PLAUSIBILITY, OR: NORTH DAKOTA?

The American public has the long-term memory of a fruit fly desperately trying to escape from a blazing bong. It is also, as we are all aware, light on facts. These two things, combined with a healthy dose of denial among half the population, leads to some very curious interpretations of what is or is not plausible in the context of this election.

It has become very fashionable lately for polling numbers to be rejected out of hand because, well, obviously the results are ridiculous. Montana? North Carolina? Georgia? North Dakota? Pffffft. That's retarded. Anything which puts Obama ahead, or even competitive, in those states surrenders credibility immediately.

When did the 2000/2004 incarnation of the electoral map become the alpha and omega of American political geography? Maybe, just maybe, there was a constant in those races (Our Leader) and two opponents who had limited appeal. In 1996 – as if ancient history like twelve years ago could ever be relevant! – Clinton/Gore won states in the deep south and 51% of the vote in West Virginia, where Obama's recent polling competitiveness has been the subject of mockery. The Democrats also carried Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico in that race, proving more than competitive in the mountain west. Bob Dole won South Dakota that year – by 3%. Raise your hand if you realized any of this. The point is that it wasn't all that long ago that the states we now definitively classify as "red" or "blue" were competitive – not quite the Verdun-like fortresses of partisanship they are now made out to be.

Montana? Can Obama really be competitive in Montana? Well, Montana has a Democratic Governor (Brian Schweitzer, a finalist in the VP search), two Democratic Senators (Max Baucus and future leadership-appointee Jon Tester), and a Democratic majority in the State Senate. Frankly, I'd be more suspicious if the polls indicated that Obama had no shot. Is he the favorite? No. Are polls showing the state to be competitive completely off base? Up to you, but it does not appear to be an outlandish idea.

North Dakota? Two Democratic Senators and a Democrat in its At-Large House district. Bill Clinton had some traction there. Again, you'd be foolish to call Vegas and put money on Obama, but a poll indicating competitiveness shouldn't be rejected out of hand.

North Carolina and Virginia both have huge African-American populations and young, growing populations overall. Northern Virginia and the Research Triangle aren't exactly backwoods GOP country. Warner is winning his VA Senate race in a laugher (after a narrow win by Jim Webb in 2006). It's not much of a stretch to see a weak GOP Presidential candidate struggling, or even trailing, in these environments.

We will know the outcome of this election for certain in just 11 days, but pieces of data suggesting that our electoral map won't look like 2004 aren't cause for skepticism. The Bush years are over. Anyone who lived through them is likely to have a hard time believing that. But it's true. We respond differently as a nation to different candidates and, as McCain is quick to remind you, George W. Bush isn't running. Compare 1984 to 1996, 1996 to 2000. You'll see significant differences. Hell, 20 years ago California was GOP country and West Virginia was one of the mere eight states that Michael Fucking Dukakis won. What you see in 2008 simply isn't going to look like 2004, regardless of who wins. Different times, different issues, different voters, and different candidates. If a Democrat can get elected to Congress in rural Utah and Hawaii chooses a female Jewish Republican Governor, there aren't too many things that should be considered geographically implausible in American politics.

11 thoughts on “PLAUSIBILITY, OR: NORTH DAKOTA?”

  • Ed, thank you for that most eloquent of bitch-slappings. I am curious, though, to hear your explanation of why Indiana (which, I would argue is usually one of those electoral certainties) is now so competitive.

  • I have no information to back this up. Nonetheless, Indiana's economy was based firmly on manufacturing, and there are still a lot of blue collar-type people in Indiana as a result. As you can imagine, the manufacturing sector has been annihilated, and there are a lot of blue collar people who are not happy with Reaganomics and have been devastated economically. I think maybe blue collar people and average folk have finally woke the fuck up, are motivated to vote, and recognize that the Democratic party supports them and the Republican party does not.

    Then again, there are a lot of blue collar type people who identify with Republican "values" (Jesus rules, guns rule, and hating colored folk), yet don't understand Republican economic policy doesn't benefit them. So, who knows?!?

