Monday, September 3, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Mid-Term Ending Begins

They might not be as dramatic and significant as the 1940 British and
French evacuation at Dunkirk, but the initial skirmishes of the 2018
mid-term elections are virtually concluded. The Democratic and
Republican “armies, navies and air forces” are regrouping not only
for the November elections, but positioning themselves for the
climactic “war” in 2020 when a generation of U.S. politics will likely
be determined.

The heroic rescue of the British Expeditionary Force and the remnant
of the Free French Forces from that small beach on the southern
English Channel coast became the basis of an effort which led to an
historic invasion on similar Channel shores four years later --- and
then to victory less than a year after that.

My point is not to make too much of an analogy between the present
and Dunkirk, D-Day, and World War II, but to stress that history
moves in a series of phases and chapters --- and that some of them
are improbable or even just short of miraculous.

Authors and filmmakers are rewriting and recreating the Battle of
Britain, the bulldog boldness of Winston Churchill, the controversial
inspirations of Franklin Roosevelt and Charles De Gaulle (among
others) quite a bit these days. Historic analogies, we must always
remember, have limitations --- and each age has its own cast of
characters --- but we live in a time of comparable social and political
change, and in a time of global war. This time, however, military
blitzkrieg has been replaced by decentralized terrorism.

Global events historically do not affect major U.S. elections as often
as do economic and social conditions. This seems clearly the case
so far in the 2018 mid-terms. Our political leaders, nonetheless, are as
personally eccentric as were our leaders of the past --- even though
time and historic recollection has made the old ones mythic, and
conveniently forgotten their eccentricities. In the present tense we
manage to stress the controversies --- something done by all sides
with almost gleeful ease as we hear denouncements of Donald Trump,
Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi, just to name
some of the most prominent.

This column has persistently resisted the claims by some (particularly
in the national media) that a political wave, either blue or red, was
certain to arrive on U.S. electoral shores this November. I have not
argued that such a wave could not happen, but that there was no clear
and unambiguous evidence yet of any such wave. I continue to assert,
now that the ending of the beginning (the early campaigns and
primaries) is here, no certain outcome is signaled.

As we now enter the post-Labor Day autumn campaign (the beginning
of the ending), on the other hand, it is likely that instructive and
significant signals will increasingly appear, especially in the final weeks
when the unusually large number of undecided or willing-to-change
voters will make their decisions. For those of my readers who have
been disappointed by my unwillingness to make predictions, I need to
remind them that, when the signals appear, I will note them --- as I did
in 2010, 2014 and 2016 --- even if they might be contrary to conventional
wisdom. That was certainly the case in both 2010 and 2016 when
readers of this column had contrarian predictions that turned out to
be true. (To be honest and fair, some of my predictions for 2012 did not
turn out to be accurate.)

I have been consistently critical of most public opinion polling,
especially early polling in small samples of voters who are not VERY
likely to vote. Now that we are getting closer and closer to election day,
the polls will tend to be more accurate, especially if the pollsters are
employing large samples and are rigorously polling truly likely voters
of both parties. By mid-October this will most likely happen.

In 2016, the gross numbers of the polls were not very inaccurate, but
the analysis of them, particularly in the rust belt states that determined
the election, were. The polls, more or less, reflected the popular vote,
but was not analyzed to predict the electoral college vote --- the one that

In 2018, there is no electoral college, but there is a serious question
about the expectation of turnout --- and thus the subjective “weighting”
that all polls do. General voter resistance to answering polls, especially
among conservative and independent voters, also tends to skew public
poll results. While we are assured of low margins of error, too many
poll upsets in both parties this cycle indicate margins of error are often
much greater than conceded.

As in so many other aspects of our lives, we are often in too much of a
hurry these days to know outcomes. Even in baseball, with its long
season, many divisions, and its “wild  card” teams, most fans know
they won’t know the winner of the World Series until October.

We’ll know the winners and losers soon enough. but we’ll have to wait a
bit longer. And even when we do know the results, we’ll begin the
guessing game all over again for the 2020 presidential election.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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