New Political Rule Of Thumb

[ Posted Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 – 17:19 UTC ]

[Note: This isn't going to be much of a column, just to warn everyone in advance. It's more of a "here's an idea, please discuss" sort of column, really. I'm busy with site maintenance behind the scenes, which has been time-consuming. Oh, and a quick warning to current site users: you may possibly experience comments which don't automatically post. And to new users: you may possibly experience problems initially posting comments and registering. In both cases, posting a second comment with a simple "my previous comment didn't appear" message helps me track down such problems, so please do so if you experience problems (and if you are able to do so). And thanks for your continued patience, of course.]


In the spirit (perhaps) of Bill Maher, I'd like to propose a "new rule" for politics: Anyone who tells you what "the next election will be all about," over a year before such election takes place, will be wrong.

Maybe that should be a "law" or "principle" or something, rather than a rule, since it isn't really a guideline for anyone to follow or anything. I leave it for the more pedantic to, well... rule on this aspect.

Cheap puns aside, though, the more elections I closely watch, the more this seems to be a truism. Predictions of the main theme in an upcoming election which are made more than a year out (I would actually say "more than nine months out" but I'm hedging my bets, here) are just not going to become reality. The economy either improves or tanks, wars are started or ended, domestic issues either become moot or appear out of nowhere, and personalities appear on the scene unexpectedly. To put it another way: a year is forever, in politics.

We're in the midst of witnessing the latest "case in point." Last October and November, everyone was predicting the 2014 midterm election would all be about Obamacare. That's "everyone" as in: politicians from both parties, pundits from both sides of the ideological divide, the president, late-night comics, and even casual observers of politics. All and sundry were caught up in the politics of the moment (which, in this case, was the disastrous train wreck that was the rollout of, the federal health insurance exchange). The politics of even a few weeks earlier was quickly forgotten, in fact, during this feeding frenzy ("Government shutdown? What government shutdown?").

Republicans began making their entire campaign plan a one-plank platform: Obamacare is bad, we're against it. That's the sum total of what they were going to run on. At the time, I expressed doubts that this would work, doubts which got deeper once the website actually started going gangbusters (say, January or February). But Republicans forged ahead.

One other media person tooting this horn was blogger Greg Sargent at the Washington Post. He has been closely following the decline of the issue as the election grinds on, and today has a very interesting report about where Republicans find themselves now. He quotes some interesting statistics from other sources:

In April, anti-Obamacare advertising dwarfed all other spots in North Carolina. It accounted for 3,061, or 54 percent, of the 5,704 top five issue ads in North Carolina, according to Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group. By July, the numbers had reversed, with anti-Obamacare ads accounting for 971, or 27 percent, of the top issue ads, and the budget, government spending, jobs and unemployment accounting for 2,608, or 72 percent, of such ads, CMAG data show.

The situation is much the same in Arkansas, where Mark Pryor is trying to keep his Senate seat, and Louisiana, where Mary Landrieu is in a tight race for a fourth term. Obamacare was just about the only issue on the air in Louisiana in April, according to CMAG. By July, it had dropped to 41 percent of the top five issue ads, and in Arkansas just 23 percent.

He goes on to point out that Republican candidates are getting more and more vague in their talk about repealing Obamacare, since they essentially have no answer for the question: "What are all the people currently benefiting from Obamacare going to do if Republicans have their way?" Which is precisely what I predicted earlier -- that in 2014, for the first time, Republicans would simply not be able to get away with scare stories about what was "going to happen" under Obamacare, because by the time the election rolled around, people would have actual facts instead of wild predictions of doom. Since none of the wild predictions of doom (that's "none of them at all") have come to pass, the public is less willing to listen to such talk. Which, now, even Republican candidates are realizing, as they pull their ad dollars from campaigns which are doing them no good at all.

