John McCain isn’t really closing in this race. Over the past three weeks, Obama’s lead has oscillated wildly (massively!) between between 5.5 and 8 points. His current average RCP lead is 6.2%, which is right in the middle of that range and about as high as he ever was at any point before our entire financial system crashed.
But McCain has done one thing more successfully than anything else since he announced Sarah Palin as his running mate – sold the narrative that the race will inevitably tighten for him, and that any result which shows a closer race is evidence of a trend, no matter how fleeting or random the result is. The worst example (of the morning) is this article from Florida Today, entitled “Poll gives McCain lead in Fla. early voting”. It would be fine, except that there’s another poll, referenced in the same piece, which shows Barack Obama destroying the holy hell out of McCain in early voting.
A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll gave McCain a 49-45 lead over Democrat Barack Obama among Floridians who have already voted.
Only a tiny fraction of the Florida respondents reported voting early, leaving McCain’s lead subject to a wide margin of error. A Quinnipiac University poll, released Wednesday, showed early voters favoring Obama 58-34, another small sample with a potentially wide margin of error.
Why would you favor one poll showing a statistical tie as showing a lead when another poll shows a massive blowout in the other direction? Because that’s the narrative!
Howard Fineman wonders why this race is still so close, and why McCain hasn’t been “put away” yet, which would be a great story if McCain had a single real poll from this month ever showing him ahead, or if Obama hadn’t had a winning margin in the Electoral College for, you know, weeks. The issue isn’t Obama not putting McCain away – the issue is that nobody will write that story for fear of being “unfair” and ending the race, meaning the only story left is how Obama may fail.
The other strange part of this narrative is that this Dick Morris article is an article of faith among those covering this campaign. If undecideds were going to break for Obama, they would have (which, of course, makes no sense, because you could make the exact same argument in McCain’s direction). It all goes to the same story, though – Obama, whether or not he’s actually closed this race out, will never be said to have done so, because it renders McCain’s campaign (and therefore the entirety of election coverage) as dead as a doorknob.
Obama’s being faulted for a structural deficiency in media coverage of the presidential campaign, and McCain hailed because there has to be some reason that a race Obama’s had won for weeks isn’t yet a “victory”. Just wait until Zogby produces that Monday poll showing an exact tie…my friends.