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WSJ vs. WSJ on 2009 elections

Topics: 2009 , polls , Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal, 11/3/09:

Republicans Are Poised for Gains in Key Elections
Outcomes in New York, New Jersey and Virginia Are Unlikely to Forecast Much About National Races in 2010, History Shows

Republicans appear positioned for strong results in three hard-fought elections Tuesday. But isolated, off-year contests aren't always reliable indicators of what will happen in the wider federal and state races held in even-numbered years.

Wall Street Journal, 11/4/09:

Republicans Win in Key States

A Republican sweep in Virginia and New Jersey on Tuesday shifted the political terrain against President Barack Obama only a year after his historic election.

PS For the record, the WSJ was right the first time. Despite what the press will tell you, a handful of off-year elections don't tell us much about the "political terrain" facing Obama and the Democrats. As Matthew Yglesias points out, we have these things called "polls" that we can use to measure people's political beliefs and opinions. Perhaps we should consider using those instead.

Update 11/4 11:41 AM: Dave notes in comments on my blog that the first story includes a similar passage about the election potentially revealing "much tougher political terrain," which I missed:

A Republican sweep in Tuesday's key contests would at minimum show that Democrats face much tougher political terrain than they did a year ago.

I'm not sure what the passage means (the metaphor of "political terrain" is not well-defined) but it seems to contradict the lede of the story, which states that off-year elections are not reliable indicators. The point remains that the ledes are in tension (if not in direct contradiction).

It's also worth noting note the contradiction between the election "show[ing]... political terrain" (11/3) and the results actually "shift[ing] the political terrain" (11/4). Maybe it's time to retire the metaphor, which lets reporters vaguely suggest that things have changed without specifying how.

Update 11/4 8:49 PM -- Eric Boehlert at Media Matters has a virtually identical item on the AP's election coverage:

The AP on Tuesday:

To be sure, it's easy to overanalyze the results of such a small number of elections in a few places. The results will only offer hints about the national political landscape and clues to the public's attitudes. And the races certainly won't predict what will happen in the 2010 midterm elections.

The AP on Wednesday:

To be sure, each race was as much about local issues as about firing warning shots at the politically powerful. But taken together, the results of the 2009 off-year elections could imperil Obama's ambitious legislative agenda and point to a challenging environment in midterm elections next year.

(Cross-posted to brendan-nyhan.com)

 

Comments
Mark W:

No joke...job approval rating for Obama amongst NJ voters at 58% does not make a convincing case for a referendum. In VA, the number that jumps out at me is 43%, which was the percentage of voters who voted yesterday who also voted for Obama in 2008. In otherwords, not exactly a stunning turnout for the Dem base there.

Finally, last I checked, the only race last night that had direct national implications was NY-23 which elected a Dem (in a district that hasn't had a Dem in like 100 years...sorry had to throw that in).

All of this is just to say that last night was a toss up, and there doesn't appear to be a huge correlation between Obama/The White House and the elections. Basically WSJ, get your act together!

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Polaris:

Mark W,

Really? Oh I'll agree that Obama is probably personally liked, but NY-23 had a whole host of special circumstances. If there is one race you simply pass on, it's that.

However, you can not deny that Obama virtually camped in NJ this past month and put a lot of his personal credibility on the line to try to get Corzine reelected. He initially did the same with Deeds until polls showed that a loss was a forgone conclusion (and if anything the polls understated the case!)

When as president you can not get a fellow person in your party, in a politically frendly state in a tight race over the hump, then it very definately is a commentary on you politically even if it doesn't directly show in the fav/unfav number.

-Polaris

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Gopherguy:

No Polaris, if you look at the data instead of going by assumption or inference you will see that current Obama supporters split the ballot in New Jersey.

The 2 biggest reasons for voting in New Jersey are property taxes and corruption. Those issues went heavily against Corzine. The national party has nothing to do with NJ property taxes or local corruption.

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Vicente Duque:


I am very disappointed with INTRADE.COM

This betting House failed miserably predicting the elections in New York and New Jersey.

I have been a fan of using INTRADE.COM and other betting houses to predict the Future.

INTRADE.COM has a fame of being a good predictor. However on November 4, when Obama was elected, it failed for Missouri, I guess. I don't remember well, but there was one or two failures in predicting all the States.

