It’s foggy and cool out here on the Left Coast today–slightly rare for September–but it rather matches the opaque outlook of the fall campaign. Others here and elsewhere have noted the methodological defects of the current spate of polls showing Obama in the lead, but quite beyond whether the samples are wrong, this seems intuitively impossible. (Though today’s Washington Post poll, with an unlikely GOP sample of only 23 percent of likely voters, showing the race essentially tied seems much more plausible.) How could Obama possibly have gotten a bounce out of that turd of an acceptance speech? Maybe it really does owe to Bill Clinton’s tour de force. True, it was typical, egregious Clinton. But as the great Fred Siegel used to point out to me back in the 1990s, whenever Clinton gave one of his Castroesque State-of-the-Union speeches, while the pundits of the mainstream media would criticize it for being too long and just a laundry list of small-ball items, Clinton almost always got a five-point bounce in his approval ratings right after. And Clinton gave a much better defense of the case for Obama than Obama did himself.
Still, how is it possible that Obama could be leading with economic numbers (and gasoline prices—hello?) this dismal? Jay Cost has argued for months that no one gets re-elected with these numbers.
There are other anomalies of this story. Republicans are thought to have a good chance of winning the United States Senate. True, these are “state-by-state” races, sometimes uncoupled from the presidential race, but the GOP seems solidly positioned to keep a House majority, too, and with ticket-splitting on the decline over the last two decades it seems unlikely that the GOP would command the House and not win the presidency, too.
Maybe there are some underground facts things the polls are catching. Is Romney’s Mormonism a lingering problem with some evangelicals? Maybe (and I still expect a vicious whispering campaign from liberals—maybe it is already under way). On the other hand, I would think that Obama’s “evolved” position on gay marriage would be a handicap with many parishioners in theologically conservative black churches. There is some evidence that George W. Bush skimmed off some black votes in 2004 with his opposition to gay marriage in those states (like Ohio) where the issue was on the ballot that year. Is the Romney team trying to exploit this?
John and others wonder whether the calculus of the welfare state is tipping inexorably in favor of liberalism. Perhaps. It may also be, as a couple of commenters have mentioned, that this reflects the bitter harvest of the steady radicalizing of higher education since the 1960s. Jean Yarbrough writes in the introduction to her splendid forthcoming book on Theodore Roosevelt (I’ll have more to say about this book on its official pub date, September 20) that one explanation for TR’s progressive views is that “he never encountered a thoughtful treatment of American political principles in college or law school.” What was true for TR in the late 19th century is even more true—almost exclusively true—of higher education today. It’s not just that Obama was marinated in the radicalism of higher education today, but by now so have two complete generations of students. Many ignore or outgrow it in adulthood, but many don’t.
One additional factor has me puzzled. Some months ago I heard the economic historian John Steele Gordon (who is decidedly NOT a fan of the Obamanation) predict that if Romney wins in November, there’d be a historic rally on the stock market starting the next day. The trouble with this view is that the stock market, as a forward indicator, would probably price in the Obama defeat before election day. But wait—the market has been rallying nicely over recent weeks, and is approaching a new high. This, in the face of slowing corporate earnings growth and a slowdown in Europe and China. Is it rising because of politics? Is the Obama-defeat rally starting already? I know a lot of people watch InTrade, which give Obama a slight advantage, but the stock market is better in my view—real money for the long term.
Now, lot of things drive stock market moves, and I tend to think the dominant driver right now is excess liquidity and low interest rates. The flood of money from central bank easings has to go somewhere, and with interest rates at zero, a lot of it is going to go into stocks—another version of blowing up a new bubble to repair the housing bubble that was purposely blown up to repair the tech bubble. (Nice going, Fed.) So this may well end just as badly as the last two bubbles. Still, it is curious to watch the stock market right now, rallying in the face of the political uncertainty (fiscal cliff, tax policy void, etc) right now. Bears watching. And not just by bears.