Today I’m feeling a bit theoretical. Maybe because it’s Friday, who knows? But actually I’ve been cooking up this theory for several weeks now. There’s nothing scientific about it. This is based on a sense that I get from the overall mood of those around me and what I consider interesting trends that seem to be reinforced every day. Call it a hunch, maybe even personal bias, but I believe that this country and the major media outlets are in for a shock on election day. I believe the outcome will either be very, very close, closer than any election in our history, or will end up as a big win for McCain. By “big win” I mean McCain takes the traditional red states including Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Ohio; and additionally wins New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and possibly wins close races in Minnesota, Michigan, Oregon and Washington. Is this my own partisan bias? Not likely, since I am hardly a partisan. But I admit that my conservative blinders may be affecting my objective thought, which is why I say this is a non-scientific observation. Nonetheless, I see things this election cycle that I haven’t seen before which, in a nutshell, is a hesitancy among people to admit that they either support McCain or don’t support Obama.
I’ve had friends recently ask me, with some concern, what I think about the polls. If you believe what you see then basically Obama wins in a landslide, taking all the aforementioned states. The question is: Does anyone actually believe that? My answer to those friends is that I get the sense that people are angry right now and many are taking it out on the GOP, especially when a pollster asks the question. But inside the privacy of the voting booth it will be different, and many people will be unwilling to allow their anger to cast a risky vote, making it very difficult to punch Obama’s name. If Barack Obama were a moderate Democrat then the answer would be yes. And let’s face it, a moderate Dem in our current environment would slaughter any GOP challenger. If the Dems had nominated Hillary (hardly a moderate, but seen by many as such), or Richardson this thing wouldn’t even be close. But they didn’t. Instead, the Dems have once again nominated a far-Left candidate along the lines of Kerry, except this time the candidate is far-Left with extremist economic policy, foreign policy, questionable associations and virtually no prior political record. Contrast that with McCain, a man who is well-known as a centrist and someone that can be trusted with the people’s money. Folks, this is a center-right country and McCain is a center-right candidate opposing a radical Left candidate. Am I to believe that Obama wins in a landslide? That would mean an incredibly sudden and dramatic shift in the American political landscape that would be historic and that I simply don’t think is likely to happen.
I noticed something during the debate the other night. When McCain said “I am not President Bush…” there was a subtle spattering of applause from the audience. This is rare in a debate and the first time it’s happened this year. I had to rewind the TiVo to be sure of what I heard, but it was there. The audience that promised no outbursts actually applauded this line, and in the past two days of debate analysis it has been this line that has gotten the most attention. Why? I believe it’s because people simply don’t buy the assertion that McCain is another Bush. Again, people know McCain, they are familiar with his record and the vast majority of folks see him as I see him, a centrist. They don’t think McCain is what Obama tells us, and this is a problem for Obama because it’s basically the foundation of his entire campaign of change. If he can’t convince people that McCain equals a Bush third term then he loses his role as the only “candidate for change” and has nothing to stand on but his thin record of far-Left principles.
So what about the polls? I’ve had my own theory on that and yesterday I read this column by Jonathan Morris describing his experiences nationwide. It’s very interesting. McCain supporters are apparently hesitant to be vocal about their support for him, or perhaps their unwillingness to support Obama. Morris asks: Would you be willing to stand in front of a divided crowd and tell them that you will vote for McCain? I get the sense that many would not. Why? Well, I think it’s because this is a Dem year. The GOP has become the focus of anger and mistrust in a truly unique political environment. Voting for them isn’t the “in” thing. And in this campaign McCain has defended himself against subtle accusations of racism, war mongering, grouchiness, and erratic absent-mindedness. Standing with him carries the risk of similar accusations hurled your way. And the “general consensus” is that the Dems are better on economic matters, thus a vote for them is good for you economically while a vote for the GOP suggests a degree of naïve subservience. It’s like what Marx described as “false consciousness” at a different level, so when pollsters ask they may not be getting truthful answers since no one wants to appear naïve or self-detrimental. Morris described a group of GOP ground-pounders who say repeatedly that they go to people’s doors, get a “wink” of support, but then are turned down when they ask to put a McCain sign in the yard. We saw this in 2004 to some extent. Remember the excitement in the Kerry camp when the exit polls showed him winning handily, yet the actual vote count was dramatically different? At the time, the media brushed it off as faulty exit polling techniques, but I think there is more to it. Many Americans just seem to vote differently than they may want to admit. I find this fascinating.
Let me give my own little example. Even here in the conservative stronghold of Texas I see something similar. As recent as three weeks ago, in the midst of the economic meltdown, there wasn’t a single McCain sign on my street. I live in a conservative neighborhood in a conservative city. Why no signs? So, as I said before, for the first time in my life I planted a sign in my yard, not as a challenge but simply to show my support. Something impressive happened. Within a period of two weeks, four other signs appeared on my street, all McCain. Did I have something to do with this? I don’t know, but I find the timing a bit odd. Is it possible that even my neighbors on a street of about 20 homes in a conservative stronghold were reluctant to show their support fearing that they may be the only one, concerned about how their neighbors may view them? If so, certainly my neighborhood isn’t alone, especially when you consider some of the states that show Obama leading. When is the last time states like Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri and Florida voted Liberal? Yes, some of them went for Clinton but Obama is hardly another Clinton.
And when I look at the polls I’m frankly surprised that they are so close. Again, a moderate Dem would probably have a 20 point lead right now, but Obama is having some serious trouble closing the deal. There is no explanation for this other than the fact that voters simply don’t trust him, that they are uncomfortable with him and I think that’s because he is just too far Left for the average American. I think the folks want to vote Democrat, but it will be simply too much to vote for Obama.
The shame of it all – if my prediction holds – is that the Left will blame racism as the cause. I just don’t buy it. In a time where conservatives adore people like Condi Rice, Michael Steele, Clarence Thomas, Lynn Swann and, to some extent, Colin Powell, it’s hard for me to accept the notion that Americans will vote based solely on race in a large enough extent to sway a national election. Plus, if someone were truly voting on racial grounds, I don’t think they’d have a problem telling a random pollster that they will vote for McCain. True racists aren’t exactly ashamed of their thoughts. But ask someone who trends center-right, is angry at republicans, and sees the pollster as a vent for that anger and you may be more likely to get a protest “vote” for Obama that won’t play out when it counts. That is my prediction. No matter what the polls show I think this election will either be a late-night squeaker or will end up being a near-landslide shocker for McCain. America may be ready for a Democrat president, but I don’t think it’s ready for an ultra-Liberal.