Monday, September 15, 2008

Election Prediction: Electoral College Blowout for Palin/McCain

After absorbing a wide array of reader responses and mainstream political commentary, I have concluded the Palin/McCain ticket (yes, in that order) will win by an overwhelming electoral college margin.

The popular vote may well be close, but the election will be decided by about 500,000 voters in "swing states" like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida.

The simple reason for my prediction is this:

Relatively few Americans vote--generally less than half of all eligible voters, compared to about 80% in other developed-world democracies like France and Japan.

If even 10% of the previously non-voting eligible voters make an effort to cast a ballot for one party or the other, they will ensure a landslide win. So it comes down to which party ticket energizes their potential supporter base.

It seems self-evident to me that while Obama has fired up a pool of previously non-voting eligible voters in Urban America, Palin has fired up previously non-voting eligible voters in rural/suburban America.

The editors of the journal The Stranger wrote an extremely insightful (and scathingly partisan) analysis of American politics, The Urban Archipelago back in the aftermath of the 2004 election.
Regardless of your own partisan leanings (left, right, none, a pox on both houses, etc.) this analysis identifies the true divide in the nation is between urban zones (Left Coast and Northeast) and Everything in Between (rural and suburban).

The question then comes down to: which of those two populations tends to vote in greater numbers /percentages? I think the answer is rural/suburban, and so I expect the voters who typically don't bother to vote will make an effort to show up at the polls.

This is the short demographic answer, but a fuller answer can be found in this incisive commentary by Wall Street Journal writer Lee Seigel. The Triumph of Culture Over Politics Liberals always think there's something broken in politics. Conservatives always think there's something wrong with the culture. Why that gives Sarah Palin and the Republicans the edge in November.

Here's the key to the election: It is self-evident that a huge percentage of new Palin supporters will not be swayed by anything she says; they are voting for her purely on identity politics, i.e. "she's one of us." She could announce that the world is flat and that we should start wearing our underwear on the outside and that would not effect her supporters' belief in her being "one of us" in the least.

If a black person votes for a candidate because she's black, that's derided as "identity politics." But that is precisely why Palin's voters will vote for her regardless of what she says: they identify her as "one of us."

Meanwhile, the white Independent voter and perhaps the undecided Hispanic voters are alert for some position, utterance or subtext would would cause them to abandon the Obama/Biden ticket. (Not to mention that weird moment in the voting booth when some will pull back from voting for a non-Caucasian president. Let's be honest and admit it's an issue.)

The reason is self-evident: the Obama campaign's appeal is based not so much on being "one of us" but on policy and issues. To wit: The country is going down the wrong path, and the solution is political and economic. Palin's subtext is: there is nothing wrong with the nation or its policies that some basic "maverick" qualities couldn't whip into shape.

That seems to reflect the complacent attitude of most Americans who are supporting Palin and McCain. Here is an extremely insightful report from longtime correspondent Michael Goodfellow, who recently stayed at a truck stop motel for a few days.

The truck stop has a 24-hour diner called the Silver Skillet. I think the healthiest thing on the menu is grilled chicken breast with a side of fries. Everything else is fried or covered with white sauce, or both. The servings are huge, and so are the customers. You could get a dozen rants about unhealthy lifestyles out of this place.

Still, listening to the conversation, it's all pretty laid back. This isn't a bitter crowd. Lots of old people telling their jokes and stories to anyone who will sit still for them. Not much talk about politics, a lot of talk about family. I really don't think of this as a group of people gone to hell, sedated by TV, lied to by advertisers, misled by government, etc.

This is just what you get when average people with undemanding careers are just trying to get by without worrying too much about the future. And they get all they want to eat... Any group of our ancestors sitting around a tree would feel right at home, and envy these people.

In other words, life is still very good for those who haven't lost their homes or jobs, and those unfortunates are a relatively small percentage of the population.

As you know, many survivalist/Libertarians/free-thinkers read this site and contribute to its content; as you also know, I consider you part of the Remnant, the 4% or so of the population who isn't lulled into complacency by the MSM and attack-dog "conservative" (gag--as if borrowing trillions from the Gulf Oil exporters and the Chinese is "conservative" in any way, shape or form) entertainers/pundits.

