Obama’s Poll Drop: We’ve Seen This Movie Before

Andrew Sullivan continues to freak out:

Here’s a dishhead bleg: when was the last time that a sitting president in a re-election campaign lost six percentage points in the polls in two weeks in October?

That’s pretty specific, and I suppose the answer is “never.” But let’s change the question: When was the last time Barack Obama lost six percentage points to a Republican challenger?

Pete Souza/The White House/FlickrPete Souza/The White House/FlickrAnswer: 2008. On September 1st, Obama led John McCain by 6.4 points. On September 10th, McCain led Obama by 2.5 points. That’s a swing of 8.9 points. But when the election was actually held, Obama won by 5 points.

Look: Polls change. That’s politics. Beyond that, though, there are a couple of specific reasons everyone should settle down a bit. First, the fundamentals have always suggested that this would be a close election. The consensus of the political science models is an Obama win by maybe 2 points or so. Second, I’m increasingly convinced that a couple of years from now some enterprising political scientist will write a paper thoroughly debunking the idea that Obama’s debate performance was as horrible as everyone is making it out to be. Instead, the recent poll changes will come down to three things:

  • A late September surge by Romney for reasons that are (at the moment) still a bit of mystery.
  • Reversion to the mean. Obama was never going to win the election by 5 or 6 points, and his recent drop has been baked into the cake for a long time. His big lead was mostly an artifact of stupid mistakes by Romney, and eventually Romney recovered from them.
  • The media freakout over Obama’s debate demeanor.

Obama didn’t turn in a great debate performance, but it was nowhere near bad enough to account for the kind of poll declines we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks. That’s my two cents, anyway.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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