Both Sides Think They're Winning

But there are signs of fragile consensus.

We noticed a nice snapshot recently that demonstrated the way both sides of the political spectrum have talked as if there is no debate that their candidates are winning the election over the past few weeks. Red Mass Group, a Massachusetts-based Republican blog, posted the headline “Two Days to Victory” on Sunday.

At Blue Mass Group, the Bay State-based Democratic blog, David ends a post by concluding, “I therefore think that, on Tuesday, America is going to reelect President Obama …” Basically, victory is on the horizon at Blue Mass and Red Mass in a way that cannot allow both to leave their election night parties happy.

This isn’t a trend specific to the Massachusetts Senate race, or to the state in general. Some of this separate reality-speak happens because partisans always talk with confidence heading into an election to keep their voter-base energized, and both these blogs are pretty committed spewers of the party line. But observers like The Atlantic’s James Fallows argue that this election is unique in that people on both sides really do believe they will win. Polls show a consistent but very narrow lead for President Obama, but not a landslide, leaving room for arguments that the polls might mask an impending Romney victory. Says Fallows:

The email I get from friends in the Republican campaign infrastructure — yes, I have some! — is, without exception, in the same mode: We’re going to win. We can feel it coming. The president is getting desperate. A lot of people are in for a big surprise … the evidence convinces me that, beyond the spin and the lunacy and the media’s interest in keeping any race “close,” a lot of Republicans really believe that Romney is about to win.

Democrats, he says, are similarly confident. They, like David at Blue Mass Group, are pointing to folks, like The New York Times’s Nate Silver, who take in the landscape of a broad range of polls to make predictions. (Silver is the most famous, but certainly not the only one doing this.) For the record, there’s remarkable similarity among the poll nerds. Here’s how Obama stands according to a variety of these sources:

Nate Silver gives Obama an 86.3 percent chance of winning. He predicts Obama will receive over 300 electoral votes.

As of Monday morning, the Princeton Election Consortium predicts 305 electoral votes for Obama to 233 for Romney, putting the probability of an Obama election at 98.1 percent

Real Clear Politics has a “no toss up states” map in which they force themselves to declare a state one way or the other. Doing so, they give Obama 303 electoral votes to Romney’s 235.

In the Senate race, meanwhile, there have been recent polls that found a tight race, but people like Silver who watch the polls over time still predict a Warren victory. Silver gives Elizabeth Warren a 94 percent chance of winning. (This isn’t the same as predicting a blow-out. He thinks she’ll get 51.7 percent of the vote.) Real Clear Politics still classifies the race as “toss-up” but notes that Warren is ahead in its poll average, and last week, it analyzed the race this way:

Scott Brown hasn’t crossed 48 percent in a poll since mid-September, and three of the four latest polls show Elizabeth Warren over 50 percent. There aren’t likely enough crossover “Obama/Brown” voters to re-elect the incumbent.

The case made by those on the right who believe Romney or Brown or whoever are winning also focuses on numbers, but often looks more at those that are friendly to their cause. The Herald’s Michael Graham made a long case that Romney is winning last week. A sample:

First the numbers. And let’s start with the big one: Before Gallup suspended polling due to Hurricane Sandy, Mitt Romney was at or above 50 percent among likely voters for 14 consecutive days. No candidate above 50 percent at this point has ever lost the presidential race.


Someone’s reading of the numbers is going to look very foolish tomorrow. We’re inclined to believe that the broad poll aggregators with incentive to get the election right, not to spin it for one candidate or another, will look better in the end. And in fact, we’re starting to see commentary from conservative media that does accept the idea that odds lie with Obama. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial today, for instance, says, “If the polls are right, even if he wins re-election, he will do so as the first President since Wilson to win with a smaller margin than he did the first time.” See how they are acknowledging that polls put Obama ahead, and writing under the prospect that he’ll win. Here’s how Politico’s Mike Allen summarizes the sentiments from both sides today:

Any given poll can be wrong, but EVERY poll isn’t wrong.

And yet, enough is uncertain about the samples and the mood of the nation that lots of people we respect would not be SHOCKED if Mitt Romney pulled it out. They’re not expecting it, or betting their own money on it — but it’s not impossible. Put another way: Most Democrats will be surprised if they lose; many top Republicans will be surprised if they win.

Both Republicans and the media have incentives to portray the race otherwise, but it seems like the dual reality is working its way toward a consensus. Even if it isn’t, there’s only going to be one winner on Tuesday night, at which point (barring recounts and legal fights) someone will have a big “I told you so” moment on their hands.