After Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses by a surprisingly large margin, the punditocracy was troubled. Pundits had virtually conceded the nomination to Hillary Clinton, and now went into high gear explaining the Illinois Senator’s deficiencies.
They told us Obama would have problems winning white working class voters, Jews, Latinos, women, and, as absurd as it now sounds, African-Americans. He supposedly alienated voters in Michigan and Florida by not agreeing in the spring to seat all of their delegates. Pundits said Obama was too inexperienced on foreign policy, lacked management experience, and would be chewed up in debates with the wily John McCain.
Obama was said to be too “cool” to connect viscerally to middle-class voters, and was unable to “feel” their pain. Some pundits even publicly expressed what others were saying privately — that many voters would never support a black man for President. A month before Election Day, Obama has proved the pundits wrong on every count. He is now on track for the largest victory by a Democratic nominee since 1964, sending a powerful message to activists and candidates not to allow their dreams to be derailed by the crushing force of conventional wisdom.
While Obama supporters remain forever on the alert and are working harder than ever, recent weeks have produced a changed mood. The economic collapse and McCain’s poor first debate performance has finally given Obama sufficient margins in the polls for his supporters to internally acknowledge that their candidate will almost certainly be our next President.
Pundits Wrong From the Start
Only a year ago, this did not seem possible. Pundits told us that Hillary Clinton had such control of the Democratic Party base that she would secure the nomination by February 5, 2008, the revamped Super-Duper Tuesday.
The pundits were rather shellshocked after Obama won Iowa by a greater margin than anyone but the Des Moines Register poll predicted. But after Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire, the media christened her the “comeback kid” and projected a repeat of Bill Clinton’s “comeback” path to win the 1992 nomination.
The media was so vested in Clinton having regained a smooth path to the nomination that it handed her a “momentum building” victory in Nevada based on her winning the popular vote. But Nevada was a caucus state, and Obama’s winning the most delegates in the contest went widely unreported.
In the weeks between Nevada and the mammoth set of February 5 contests, the media provided extensive coverage of the California primary. But as our Paul Hogarth noted in an Election Day article the media had not explained that California’s bizarre delegate allocation formula prevented Clinton from making huge gains.
As a result, while election night pundits pontificated on Hillary’s “big wins” in California and New York (which had a similar delegate allocation method), they downplayed the fact that Obama had won caucuses by such big margins that he came out of Super Tuesday nearly matching Clinton in delegates won.
Instead of highlighting the significance of Obama doing well in heavily white, non-urban areas, the media instead promoted the Clinton theme that winning the “big states” was more important. Few members of the punditocracy bothered to explain that Obama had moved resources out of big states where the delegate selection formula did not reward such efforts, and into the states where investments more prudently paid off.
I wrote a piece about Obama’s out-strategizing on February 6, but the punditocracy continued for many more months ignoring the critical strategic decision that won Obama the nomination.
Pundits Stay Wrong
Clinton’s success in California and Nevada led pundits to create new wrongheaded narratives. Among the most common was about Obama’s alleged inability to attract Latino votes, a theme that continued through the Democratic Convention.
According to pundits, Obama’s problem was that Latinos were hesitant to vote for an African-American, did not know Obama, and would be attracted by the allegedly pro-immigrant stance of John McCain (I discuss the Washington Post’s promotion of this last theme here).
Obama is having such problems with Latinos today that he is getting nearly 70% of their votes. And the longtime battleground state of New Mexico is already solidly in the Obama camp, due to his overwhelming support among Latinos.
Obama’s “Elitism” and the White Working-Class
Remember how it was an article of faith among pundits that Obama was perceived as an “elitist” by the white working and middle-class? This tag stayed despite Obama winning Iowa, Kansas, Washington and a host of other states with primarily white voters.
No matter how many white voters Obama won, pundits insisted he could not win enough to be elected President. Rarely have we seen a more glaring example of pundits letting their theories override the facts.
Today, Michigan’s is so strong for Obama that McCain has left the state. And Michigan was supposed to be a big problem for Obama over his failure last spring to agree to seat all their delegates after the Michigan Democratic Party broke the primary rules (they were ultimately seated).
Obama’s alleged problems with Pennsylvania’s white working and middle class were also supposed to put that state at risk. Today, that state is moving steadily out of McCain’s reach.
Obama’s problem in Florida was said to be his “elitist” attitude in not campaigning in the state’s primary, and then opposing the seating of the delegation. Well, he’s doing better in Florida than anyone projected, and is now favored to win the state.
Recall about how many pundits claimed that Obama’s alleged “disenfranchisement” of the Florida and Michigan delegates would hurt his chances in November. The Obama campaign ignored these predictions, and was again proven correct.
Obama’s Woman Problem
Remember all the stories about how women were so angry over Hillary’s mistreatment that they would not back Obama? And how Sarah Palin would move the “hockey mom” vote to McCain?
Well, Obama now has a bigger share of the woman vote than John Kerry won in 2004. And while the current margin of around 15% may be slightly reduced in final numbers, it is clear that Obama’s “woman” problem was entirely a creation of the punditocracy.
Moral of Story: Trust Your Own Judgment
There are far too many examples of poor punditry toward Barack Obama to discuss them all here. Rather than dwell on the past, the point is to take the lessons of history and move forward.
The chief lesson is that many of those employed fulltime to give their opinions have little connection to actual people, do not spend time soliciting opinions, and, at bottom, do not know what they are talking about. Yet these forces have been allowed to define the public debate, often preventing progressive solutions.
Barack Obama will ascend to the White House knowing that if he had listened to the conventional wisdom, he would not have launched his campaign. This should lead him to govern the same way he ran his campaign — trusting the people, not media pundits.
by Randy Shaw
Randy Shaw is the Editor in Chief of Beyond Chron.
Republished with permission from Beyond Chron.
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