There's a lot of interesting stuff in this Steve Kornacki piece about whether or not Obama could eke out re-election despite the shitty economy, just because Republicans are hated that much. I think it's a compelling argument; usually the number one factor in elections is that Americans are incredibly ignorant, on average, about politics and where the parties stand on certain issues, and therefore swing voters just tend to vote yes or no on incumbents depending on their perception of how things are doing right now. But once in a blue moon, things get so out of control in this world that swing voters actually pay attention, and it's possible that the combination of the crisis situation this country is in and the craziness of the Tea Party could tip the scales.
But what I really want to highlight from all this is the reminder that the percentage of people who can swing an election is teeny-tiny. Most people's votes are set in stone before the candidate is even selected. People forget this, because lots of voters call themselves "moderates" or "independents", but those designations usually mean "partisan but have absorbed the toxic notion that there's something wrong about being partisan, so I'm going to pretend that my vote is up for grab, even though it's not, because I like deluding myself that I'm open-minded". That's a widespread phenomenon in the U.S. In fact, social science demonstrates that Americans are generally quicker to paint a rosier picture of themselves according to certain social standards than people in many other countries, for reasons that are still a little hazy.
And to make it worse, the very small number of people whose votes are up for grabs are pretty much the polar opposite of the thoughtful citizen who has an open mind and spends the weeks before the election somberly reading up on the candidates before making a well-informed, well-considered opinion. Swing voters tend to be the most ignorant ones, which is probably why they manage to keep voting for Republicans, in between voting for Democrats, even though they basically never like the results of voting Republican. The truth of the matter is that someone who actually pays a lot of attention to politics is going to become a partisan, and there's no shame in that. It'd be like following sports or music intently without ever developing opinions about any teams or bands.
Not to say that all this blogging and analysis and campaigning and whatnot is a waste. On the contrary! I think that the lesson to be taken from all this is that politics isn't a short term game, and people need to stop looking at it as if it was. People poo-poo all these efforts because they matter little from one electoral cycle to the next, but they matter a lot when you're looking at one electoral cycle to the one 5 or 6 cycles from now. Capturing allies and changing minds is a long, hard struggle, but slow, steady work can get us there.