I think it is remarkably easy, at least for me, to reckon that more people are alert to the grave consequences of the Patriot Act, the bailing out of every non-U.S. bank and speculator (domestic and non-U.S.) who bought Fannie and Freddie-backed mortgages, the absolutely shameless bailout of every U.S. bank and so on.

Read this for an excellent summary of how the Bank of America wrote the bailout bill: The Great Swindle: How housing bill helps banks, not taxpayers.

But the truth is the vast majority of American voters are more interested in Sarah Palin's footwear and eyewear than in issues which have no discernable effect on their well-being such as the F&F bailout.

The truth is, as long as the Saudis and other Gulf oil exporters and the Chinese and Japanese keep buying trillions in low-yielding Treasury and U.S. mortgage debt, then the eventual costs of all that insanely unsustainable borrowing are made to appear, well, entirely sustainable forever.

Credit crunch? The average American, espcially those who are fired up by Sarah Palin, don't have much direct contact with credit crunch issues; they have their mortgage and their credit cards and maybe a GMAC auto loan. As long as they can make the payments--and recall unemployment is still historically low, if we are to believe official statistics--then life is still good. All the talk of Georgia and Russia and Freddie and Fanny might as well be talk about the critters some hope to find on the surface of Mars--very distant and without any discernable impact of their daily cultural existence.

Despite the bad news and the impending doom, most voters don't see it or feel it yet. Note I said voters, not citizens. Half the country can be a whisker from bankruptcy but if they don't vote, then they have zero say in the election. If voters are feeling generally pretty good and complacency runs high in those primed to vote, that's all that matters.

Voters tend to be people who have a stake in the System and who believe their voice counts. Many people feel their vote doesn't count and they have no influence, so they don't vote--thus guaranteeing their lack of influence. I suspect more rural voters feel empowered and motivated to vote, and relatively more urban voters feel listlessly disenfranchised.

As long as their government checks and entitlements are flowing, at least one card still has some credit and they have a job, Americans feel no connection to the Empire of Debt's meltdown. Only a government default on middle-class entitlements (Social Security and Medicare) or a 25% unemployment rate will actually impact Americans enough to shake the massive inertia of their complacency. Recall that most the income taxes in the U.S. are paid by the top 20%, so if a massive government bailout of bankers raises taxes by 10%, so what? Most Americans sitting in truck stop diners (myself included, as I make less than $30K a year) will pay very little additional tax.

As a result of "progressive taxes," most Americans will be unaffected by these stupendously costly "private profits, public risk" bailouts. Hey, just borrow the money, then borrow the interest payments. As long as our foreign "friends" keep buying our deficits and debts rain or shine, then the debt bubble bursting will have zero impact on "average Americans." And so they don't care about "policies" or "issues" except as they relate to the cost of gasoline.

And thanks to the Saudis pumping flat out all spring and summer, oil prices are plummeting just in time for the election. Just a coincidence, folks, that the same thing happened in 2004. The gentlemen in the flowing robes were not in attendence at the Republican convention, but they were there nonetheless.

Meanwhile, mainstream "conservative" pundits like Peggy Noonan are suddenly calling for " a debate of the issues." What a joke. Miles to Go. Like an adult who feels the need to say, "OK, boys and girls, quiet down and do your homework" when she's having too much fun, Noonan and her ilk of commentators are actually ecstatic about Palin's identity-politics success but can't let on because it is embarrassingly shallow and more than a little suspect on the world stage.
Does anyone really think Palin is on the same level as Merkel and Thatcher? Yes, they are all female politicians. But the parallels end there. (Angela Merkel is Chancellor of Germany; Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Great Britain.)

In addition to an unwholesome identity politics, the other key to this election is luck.

My longtime friend G.F.B. recently wrote here that McCain's seeming run of luck is the result of the Republican Party's leadership reluctantly throwing its weight behind his candidacy. That is certainly one element of his success.

But I also believe in what amounts to Luck-Luck. The closest analogy might be "The Zone" athletes (even us amateurs) enter at certain times. I can distinctly recall several pickup basketball games in my youth in which I literally could not miss: fade-away jumpers, top of the key shots, baseline shots, hook shots, you name it. Now most of the time I am capable of missing an easy layup shot, so these games really stand out in my mind.

