The ‘clutching at straws’ school of journalism

July 21, 2008 at 10:34 am | Posted in Barack Obama, U.S. Politics | 2 Comments

Shorter Sarah Baxter: Barack Obama’s world tour is frought with political peril because… he’s only up by four points in the national polls and (the shock! the horror!) he hasn’t won Angelina Jolie’s vote yet.

Not content with bringing us this profound analysis, she then points out that Obama’s ratings on foreign policy aren’t as high as McCain’s, and therefore touring Iraq, Afghanistan and the capitals of Europe as a way of improving those numbers is a dangerous thing to do.

Now, I’m not surprised that The Times isn’t going degrade itself by fawning over the Obamessiah, and I quite enjoy reading pieces that subject the Hopeful One to some scrutiny (like this by Gary Younge, for example). But the least they can do is make an argument that, y’know, makes sense. Like calling him a dirty, drug-addled Communist hippie, or something.

For those who’re interested, this, via, is how the race is shaping up. At the time of writing, Obama has 312 electoral votes, McCain has 199, and another 27 are from states in statistical dead heats. If the election were held today, Obama wins in a landslide.

So ‘only’ winning a national opinion poll by a margin of 4% is meaningless as there’s no such thing as a national vote. When you look at individual states, the Obama campaign is in commanding form, and whilst that’s hardly cause for complacency, neither is it cause for Democrats to – as Baxter suggests – consider pre-emptively donating to Hillary Clinton’s 2012 election campaign.


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  1. 538 ( has it under 300 for Obama, i.e. in the low 290s, inc. the 27 doesn’t. It’s had it roughly like this for a while. That said, I prefer the version. Much prettier.

    But maybe a little sanguine on New Hampshire, Montana, Nevada. Over 300 for Obama with 27 not counted? 538, counting all states, usually has it something like Kerry + Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico. But Indiana, Virginia and Nevada don’t strike me as mad possibilities (ND and MT would be shocking, no?) and would get you around 320. As this numbers lark is the only sort of stuff I can stomach reading about the election (this is why I didn’t know about the Jolie crisis), prolonged pondering does get one wondering what constitutes the landslide you mention when it doesn’t get one into the addictive business of trying to predict the result.

    So what’s a landslide? Over 300 electoral votes? And/or over 50% of the popular vote? Over five points clearance in the popular vote? 7.5?

  2. Yeah, number-watching is a far less gruelling pursuit than worrying about who Angelina’s going to endorse. (Incidentally, her husband seems an enthusiastic Obamabot – signs of a split in Hollywood’s golden couple perhaps? The NYT should soooo run a massive investigation). Since I don’t really forsee either Obama or McCain winning the popular vote by more than 5 points, I suppose we’re really talking about an electoral college landslide, which, for entirely arbitary reasons, I personally deem to be anything over 300. I’m going to stick my neck out and predict that Mark Warner’ll help flip Virginia, but I suspect the reason North Dakota’s so close is that it’s so remote they haven’t heard that Obama’s black. Rather self-defeatingly, I’m hoping for a big defeat in Florida to prove that it’s not a swing state anymore and force Democrats to stop worrying about whether they’ll piss off the Cubans. I don’t suppose anyone’ll give me a political consultants job anytime soon.

    Finally, much as I like 538, I feel myself getting overwhelmed by all the charts and graphs. It’s like going on job websites for a little too long; after a while, you just long to run away and watch some reality show on MTV.

    Or perhaps that’s just me.

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