Friday, October 26, 2012

Charlie Cook is Kinda Wrong

I like Charlie Cook. He's a very smart guy knows as much about congressional elections as just about anybody. But he's just kinda sorta wrong in his read of what the debates did to the race. Here's part of his analysis:
A strong performance in that first debate would have probably closed the sale for Obama. Instead, his lackluster showing shifted a bunch of voters who had seemed to be drifting gradually in his direction back into neutral, with some reversing course and moving into Romney’s column. ... But this is a horse race, a very close one that can still go either way, and that was not the case before the first debate. The debates—and I would say all three of them—hit a reset button for Romney and put him back into this contest.
The notion that Obama could have "closed the sale" with a strong performance in the first debate is pure nonsense. Similiarly, the notion that "this is a horse race, a very close one that can still go either way, and that was not the case before the first debate" is also nonsense.

Step back and think about the logic of this. The idea Cook is selling is that Obama had a nice lead before the first debate (this is true but it was already starting to recede) and that he could have just held that lead and coasted if he had "a strong performance." This is just fantasy.

The race was already starting to tighten before the first debate. Contrary to what Cook and others think, Obama did not have a disastrous debate performance. If he did, that would be reflected in the polls with his job approval sinking. It isn't. In fact, his job approval has gone steadily up in October. What happened in the first debate is that Romney looked credible after several months of being bashed by Bain Capital ads, discussion of Romney's tax returns, the conventions, and Romney's 47% comments. In the wake of all that, by the end of September, a certain number of voters (a small number but enough to make a difference) who do not care for President Obama were unsure they could support Governor Romney. When these voters saw Romney in the first debate, where he seemed, in a word, presidential, they simply went where they were likely to go in the first place. Polling says they were moving in that direction already. The first debate accelerated that. But it was underway. Some of you may remember that this is exactly the logic I outlined way back in early March when I asked whether Romney would be a credible alternative.

Importantly, there was no possibility that a "strong performance" by the President in that first debate was going to "close the sale." That's just utterly silly.

And let me add just one point to this. You might ask, why does it matter if Charlie Cook has it wrong? What's at stake in this? For starters, Andrew Sullivan, who spent more than a week on the ledge with some insane ideas about what happened in the debate is going to open that window up again and will start threatening to jump. This is sad because I enjoy reading Sullivan's blog and now I'll have to avoid it for another week or so. Second, and more importantly, this nonsensical meme has now infected some of the smarter, more reasonable minds in the journalist class, like Charlie Cook. Whether Obama wins or loses (though it will be worse if he loses), we'll hear this nonsense about how the President looked down too much during the first debate and that's why Romney caught up. It just isn't true.


Thomas Hartman said...

But Larry, don't you agree that Obama's slight bumps in the battleground states of NV, CO, VA and OH is all because of the sweaty brow of Romney in the third debate?

Thomas Hartman said...

Larry can you blog post about the difference of accuracy b/t a national poll v. a state poll. Which of these should I believe when predicting the outcome?

Larry Becker said...

Not sure I see slight bumps for Obama in NV, CO, VA, and OH. On the other hand, Obama leads in all these states on the averages.

The Ohio numbers suggest a slim but very steady lead for Obama of just over 2 points.