I think McCain is in The Zone. His flubs seem to slip away without injuring his campaign, while his half-court strategic lobs like selecting Palin are dropping through the net.
This is all pure speculation, of course, and I may wake up after the election to find the Obama/Biden ticket has swept the field. But complacency is the deadly enemy of concerted thought and careful judgment, and if America is as complacent and detached as it seems, then McCain/Palin will win handily.

McCain will then have a chance to rid the Republican party of the Rove-led hatred and partisan smear campaigns and perhaps set the nation on a path to fiscal solvency and responsibility.
But I wouldn't lay any money on it happening, though, because complacency creates a massive inertia to the kind of deep structural changes the country needs to make.

So it already seems 2012 will be the really important election, the one held in the depths of a staggering global Depression. Maybe then people will start perking up to more than high heels, papers the candidate's wife wrote in college and sarcastic one-liners zinging the opposition. If people don't get their government checks, if they've lost their job and their unemployment checks run out, if they're losing weight because they can't get enough to eat, then they'll start caring. They may just want to find a scapegoat; if so, behind that door lies fascism and or/global war.

Or maybe the duct tape being slapped onto the credit contraption and the fossil fuel jalopy will hold, and everything four years hence will be much as it is now.

While the rest of the country focuses on the political soap opera and the sit-com one-liners, how about we keep an eye on the duct tape? Here are three insightful reader commentaries I strongly recommend reading:

Reader Comments

Catarina M.

I read your post today regarding the election,the candidates, the general state of affairs and just kept nodding, yes! I can't quite wrap my mind around what has happened to this country. The Great Depression hit my family hard.

My grandfather won a sports scholarship to Harvard (good deal for a poor Irish kid from Massachusetts, especially then), gave it up to support his family during the Depression years. The ripple effects in families from hard times is something I know the younger generation cannot imagine as of yet.

People I talked to who grew up during the Depression felt families were closer then, more dependent on one another. They were even nostalgic for the closeness of those times. You see a similar effect in the immigrant families here in Arizona. Poor people need each other, count on one another. My grandfather also took a lot of pride in supporting his family and keeping them together. I'm just not sure we will see the same dynamic this time around in the country at large. Kids today are not very interested in having a family, never mind supporting one.

The most conservative, routine thing you could do in life, have a family, is now seen as too risky!
Day after day, this story unfolds. We're not quite at Argentina yet, I'm wondering if we will get there soon. We had our one and only kid during the Carter years and still recall inflation, or more like, stagflation. Diapers cost as much as a car payment:)

On the ground here in Arizona, education drove the sprawl to the far reaches of Maricopa and other counties. I haven't seen this much discussed, lots of people worry their kids will go to rotten schools and fail in life. So they moved to developments with shiny, new schools (some of which were promised and not delivered), thinking they were doing right for their kids. (The immigrant families, too, another untold side of the story.)

People got homes in Florence or Queen Creek or Goodyear and were willing to drive an hour to work so the kids could go to a "decent" school. We put our kid through city schools and charter schools here in the city, it worked out great for us. My work as an artist allowed us to see things differently from folks in the typical 9-to-5 situation, I think.

9-to-5 leaves folks stretched thin on every level, and vulnerable to "the quick fix". Which I think summarizes much of what has gone wrong for the middle-class in recent decades. Much of what was offered via E-Z credit was variations of "quick fix" for folks under enormous pressure, holding down jobs with stagnant wages. There were no quick fixes during the Great Depression and I wonder how Americans will live without them now?

John K.
The problem with painting Palin as 'not-quite-ready-to-be-prez' (justifiably) is that is shines the halogens on Obama's lack of experience.

Eloquent, when reading a speech - yes - but truly inexperienced in what matters the most. Palin is a heartbeat away from the most powerful post in the world; Obama - if elected - owns the heartbeat of the most powerful man in the world.

This is the problem the Dem's have with Palin. When they bring up her inexperience, they expose Obama's inexperience.

Please, his time as a community activist doesn't count. Sitting in the Illinois legislature voting 'present' doesn't count either. And, his time in the Senate? He's spent most of his time running for office!

