesn’t seem to be particularly high on the other side. In New Jersey, for example, I’ve heard anecdotal evidence suggesting that the unions may not be as geared up as normal. The dead may be, though.

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