A Spin Around the May Poll

Guest posts on the presidential race are always welcome. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Content warning: horserace politics, abject punditry, a literal snotnose.

Q) How can you tell it’s May in a presidential election year?
A) Seasonal allergies have my sinus cavities leaking something resembling rubber cement, and the political media are sharing their gleefully dire predictions about IRREPARABLE DISARRAY within the Democratic Party.

The latest symptom of this condition (the one that doesn’t require me to tote an entire box of tissues to a backyard barbecue) consists of a pair of polls released over the weekend that show some shrinkage regarding Hillary Clinton’s lead in a hypothetical presidential matchup. The numbers suggest that, if the election happened this week, Secretary Clinton would struggle to overcome the support rapidly coagulating behind presumptive Republican hairpiece Donald Trump.

If you’re opening a new tab to research Canadian immigration procedures, I have good news. It’s f@%$ing May.

The fact is these polls aren’t measuring the outcome of even a hypothetical election. What they’re showing is the bump that a candidate gets after locking up a party’s nomination. If you’re not afraid of an obnoxious clickbait headline, you can click here to see it illustrated in 2008 when poll numbers for Senator John “bomb-bomb-Iran” McCain bounced above those of future President Obama when McCain clinched his party’s nomination for great white hope president.

Let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that the media were giving equal coverage to the Republican and Democratic races (instead of lavishing millions of dollars worth of free bonus airtime on Cap’n Trump’s Traveling Tire Fire). In that universe, like in this one, they’re still writing stories about a contentious two-person primary contest on the one hand, and on the other hand, the (completely unsurprising) trend of formerly appalled conservatives suddenly finding themselves all sticky with affection for their new carnival barker nominee. Of course people are going to be influenced in favor of stories about unity and strength and leadership (even if that leader is 10 pounds of fascist in a 5 pound bag).

It would actually be pretty convenient for both parties if the whole country fell into a coma and woke up ready to vote on November 8th. The Democrats could avoid contention and anger erupting at their convention, and the Republicans could be confident that Trump won’t verbally prolapse some classified information from his upcoming national security briefings. Like it or not, we’re going to have to endure every single minute of the next five-plus months, and the list of things that could happen to influence the outcome of the election is approximately infinite. These polls are entirely useless for anything beyond giving the Blitzerati something to gnaw on for a few fleeting news cycles.

I am by no means suggesting complacency. If you think Democrats can afford to underestimate Republicans who take extreme positions and make strange public statements, ask Bruce Braley how well that strategy worked. He lives in Colorado now. Trump has been able to win by breaking the rules of conventional politics, and in the process proved wrong a lot of predictions (including my own) that he wasn’t a serious candidate.

There are a million ways to lose an election, but the only way to win one is to convince people to turn out and vote. The one thing we can do that’s worse than not taking Trump seriously is to convince ourselves that he’s unstoppable. So the next time a news organization scraping for ratings tries to tell you that a common polling bump says anything meaningful about a long-distant election, just remember that, like my immune system and tree pollen, overreacting doesn’t do anybody any good.

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