Anyway, Betting Houses are better than Pollsters in predicting elections. I still has some faith in Gamblers, Bettors and Bookies. They always have "inside" information, they are "Street Wise"....

Let's bet more Money :

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Vicente Duque

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Mark W:

"...NY-23 had a whole host of special circumstances. If there is one race you simply pass on, it's that."

Why exactly do we ignore that? Because you said so? I assume the special circumstances you're talking about are Scozzafava dropping out of the election. Let's say you're right and this is some issue with Obama's credibility. After she dropped out, it would seem like Scozzafava's supporters should have flocked to Hoffman and pushed him over the top. I mean after all, this is a district in which PPP found that 47% of LV identify as Republican, and 45% identify as conservative.

Woops. Guess they all missed the memo about their chance to stick it to the man and all. Although I guess by that same logic, Sarah Palin and Fred Thompson must have some major street cred issues up there, given the time they spent trying to push Hoffman.

Also Polaris, you substituted favorability for job approval (you sly devil, you). The question in the exit polls addressed job approval, which means that 57% approve of the job Obama is doing: a much stronger stat than just whether or not he's likeable.

Finally, I think that what you say is absolutely true, favorability does not strongly indicate voter preference, or job approval. Celebrity endorsements don't always work. No person in the world would ever convince me to buy a Ford Pinto, regardless of what I thought about that person. Similarly, NJ voters may in fact be able to separate their feelings about Obama and his policies from their opinions about Corzine.

The only thing that any of this says to me about the political climate is that weak incumbents should be wary, regardless of party ID.

And yes, I did compare Jon Corzine to a Ford Pinto.

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Polaris:

Mark W,

I certainly did expect DeDe's former supporter to push Hoffman over the top. So did most people here regardless of partisan bent. It didn't happen. Nevetheless you can not draw a national conclusion based on it because you have an insurgent third party candidate go from single digit support to over 40% in a matter of days and then have the major party candidate drop out and endorse the other major party candidate.

That's just not normal and the dynamic is simply too volotile and complex to poll correctly (and most of the polls during this last weekend in NY-23 were badly off as a result). Thus I think it's a mistake to draw any national lesson from NY-23 although I understand that you want to since that race is probably the only good news the Democrats had last night.

Consider this: The total republican vote in NY-23 still exceeded the total democrat vote by a significant margin which is totally expected for a republican district. I strongly suspect that Owens had best not take too long measuring the drapes in his congressional office because he won't be there very long.

As for Favorability vs Job Approval, the average respondant isn't going to draw the fine distinction you do. If they like a president, they will say they approve of his job. Don't believe me? Take all the national polls out there and then compare Obama's JA number to the approval of each of Obama's policies when Obama's name isn't mentioned.

My point is this: Obama put a lot of his presidential prestigue on the line for Corzine but whatever the electorate thought of Obama, it failed to help Corzine at all...and that is a test of sorts for a sitting president.

As for VA, you can not ignore what happened in VA. It was a Democratic beatdown and seems to put (at least for now) to rest the notion that 2008 reflected a permanent political realignment. In short, you can dismiss NJ because Corzine was a poor governor (which he was!) You can't dismiss what happened in VA nearly so easily.

-Polaris

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Gary Kilbride:

Vicente, there's no such thing as inside information among gamblers. In more than 99% of cases, even when claimed, that's a crock. The street wise aspect is simply more experience than typical in applying variables to outcomes. It moves the bar a few percent, nothing more. Gamblers typically don't overreact to the most recent result as much as non-betting fans or the media. There's a power rating mindset, i.e. it's how good you are, not how good you are playing.

Intrade is a good barometer of conventional wisdom at a given point in time, a theoretical percentage. Generally it's more accurate than a novice reporter or TV anchor would estimate, for example. I check Intrade frequently and don't detect many bargains. I did play Christie at underdog rate when a couple of polls late last week hinted Corzine with a lead of several points and Intrade shifted upward, beyond rightful, IMO. In betting you always have to be aware of which direction the trigger is pointed. In other words, which side do they want to bet? In New Jersey it's on a Democrat so any apparent verification led to over enthusiasm. It was similar in the Democratic primaries last year when Obama fever blanketed some states where it didn't belong, leading to Hillary a bargain in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Regarding that 67% House expectancy, I think it's too low but keep in mind the further away from an outcome the more margin for error you need, and a bigger bargain, since tying up the money is a variable in itself. What else could you do with it for a year?

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