I should have learned a long time ago not to trust polls. I remember back in 1988 when, as a young, amorphous, but still enthusiastic liberal youth, I signed on for Michael Dukakis. He came out of the Democratic Convention with a 17% lead over Vice President George H.W. Bush. I called that one, marked it off, and went on to see how the Blazers were going to develop with Mark Bryant and Rolando Ferreira. I saw Rolando Ferraira in the Tigard Fred Meyer just before the election, and he was fairly obese, but even though he washed out after a season, he had a better year than Michael Dukakis, who lost his Secret Service detail and was back to flying coach by Thanksgiving.
Then there was President Bush’s post-Gulf War 91% approval rating in early 1991, and most of the Democrats ran like spooked kittens (I’m looking at you, Mario Cuomo). Things transpired, a man named Perot who likened government to getting busy under the hood of a car wound up getting pouty and tossing a wrench into the engine, and we wound up with the man who gave the interminable keynote at the 1988 Democratic Convention, and only stirred applause when he finally said, “and, in conclusion.”
I sqaundered way too much productivity in October 2004 slavishly watching the polls between Kerry and Bush, Jr. The only thing you need to know how I’d reluctantly signed onto Senator Kerry was my embrace of a January 2004 website called “johnkerryisadouchebagbutimvotingforhimanyway.com.” But I took some comfort in the fact that in most polls the tepid, lantern-jawed Senator from Massachusetts was leading a most-unlikely two-term President by two to eight points in nearly every poll.
And a lot of good that did me. The voting machines were haywire in Ohio, John Kerry left $16 million in the bank in a razor-close race (like the biggest moron in the history of Earth since they invented the Nigerian email fortune scam), and the rest is history. Election Night 2004 stands out as one of the worst nights in my adult life. All I could think of was…three more Clarence Thomases and Antonin Scalias. We all should have been so lucky. We got a Samuel Alito and a John Roberts, and they’re going to outlive both Thomas and Scalia.
It was a curious thing on Wednesday of this week when a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll had Barack Obama trouncing his Republican challenger 51 to 36 percent, with a Newsweek poll showing the Illinois senator up by twelve points. Yeah, baby! Screw the nominating in Denver. Put the Cabinet together on Monday, and then pick out drapes and valances for the next three days. Put it in the W column, bring on the Black House, and suck it, Senator Jowl!
Except that on the same day Gallup had Obama and McCain deadlocked at 45-45.
If you really stop to think about it, all of this means nothing. If we had a toss-it-all-in-one-bucket election, it would be Samuel Tilden whose administration we wouldn’t remember, and Al Gore would be planning his Presidential museum right now. The only polls that matter are state by state by state by state. This was something that escaped a good many people in the primary race. It’s all well and good to have a popularity poll and show that five of every ten Americans like Barack and four like Hillary, but for Obama, if that counts most of the Democrats in Oregon and Idaho and North Dakota, that really doesn’t mean anything if only three or four in ten like him in Pennsylvania. He loses Pennsylvania. Just as it was all about delegates in the primary, it’s all about electoral votes in the general election. And it’s an even more onerous challenge without proportional allocation. Obama could win 100% of the popular vote in Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and two dozen other tiny states, but if he loses by a single voter in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, he loses all of their electoral votes–and the election.
In any case, a cautionary note leading up to the polling frenzy that will be enveloping us these next several months. And with every pie-eyed poll result you read, if you hear a clanking of chains, don’t be alarmed–it’s probably just the angry ghost of poor Tom Dewey.