Real Life and Make Believe

Almost on cue, I happen to see that Marc Ambinder is up with an “analysis” of the current electoral map. I could note the irony in the guy who most wants to be seen as a real journalist doing the “analysis” of the electoral college for The Atlantic, but there’s a much more obvious, much more egregious, error that just has to be called out. To put it bluntly, Ambinder is putting this “analysis” together without even checking the standing of the race in the real world.

The most obvious proof of this is in listing New Mexico and Pennsylvania as “toss up” states, while Indiana and North Carolina “lean McCain.” Now that sounds rational enough in the world of convention wisdom and preconceived notions, but in the real world at the moment, there’s no objective standard to do that. To wit, if we use the averages of polling at Real Clear Politics, Obama has a 4% average lead in New Mexico, and the last poll of the state, done by CNN between the Biden announcement and the DNC, shows him leading by 13%!  In Pennsylvania, the average lead is 4.7% and the last poll, taken at the height of McCain’s convention bounce, still has Obama leading by 2%. On the other hand, McCain’s average lead in North Carolina is 4.2%, and his lead in Indiana, on average, is 4.7%. In other words, Obama’s lead in Pennsylvania is equal to McCain’s lead in Indiana, hell their margins in the last two polls of both states are exactly even as well, but Indiana leans to McCain while Pennsylvania is a toss up. New Mexico might be even more egregious considering the last poll, but at the very least it’s comparable to the other 2 states Ambinder thinks are McCain leaners.

Ambinder’s reasoning, that Pennsylvania is a toss-up because “The McCain campaign is competing ferociously there and has shown no signs of letting up,” really reflects why journalists should stay out of the punditry. It might be true, but again, Ambinder isn’t holding any sort of standard here, he’s just trying to rationalize what amounts to a regurgitation of conventional wisdom. The Obama campaign is competing hard in North Carolina and, especially, Indiana with comparable results thus far as McCain is achieving in Pennsylvania. So at the risk of sounding like a broken record, there’s simply no objective way to put one grouping into “toss up” category and the the other into a “leans McCain” category unless you’re either shilling for the McCain campaign, or slaving away under a conventional wisdom meme without bothering to check your meme against reality.