SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Barack Obama is ahead in every national poll by a seemingly comfortable margin. He’s shattering all records for political fundraising, is attracting huge crowds to his rallies, and the pundits have pretty much declared that the race is over. It’s that last item that gives me pause, given that the media’s prognostications and story lines have so frequently been proven wrong during this year’s campaign.
Obama certainly appears to have a strong edge. And the astonishing $150 million he raised in September (thanks to his decision to opt out of the public-financing system, making him the first major party presidential candidate to do so since Watergate) will allow him to out-organize McCain and vastly outspend him in advertising. As regards to the latter, Obama is already ahead by about a 4 to 1 advantage in recent spending for TV ads.
So, yes, Obama will probably win the election two weeks down the road. But just to be contrarian (since it’s Monday) I asked Tom Edmonds, a prominent Republican media consultant, if he thought McCain had any chance of winning. He wasn’t exactly optimistic, but here’s why he thinks McCain isn’t dead yet.
The states that will make the difference – Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio and Florida – are all pretty close. (We’re going to know the winner early this time because the key states are mostly in the East). It’s not that the polls are wrong exactly, but there are two problems: they are undercounting Republicans as a percentage of voters and they are overestimating the youth vote.
You can ask 1,500 people how they are going to vote, but you have to weight the sample properly. A number of the pollsters use a sample that assumes about 35 percent of voters will be Republicans, and that’s probably not realistic. McCain has not run an inspiring campaign, but a lot of Republicans are going to go out and reluctantly vote for him. Obama has a lot more enthusiasm, but a reluctant vote for McCain counts the same as an enthusiastic vote for Obama.
The other big thing is the youth vote. There’s been a lot of hype about it, but it’s not going to materialize on Election Day. Roughly 33 million people voted in the 2004 primaries, and 58 million people voted in this year’s primaries. The youth vote was up, but not nearly as much as voting by middle-aged people and old fogies. The polls are capturing the enthusiasm for Obama, but college students are not going to turn out.
College students needed to re-register using their current address, or they will need to go home to vote on Election Day. That requires pre-planning and that’s not what they do. This is a category of voters that wants to register and vote online, but that’s not the way it works. They have no habit of registering to vote and going to the elementary school on the day of the election.
The largest youth turnout in the primaries was in Utah, where 16 percent of eligible young voters turned out – and they weren’t voting for Obama, they were voting for Mitt Romney. Sixty-five and older voters turn out four times as frequently.
If I was a consultant for Obama, I would feel good but not confident. The odds are with him, but it’s not wrapped up. It’s all going to depend on turnout.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”