Saturday, September 18, 2010

Politics and prognostication

Thanks to Christine O'Donnell winning the Maryland Republican primary, every evening this week I've been treated to various pundits blathering on and on ad nauseum about what's going to happen in November.  Despite the fact that a few Republicans very briefly had the balls to say that she's unelectable in the general election, talking heads like Chris Matthews are persisting in making O'Donnell sound like the second coming of, if not Christ, then Sarah Palin.  Apparently Matthews et al. have forgotten that the ticket Palin herself was on in 2008 lost, and that poll after poll shows the majority of Americans wouldn't vote for her now. 

First, some numbers, courtesy of the Rude Pundit:
For anyone who wonders if O'Donnell can pull out an upset, let's put her numbers in context:

Number of registered voters in Delaware: 621,746
Number of registered Republicans: 182,796 (29%)
Number of votes O'Donnell received: 30,561
By the Rude Pundit's awesome abilities with a calculator, that means she received: 16.7% of registered Republicans (or 4.9% of total registered voters).
Number of registered Democrats: 292,738 (47% of registered voters)
As far as I can tell, O'Donnell is not the complete idiot that some folks on the left would like to believe -- she's managed to support herself by telling a small group of people what they'd like to hear for quite a few years now (also known as the Alan Keyes model of being a perpetual candidate for something and then paying yourself a salary out of your campaign funds) -- but she's also not likely to attract many voters outside that small group. Yes, she may be appealing to her core followers, but that's about it.  Then when you add in the fact that all the stuff that makes her newsworthy -- masturbation is bad -- is the same stuff that makes people check her for the tinfoil hat, she looks even less likely to attract many mainstream voters.
One of the obvious failings of trying to predict anything from primary results is that primaries attract the most impassioned, the most ideologically pure, and the least sane voters.  Really tiny numbers of voters make decisions that the rest of us then get to regret -- and to vote against in the general election.  If Congressman Mike Castle had won the Republican senatorial primary, quite a few Democrats in Maryland wouldn't have cared much.  They might even have voted for him.  They'd known Castle for years, and recognized he's basically a pretty moderate and pragmatic guy.  O'Donnell, on the other hand, .  . . 
My own prediction for November?  I don't have one, but I do think all the hype about a Republican rout and a retaking of both the Senate and the House is more a product of Republican wishful thinking than being reality-based.  The right cranks up its sound machine, and the media play right along and provide an echo chamber.  In general I think any incumbent who survived his or her party's primary this summer is going to be safe in the fall.  There's always a lot of talk about throwing the bums out, but the reality is that once it comes down to the general election, people lean more toward to keeping the evil they know than with voting for someone new.  Then, when you add in the gerrymandering that has turned most Congressional districts into safely Republican or safely Democratic enclaves, the odds of the numbers changing much becomes even slimmer.  
Not that it matters much.  All it will take is for the Republicans gaining even one seat, and the punditry, the chattering classes, will be touting their own predictive abilities, and telling us all the Obama presidency is doomed.  The stupid, it burns.

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