    Indiana is the 15th most populous state (big urban centers like Indy and Chicagoland), and perhaps a bunch of people registered to vote that support the Democratic Party. I think there is motivation to vote Democratic this election, especially for those who have been fucked over by Republican policy or are Anti-Bush, and there is not the same type of motivation to vote Republican.

  • I wonder if it would make a huge difference if lil george could run. he's pretty unpopular at the moment, but he can smile convincingly. and raise his arms.

  • It will be interesting to see what it will look like on Nov. 5. Also what will happen if this election gets stolen again and will the sheeple stand still for it again. I can only hope that Obama gets way more votes than McSame can steal.

  • Even honest people may not know themselves well enough to be accurate in self-representation — they say one thing (whatever they think they SHOULD think) and then vote out of fear or gut reaction. Especially those who don't consider themselves racist, but are, deep down, too chicken to vote for a black man. Other black men running well in the polls failed in the booths. Sad, stupid, and true.

    Most Americans don't know the difference between debt and deficit, or anything about trade, finance, etc. This leads them to vote on ethereal things, like morality, because THAT, they know. Or think they do, since their notions of morality were formed in childhood and locked in a box marked Do Not Disturb.

    Also, we'll see how many young people, low-wage earners, unemployed folks, and other more marginalized elements actually pull the lever.

  • I have a long write-up on the "Will anyone new actually show up to vote?" issue – was going to put it up this week, but it'll wait till monday.

    Generally, though, I think it is fair to be skeptical.

  • – Also hooked on ginandtacos
    – The last sentence could make it into one of your "logical fallacies" writeups. "If these unexpected events happened, then we shouldn't be skeptical of any outcomes."
    – You are attributing people's expectations to them weighting recent history as a predictor of this election. That may not be why people's expectations for some states are what they are.

    For example, ND may have some democratic officials, but they've gone GOP in every presidential election I can remember (back to '88, the first presidential election I voted in.)
    The last time a Democrat won in VA? Google search says it's '64. That's not exactly recent history either.

    Bush Sr. won in CA? You think that might have anything to do with Reagan having been CA governor, and him being bound to Reagan?

    I adore Gin and Tacos. It's entertaining. It's challenging.
    And your conclusion (that most states could go red OR blue) is dead on. Most of the states are won by small margins.

    But I don't think people's strong doubts of plausibility (myself included) come from a short memory. I think it's a combination of "light on facts" (as you noted) and "inclined to bet".
    They come from other things—UT polls WILDLY red, and the Mormon church is right now pushing Prop 8 in CA so hard that you know there's no way UT is voting for Obama—he doesn't hate the gays enough.
    California going red? Well, here I have a strong local observation bias. I see a small fraction of CA citizens and assume that there's no way McCain's winning CA.
    Can Obama win N.C. or OH? I'm just reacting to all the "Ohio" and "Racist Drunk Rednecks" videos. Yup, it's totally wrong.

  • Last sentence intended as anecdotal. Point being simply that looking at the map and saying "No, that can't happen there" isn't very useful.

    Polls in Virginia aren't even close – Obama is up 15 in the latest. It doesn't have a history of voting for Democratic presidential candidates, but the explosive growth of the Northern Virginia area – with the highest per capita of college graduates in the country – has the state clearly trending that way in the past four years.

    I don't think he'll win North Dakota, but the point is that the state isn't averse to voting for a Democrat. Not any Democrat, but the right Democrat. Or, say, in an election where the GOP candidate is terrible.

    The GOP candidate won California in every single election between 1952 and 1988 excepting 1964 when Cap'n CrazyPants was the GOP nominee. I don't think Reagan was responsible for all of those.

  • Half the people I know in the Triangle aren't NC natives. Driving down Duke St. is a sea of blue Obama signs. Before I lived in Durham I lived in rural NC and though there are a lot of rednecks there, there are even more black people. NC is going blue. But the pessimistic Democrat in me is going to be making calls tomorrow to make sure people know where their polling places are and that they have rides. Just in case.

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