Brendan Nyhan | November 4, 2009
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.
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.