In the New York Times on Thursday there was an article written by Rebecca Berg that dealt with “the myth of the swing voter.” The article was based on the premise that the hype surrounding the need to capture the elusive swing vote is completely overblown and that most voters are partisan and will reliably vote for one party or the other. In other words, this year’s election outcomes will be determined by the bases of the two parties.
Why is this significant? Well, because Team Obama is currently engaged in a ferocious attack on the opposition clearly designed to fire up the party faithful. Many knowledgeable people have and will continue to point out that the extreme negativity will hurt Obama among independent or swing voters and, therefore, is a major strategic mistake on the part of the Obama campaign.
Cue the spin doctors and propagandists.
Because the true believers in the Obama Media Group can’t have their man criticized in such a dangerously objective manner they feel compelled to leap into the fray in defense of him and his actions. In Berg’s case, the need to bolster Obama’s strategy called for the repeating of the claim that independent voters, swing voters, undecided voters are all a big myth (no doubt perpetuated by “dangerous right-wing types”) that needed to be squashed. She wrote:
About one-third of Americans describe themselves as independent voters, creating a widespread impression that a large group of Americans will provide the decisive swing votes in this year’s election. But that impression is misleading, polling experts and political scientists say.
Many self-described independents — close to half, according to surveys — reliably vote for one party or the other. And many true swing voters live in states, like California or Texas, where no analyst doubts the outcome in November.
In spite of clichés about Nascar dads and Walmart moms, the actual share of voters nationally who are up for grabs is probably between just 3 percent and 5 percent in this election, polling experts say. The Obama and Romney campaigns are expected to spend on the order of $2 billion, in part to try to sway this tiny share of the electorate.
So, case closed, right? I mean, the unidentified “polling experts” have spoken. But stop and use the common sense that Rebecca Berg obviously doesn’t think you possess and consider this: If approximately 33% of the population self-identifies as “independent” then shouldn’t that be taken seriously? Instead, Rebecca Berg dismisses this, apparently because those people are clearly too politically ignorant or just plain stupid to know how they really think. “Those people” (Nascar dads and Walmart moms) have to be shown how to think correctly by self-congratulating “intelligentsia” such as Ms. Berg and her employers at the New York Times.
It’s also important to note that she uses the phrase “reliably vote for one party or another.” This is a phrase that sounds official, maybe even scientific. But what does it really mean? The fact of the matter is that the American people vote in many elections, in different years and for different things. Municipal elections, district elections, state-wide elections, etc. There is, however, only one national election and it only happens once every four years. In other words, the election of a U.S. President is really rather unique; enough so that the usual rules are much less likely to apply. To pretend otherwise, as Ms. Berg did, is naive enough to be suspicious. Is she really unaware of the well-known and historically proven reality of Reagan Democrats and the less-well-known but still significant Clinton Republicans?
I don’t believe Ms. Berg is really that naive. Which means the only other possibility is that she deliberately adopted this view in order to promote the agenda that I mentioned at the top of the article: to give aid and comfort to the Obama campaign during this period of extreme and well-earned ridicule for the outrageous comments and assertions being made by members of the campaign, up to and including Vice President Joe Biden.
If you doubt me, then have a look at this tweet by Ms. Berg. She is bragging about the article she wrote in which she deliberately refrained from using the word “gaffe” and also chose to alter Biden’s comment from “gonna put y’all back in chains” to: “They’re going to put you all back in chains.” In other words she refused to characterize what he said as a mistake and deliberately sanitized the quote of it’s ridiculous and insulting fake Southern accent. In another tweet she tried to defend her decision by claiming that the “y’all” was neither newsworthy nor stylistically appropriate.
She even tried to spin away Biden’s other gaffe, namely confusing which state he was in. She did this by helpfully pointing out that Danville, Virginia, is really, really close to the North Carolina border. Apparently close only counts in horse shoes, hand grenades and now Joe Biden.
Another point Ms. Berg made was that many of the so-called swing voters reside in states such as California and Texas, where we can all agree the outcomes are entirely predictable. California will go with the Democrat and Texas will go with the Republican. Again, that sounds reasonable and logical. But wouldn’t that statement also be true of the magical Latino vote that the Democrats are forever touting? Isn’t it also true that many eligible Latino voters reside in California and Texas, where the eventual outcomes are not in doubt? And yet I don’t expect to see any articles from Ms. Berg in which she pooh-poohs the significance of the Latino vote.
Also, her anonymous “experts” tell her that perhaps only 3-5% of the voters are truly up for grabs. Her description of those voters as a “tiny share of the electorate” is yet another hint at her personal bias. Surely she’s aware of the presidential elections of 1876, 1948, 1960 and 2000. Surely she understands that a decisive swing by 5% of the electorate in either direction is more than enough to decide the outcome. If she isn’t too ignorant to be aware of this then why on earth would she be so anxious to dismiss it? Because it serves her purposes to do so. To her credit, she does at least provide one quote from the Romney camp:
“There’s a very small slice of people who are genuinely undecided, but it’s enough to win the presidency,” said Rich Beeson, the political director for Mr. Romney’s campaign.
Later in the article she gives herself away once again:
Myths about the behavior of these voters are pervasive and persistent: For example, that undecided voters break for the challenger as Election Day nears. (Data have shown this is often not the case.)
This is a swipe at Dick Morris, the pollster and campaign architect, who is well-known for insisting that undecided voters do ultimately vote for the challenger. Obviously in 2012 such an outcome would probably win the election for Mitt Romney. Naturally Ms. Berg can’t tolerate that kind of talk and so must disparage and dismiss it. After all, what could Dick Morris possibly know about running a presidential campaign? But there’s a reason why “myths” and “cliches” exist in the first place: because there is truth to them on some level that cannot be denied – at least not honestly. And Morris, whatever your opinions of him, knows that truth. He is predicting that Romney will win rather comfortably in November. Ms. Berg’s article is an attempt to refute that.
I have no doubt if Rebecca Berg were to read what I’m writing she would object to the suggestion that she harbors a liberal bias or that her employer is in any way biased on behalf of Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular. Of course it’s rare when a journalist is willing to admit to his or her bias, so that would be par for the course. But when one reads the words objectively – and without benefit of Kool-aid intoxication – it’s not hard to spot the subtle but obvious signs of a deliberate effort to influence the thinking of the readers, the talking heads and, ultimately, the voters.