On Little Cat Feet

Quietly, oh sooooo quietly, the Democrats are acknowledging that they may be winning.
“Kerry’s gonna win,” one poll-happy San Francisco pol remarked in passing Friday.
Party insiders reading deep into internal polls – these are not the surveys done and released to the public, by the way – say Democratic nominee John Kerry will take Pennsylvania and Ohio but probably not Florida. Wisconsin maybe. Another swears there’s an internal poll that show Kerry with a healthy – one went as high as 55 percent – lead over Bush. That, coincidentally is what pundit and critic James Wolcott says, citing Nickelodean’s polls of its (child) viewers, too. And kids generally do what their parents are doing, no?

There are plenty of sign things are a little hinky out there on the campaign trail. There’s been a bit of talk on the political circuit that perhaps some Big Media stories looking at how polling is done — and done wrong — might be in order. Too bad there won’t be any good stories on how Big Media political reporters prefer to relying on polling for their stories since it makes their jobs easier. Because that, really, is the problem. It’s also why you’re seeing all these doom-and-gloom stories asking “how will they govern.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Here’s a better question: how will Big Media explain how they got it all so badly wrong?
It’s been a generation since this country saw a tight political contest on the national level. So you’ve got to wonder if all this talk about this being a starkly partisan nation that won’t make it past Tuesday isn’t just a lot of cranky people who want to know what’s going on before it happens expressing displeasure that their usual forecasting tools aren’t as reliable as they used to be. Believe me, it’s hard — and expensive — to plan election coverage when you don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s a pat knee-jerk reaction, of course, on the part of someone who’s sick to death of horse-race poll driven stories. The damn surveys have their uses as Ron Brownstein points out in his look at the race — and the polls — in today’s LATimes. But we’ve clearly been suffering from too much of a good thing.
The last really close race was Nixon/Kennedy. And, well, Kennedy cheated. But for much of the past 40 years, American voters have had a good sense of who was going to win so they’ve either ignored or shucked off their civic responsibility. That’s not the case again this year and it’s disorienting for voters as well as the people in charge of watching them.