It's What You Can't See
Ben Domenech: Are we looking at an undertow election? He describes perfectly the feeling I've had since the Denver debate:
The polls are more sophisticated twelve years later, but they still can only tell us so much. And what they have to tell isn't the whole story. A wave election is something you can generally see coming, rising above the surface, crushing everything in its path. But an undertow election isn't something you can see. It pulls underneath the surface with sudden strength, sucking away a base of support thought to be reliable, the ground evaporating underneath you as you claw to stay afloat. It's maddening for campaigns when voters you had counted as baked in to your models decide they have something better to do on Tuesday. Bush experienced this because of a news story. The Obama campaign may be experiencing something similar now – which may explain their strategic flailing over the past few weeks.
But it goes deeper (no pun intended) than just that. The Tea Party, so visible in 2009 and 2010, has largely gone underground to work on GOTV and real grassroots, nuts'n'bolts political operations. It matured away from pep rallies and the like with remarkable speed, thanks to big assists from FreedomWorks and to the remarkable acuity of some of its leaders. Tea Party voters are, I can tell you from many firsthand accounts, probably the least likely to respond to pollsters.
The polls also have a hard time making numbers out of "broken glass voters." These are folks who (like me) voted for Bob Barr four years ago, or held their nose and grudgingly voted for McCain, or just stayed home. This year they'd crawl naked over broken glass to vote against Obama. There are even a few BGV types who voted for Obama last time around. They can also be filed under "Won't Get Fooled Again." They feel betrayed, and rightly so.
Let's not forget the few principled civil libertarians on the left. They were all kinds of enthused by Obama's promised to be Not-Bush on foreign policy. Circa 300 drones strikes later, and they aren't quite so enthused anymore. While we're at it, let's rub Gitmo and expanded wiretapping into that wound, shall we?
So it's safe to say that there are two undercurrents in this election. One is from the center and towards Romney. The other is from the left and away from Obama. There is no current -- none -- moving in Obama's direction. The only reason this is a race at all, is Blue State Lock-In. The ruined husks of CA, IL, NY and others are safely blue and carry lots of electoral college votes. It will take a wave, not an undercurrent, to paint them red -- a wave which might just come in 2016 if a President Romney can govern in his first term like Reagan did in his.