Credibility vanishes in U-T’s editorial on RomneyTop Highlights, Politically Aware Friday, August 10th, 2012
Commentary: Politically Aware
When “Papa Doug” Manchester bought the San Diego Union Tribune, there was a concern that the news might be tainted by right-wing opinion. Few predicted that right-wing opinion would be tainted with sheer fantasy. Yet, that is the only explanation for what happened Saturday, when the U-T San Diego editorial board jumped the political shark with an editorial proclaiming “Romney in a landslide.”
Their hope for a Romney rout is no secret and no surprise. Had they left it an aspirational piece, it would have been fine. Instead, they crossed the line into prediction, ending with “We see, ‘Romney in a landslide!’”
An opinion piece with a viewpoint is nothing new, nor is making predictions in line with that view. To retain credibility, however, those predictions should have something backing them up. The U-T editorial cites numerous examples of Americans “taking their country back:” Scott Walker surviving his recall, the passage of Prop. B and the success of the Chick-fil-A eat-in for traditional values.
That’s already more examples than data, of which they cite two points: that 75 percent of undecided’s break against the incumbent, and that in 1980, Americans rose up against Jimmy Carter in the last 60 days. Not much to go on, particularly in light of the data against their conclusion.
Let’s start by defining a landslide, which the U-T didn’t bother to do. Most of us who were alive at the time attach “landslide” to President Reagan’s re-election in 1984, when he took 525 electoral votes (EVs) and 49 states to former Vice President Walter Mondale’s 13 EVs from Minnesota and D.C. As the U-T invokes 1980, perhaps they consider Reagan’s 489 EVs a landslide against Carter’s 49 EVs.
By either of those bars, Obama’s near guaranteed victory in California would prevent a Romney landslide. So, I guess we should lower the bar. As it takes 270 votes to win the presidency, President George W. Bush’s Supreme Court aided 271 EV victory in 2000 hardly qualifies as a landslide. Nor would Bush’s 286 EV performance (2004) or President Carter’s 297 EVs (1976). In fact, the lowest EV total recently called “landslide” was President Obama’s 365 EVs in 2008. (Clinton scored 379 EVs in 1996, and 370 in 1992.)
To deem it “unlikely” that Romney can reach 365 EVs is perhaps too generous. In New York Times political number cruncher Nate Silver’s prediction models, every scenario in which President Obama gets 173 votes or less occurs well less than 0.5 percent of the time. (The most likely scenario, with nearly a 15 percent chance, has Obama in the 330s.
Why can’t Romney get there? Realclearpolitics.com, which averages a number of national and state polls, already has 247 EVs leaning toward Obama, with 191 for Romney and 100 “toss-up.” Give Romney all the toss-ups, and he wins with 291. Hardly a landslide.
The U-T says that the last 90 days will change things, so let’s respect that for a moment. Even if Romney gets all of the states “leaning” toward Obama (some of which Obama leads by more than 10 points), he only gets to 359, still short of Obama’s 2008 landslide. To get those last 6 votes, he would have to flip a state where Silver gives Obama at least a 95 percent chance of winning.
Mitt Romney could very well win this election, but barring an October surprise it won’t be in a landslide. If the U-T has a scoop on that surprise, they should report it. If not, they should at least stop confusing their Christmas list with the editorial page, or they’ll soon have the same lack of credibility of the other high profile person to “predict” a Romney landslide: Rush Limbaugh.
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