Obamacare still isn't much of a winner at the polls for Democrats, but neither is it automatically a losing issue for them anymore. Republicans don't have many people left who can be convinced, to put this another way (which is why they're moving away from advertising on it). Obamacare still polls pretty dismally with the public, but what polls even more dismally is repealing it and replacing it with the way things used to be.

Public support is actually rising in states where Obamacare was both embraced and competently carried out, as a new poll out in California shows. In a new Field Poll, a majority of 56 percent of Californians support the law, and only 35 percent still oppose it. Of course, this breaks down on partisan lines, as 79 percent of Democrats support the law while only 22 percent of Republicans do. But that Republican number is up five percent from last year, and the overall number of Californians supporting it is up six points.

The Obamacare polling is nowhere near as good in some of the states where Senate battles will be fiercely fought, but it is still telling that even in these states, Republicans are starting to realize that running a single-note campaign is no longer really an option for them.

So while this entire article is something of an "I told you so" (which I freely admit), it inspired me to generalize what we're experiencing into a hard-and-fast rule (or, at the very least "rule of thumb"). To state this one final time:

If anyone tells you a year or more from an election what "it will all be about," they will be proven wrong by the time the election happens. Corollary: A year is a long time in politics -- too long for accurate predictions of this nature.


-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


21 Comments on “New Political Rule Of Thumb”

  1. [1] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    The 2016 election will be about HilRod.

  2. [2] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    I'm not sure what to think about the spirit of Bill Maher these days. He is funny, but I am suspicious of him. He says he's friends with Ann Coulter and Shape-shifter Huffington. Mary Matalin was on his show and they actually discussed that issue (for the obvious reason), but she was high and everything she said was more bizarre than usual. I wonder if they're all a bunch of holograms.

    Quantumâ„¢ be upon you.

  3. [3] 
    dsws wrote:

    Turnout. The election will be about turnout. The side that gets its voters to the polls will win.

    Note that I didn't feel the need to specify which election. Three months out, two years and three months, four years and three months, whatever.

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    John From Censornati -

    Isn't HilRod sitting the season out because of steroid use? Oh, wait...


    Mary Matlin high? OK, which show was that, I might have to check that out...

    dsws -

    Say it three times and click your heels: "GOTV... GOTV... GOTV..."


    My favorite: will it be a CHOICE or a REFERENDUM? Will it be a SYNONYM or a SNYONYM? We all wait with bated breath for the pundits to declare...



  5. [5] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    "Mary Matlin high? OK, which show was that, I might have to check that out."

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    My favorite: will it be a CHOICE or a REFERENDUM?

    Or, gods forbid, a MANDATE!! :D


  7. [7] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Political prognostication is like weather vs climate.

    Climate is reasonably predictable using nothing more than a calendar. Summer's hot, winter's cold. Your local 48 hr weather forecast, high, low, chance of precipitation is pretty accurate, the five day forecast much less so.

    Politics is about same. You can describe the political climate pretty well, Red states, Blue states, demographics, primary structures etc. and how all these are trending historically. Pollsters can pick winning candidates reliably a few days ahead of the actual voting. It's all the extrapolation in between that bedevils detailed prediction and always will.

  8. [8] 
    Bleyd wrote:


    I like that comparison. Trying to determine the specific issues of an election a year or more out is rather comparable to trying to predict which days it will rain next year.

  9. [9] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    TheStig -

    That's a pretty good analogy. Except in bizarre places like Southern California, where weather often equals climate. I'm thinking of a line from "LA Story" where Steve Martin is a weatherman and delivers a weather report along the lines of:

    "Coastal fog to burn off by midday, clear skies, in the 80s at the coast, hotter in the inland valleys. Our next weather report will be in four days."



  10. [10] 
    LewDan wrote:

    Its Bush's fault!--Well, OK, the Republicans, not Bush.

    They swore to us that this election would be all about Obamacare. And nothing but Obamacare.--And, once again, they've completely let us down.

