On the weekend before the election, it feels it is going President Obama’s way. My own sense of how it ends, made earlier this week, is only an educated guess. The inside-the-Beltway crowd insists the election is a close contest. The savants in the newspapers and on television assert that the election is a near standoff between an aroused Tea party financed by this century’s version of robber barons and the presumably more sophisticated Obama ground game. That is a simple narrative that might prove imprecise. After all, the Tea party derived its sweep in the 2010 midterm elections from a smaller and therefore different electorate.
In 2010, about 91 million people voted – 38 million less than the 129 million who voted in 2008 when Obama won by almost 10 million votes. It seems it would take less effort among Obama supporters to generate as many Tea party voters. So the worry about lagging enthusiasm among Obama’s supporters that the pundits fuss over probably is not as appropriate as they surmise. Obama would have to lose close to 100 percent of his winning 2008 margin and suffer other desertions from his ranks to lose the election – ranks that have grown naturally, too. It could happen, of course.
Since figures and numbers surrounding the election are critical – like the incessant cascade of polls that mercifully will stop this weekend and like this morning’s unemployment report that showed the economy added more jobs than expected – so, too, are lower gas prices, increased employment in the swing states and increased consumer spending and confidence and a rising stock market. These developments most likely formed the anti-matter that held down the energy of Mitt Romney’s rise after the debacle in Denver. Even the hefty particle of Gov. Chris Christie’s self-serving hovering over Obama two days ago amidst the aftermath of the hurricane in New Jersey is adding to the changing nature of the election.
Perhaps the political-electronic establishment is right, and the voters might yet rise up and sweep Romney into office. But I do not think so, partly because Romney has not engendered trust. And the established media – caught up in shouting matches and having to feed their addiction to polls no matter from what fly-by-night outfit – proved incapable of discerning any compelling narrative of the election. In fact, the media enabled campaign strategists to turn the election into a campaign about small things – generating a cacophony that prevented them from discovering the election’s true story, a tale that in any case most reporters are not equipped to perceive much less report about with much depth.
At the core of the unreported drama is a generational and cultural shift of immense proportions – which is why the obsession with Ohio is misplaced. A byproduct of an earlier era in the political history of the country, Ohio is not a microcosm of the nation. No, it is not. Ohio is relevant because it is projected to be electorally important, not because it reveals a proper account of what is going on anywhere else. The rest of the country is in demographic turmoil compared to Ohio. The ruckus over Ohio is about a state that is actually bucking the trend – supporting Obama by a higher margin than most of the states around it, except for Illinois, Obama’s home state. At least it seemed that way until another set of contradictory polls came out yesterday. Who is tracking the trackers?
We got a hint of the more relevant story when some pundits began to consider the claim made by Latino Decisions, a polling organization in Seattle, that Romney’s standing among the electorate probably is inflated to some degree. Latino Decisions argues that polling organizations often do not include the fair number of HIspanicLatino voters to their national modeling that would make for a true representative sample. Two cable networks briefly referenced the story but most political reporters shy away from pursuing complicated stories and stories that they do not feel fall within their wheelhouse. And since so few HispanicLatino journalists are part of the national punditry, a rather important national story goes begging that if true augurs a different result than the tightening polls suggest.
If the national polls are off by only 1.5 percent is a far more important political event than whether Obama carries Ohio. A 1.5-percent shift in the final tally could represent as many as 1,500,000 HispanicLatino voters and would imply that other newly important states – Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico – trump the media’s traditional concentration with Ohio – a state that President Gore and President Kerry also obsessed over because they and their advisors, like the national media, did not understand that as the year 2000 dawned so had a new chapter in the history of the nation.
The growing HispanicLatino population from year to year will force pundits and pollsters alike to take more serious account of the new narrative, making sure also to include other HispanicLatinos more capable than some of the ones recruited to report on this year’s election who themselves do not comprehend the entirety of the new story. For the moment, good job numbers, increasing consumer-spending numbers, rising confidence-in-the-economy numbers, and steady gas prices – combined with possibly better HispanicLatino numbers for Obama than in 2008 – are the winning formula – unless the people surprise and decide otherwise.
Jesse Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.