Like most American political junkies, I’m currently obsessed with the upcoming mid-term elections. One of the things I find the most frustrating is that despite following them pretty closely I can’t call many of the Senate and Governor races. There are four major factors at play that make the results less than clear and I’d like to explore them with you today.
The biggest is that too many races are simply to close to call. Americans love to criticize the pollsters. The biggest problem with the polls is that (aided significantly by campaigns and the media) Americans can’t read them. When a poll is within the margin of error it is telling you that the pollsters have no idea who will win. In most cases a two, three or four percentage point lead is nothing. If the difference is within twice the margin of error the poll, except for detecting trends, it is basically meaningless to anyone but the campaign. Trends may well dictate where campaign resources go. This also dictates where donations, especially from party or leadership PACs go. More on that later.
Most Americans are too busy with their lives to pay a lot of attention to politics. In large part that is why lies are so effective. The biggest factor in determining who voters will vote for is the economy. Now “economy” is a word that needs some clarification in this context. Americans tend to be motivated by pocketbook or kitchen table economic issues. If you have a job the job market is OK regardless of the unemployment number. If you don’t, the opposite is true in your mind.
Inflation is determined by how it effects your wallet. The biggest number to watch over the next few weeks is the price of gasoline since it is a number that we all pay attention to every time we pull up to the pump. If it continues to move down that will generally be good for the Democrats because most voters (incorrectly) blame high prices on Joe Biden and the Democrats. If it goes up it gives the Republicans a talking point and helps them at the ballot box.
I follow the larger economy more closely than most and have a somewhat better background with which to understanding it. I’m still not sure what direction we are heading in over the next six months or so. Too many factors are in flux at the moment and I have neither the time nor space to go into them in this article. That won’t make for a wild swing but in a close race it can be the difference between victory and defeat.
In big money races candidates try to keep it close until the end when they hope for the “cavalry” in the form of huge, often dark, money to materialize. These expenditures are investments and the investors aren’t going to make them unless they feel they can bring a candidate home. Leadership PACs will only pour finite last-minute dollars into a race they can sway. A multi-million-dollar ad buy with two weeks to go can overwhelm an opponent who will often lack the time and financial resources to refute it. Most frequent voters vote their affiliation to a large degree. A last-minute ad buy can convince someone to get off the couch and sway many of the few true swing voters. In a close race that is the difference.
The fourth factor that has me perplexed is the unknown event. It happens more often than not and is by definition both unpredictable and unexpected. Obviously, it is out of the hands of the candidates and could help or hurt either side. After all we don’t know what it is; or even if it will occur for that matter. No genius planning can anticipate it. A good candidate and/or campaign staffer can pivot successfully often but not always. The event will come from outside. For example, can you guarantee what Vladimir Putin will do between now and say November 1st? I can’t!
Now you ask, “What can I do?” The answer is don’t be swayed by malarkey or a current blip in time event and most importantly vote!!!!!!
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