    Oh, and CW, Southern California isn't the only place where climate equals weather. You could loop San Francisco's daily weather forecast from any day you choose, and it'd be good the rest of the season. In Porland, Oregon the only thing you need to know to reliably predict a daily forecast of "mourning fog and rain with showers throughout the day" is whether its winter and might snow instead!-- Then, out in the desert...

  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    In Porland, Oregon the only thing you need to know to reliably predict a daily forecast of "mourning fog and rain with showers throughout the day" is whether its winter and might snow instead!--

    That is simply not true...

    I have lived there and we actually saw the sun.. It was the best hour and a half of the whole year.. :D

    Seriously, though.. The rain in the Pacific NorthWest is not nearly as bad or as plentiful as one might think...

    And, with one exception, I have NEVER seen violent storms in Oregon or Washington as I have seen in Florida...

    That one exception would be the rain and storms that caused the Great Willamette Valley Floods Of 1996.

    But, all in all, the rain is not nearly as plentiful in the PNW as one might think...

    "Did you WANT to talk about the weather?? Or were you just makin' chit-chat??"
    -Bill Murray, GROUND HOG DAY



  12. [12] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    Yeah, the West Coast in general doesn't get the thunderstorms common most everywhere else in the US. Once every couple of years, a good thunderstorm will happen, and the Californians all look out their doors to watch the lightning, because it's such a rare event. That is, those that aren't hiding under their beds in terror from the thunder... strange but true....



  13. [13] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    Well, the only way as I see someone escaping the end conclusion of your postulate is if they were to accurately state that this election "will be about the latest trumped up non crisis that diverts attention from both parties inability to govern".

    Unfortunately,the above statement does not make for good fodder for the news cycle, so it is unlikely that the statement would ever be utilized properly or repeatedly by a political prognosticator in way that gains traction.

    And M 11....

    I have lived there and we actually saw the sun.. It was the best hour and a half of the whole year.. :D,

    Again with the overstatement, we all know that now a days it is at least three hours of sun... but global warming might be having an effect. :D

    I believe the universe might implode soon as there was no rain for the Rose fest parade this year...for the first time since....I can't remember.

  14. [14] 
    Michale wrote:

    Again with the overstatement, we all know that now a days it is at least three hours of sun... but global warming might be having an effect.

    Yea?? Well...... uh... Never mind.. :D


  15. [15] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    goode trickle -

    How about:

    "This election, like the past few, will be about the shiny, shiny object that we in the media decide to obsess over in the final weeks of the campaign."




  16. [16] 
    Michale wrote:

    "This election, like the past few, will be about the shiny, shiny object that we in the media decide to obsess over in the final weeks of the campaign."

    Ding, Ding, Ding!!! We Have A Winner!!! :D

    I am guessing a terrorist attack on US Proper by agents of ISIS....


  17. [17] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    Ok....I will go for that statement.

    While you may "Neil Peart" all of the time ( the early stuff is best...not yours, theirs), I would still point out that other outlets and mass sources will not be on the same "Page" they will just "Jimmy" it up...


  18. [18] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    On second thought...

    I can't go for the statement because of the qualifier last few weeks ...

    Which brings us back to DOH... The only way out of the above colliery as stated is for a Prognosticrat to come on out and state that the goberment needs to get back to goberning and that is what the election is about.

    Any statement on some fictionalized issue....Squirrel....

    Ummmmm, where was I????


  19. [19] 
    Michale wrote:


    You have been hanging around JFC too long.. He is starting to rub off on you.. :D


  20. [20] 
    goode trickle wrote:


    Not a JFCism to be had....

    Have you seen the animation up? If not please do... or ...check this clip out

  21. [21] 
    Michale wrote:

    OHMYGODS, that is HILARIOUS....

    And the Rottie in that SQUIRREL!!!!..... clip is just awesome!!!

    I plan on having a LOT of fun with that... :D

    Thanx GT... Made my night...


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