One thing that really irks me is that Obama represents himself as the candidate of change that will bring people together. Really? Can anyone name one time, one bill, one anything he collaborated with the opposition on? Has he reached across the isle? Not if he voted the liberal dem line 97% of the time he hasn't.

Not that I'm a fan of McCain - did I tell you that? - but one thing you can say is that he has reached across the isle. Maybe reached across too many times but he has collaborated with dems on many major pieces of legislation.

Before you paint me as one of those despised conservatives without heart, let me tell you I'm no Republican. That party left me long ago. Call me archaic - but I'd like a party which believes in a small constitutional representative government. The only reason I'm more attracted to the Repubs vs the Dems is at least they profess their belief in smaller government. Yes too many swarmy hypocritical politicians drown out the small numbers of true conservatives.

The Dems, on the other hand and as you well know, never really give a hoot about downsizing anything to do with government. A big government, engineered by either party, is counter to what the founders best and something every liberty-loving soul should fear.

Well, yes Palin would become vice-president with too little experience but, let me point out that was the knock (the proper knock) on the following:
Teddy Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Richard Nixon
None of these men messed things up - at least as vice-presidents. Perhaps the real problem with Palin, then, is sexism.

Palin is attractive because she comes across as honest and principled. Qualities sorely lacking in todays would-be leaders.

Paul K.
I enjoy reading your musings and essays (especially those related to the real-estate bubble), but I'm surprised, if not a bit disappointed, with your latest entry.

Let me begin by saying I'm as disheartened, borderline disenfranchised, as yourself by the performance of the current administration over the last eight years. And like you, I too voted for McCain over Bush in the primaries.

Perhaps I'm mis-reading you, but I don't understand how you could, in good conscience, vote for a lesser qualified candidate to avoid rewarding party incompetence. Isn't this the very definition of partisan politics?

Palin may be longer on personality than experience, but that strikes me as the same description as her opponent running for President (not Veep). When was the last time Obama led a group of people in a crisis situation?

I'd like to leave you with one final thought. As disappointed we both are in the performance of the Republican party over the last eight years, which candidate has best demonstrated the will to go against the grain of the party line, and wisdom to embrace good ideas from across the aisle?
Regardless of how you feel about one party or another, shouldn't your vote be about the best individual for the job?

Albert R.

I am 100% white, I live in Argentina, where there are very few black people, but I have lived in Brazil, Santo Domingo and many other latin american countries and have some understanding of the situation. Have you ever considered the position of people from some of these countries, who have a fairly small percentage of black ancestry and consider themselves as white, and are so also considered by the rest of their countrymen. When they travel to the United States, as tourists or as immigrants and upon arrival they find they are now black it must be quite a shock. There must be many thousands now with that experience. P.S. I very much enjoy your web page, which I open daily.

Mary R.H.
Back in January The Atlantic Monthly published an excellent article on how the U.S. and China are financially intertwined and dependent on each other. Read at your leisure and see if you would recommend this to your other readers.

The $1.4 Trillion Question The Chinese are subsidizing the American way of life. Are we playing them for suckers—or are they playing us?

New Book Notes: My new "little book of big ideas," Weblogs & New Media: Marketing in Crisis is now available on for $10.99.
"Charles Hugh Smith's Weblogs & New Media: Marketing in Crisis is one of the most important business analyses I have ever read. It is the first to squarely face converging global crises from a business perspective: peak oil, climate change, resource depletion, and the junction of key social cycles will radically alter the business landscape in coming decades...."

An excerpt from Weblogs & New Media: Marketing in Crisis :
10. As supply/demand imbalances in FEW (food, energy, water) and the iron hand of demographics tightens its irreversible stranglehold on government's revenues and entitlement expenses, a global loss of faith in institutions will foster backlash/blowback and social disorder.
Expectations (i.e. our private inner maps of the future), lofted so high by the past 25 years of global expansion, cheap commodities and wealth creation via financial "innovations" (previously known as asset bubbles and debt), will be a powerfully destabilizing force globally.

It is a psychological truism that those with few expectations for betterment tend to persevere and be happy despite low status and income as they view themselves as sacrificing for the future benefit of the family and their children.

But those with high expectations for wealth, status, prestige, leisure and artistic expression find even modest disappointment a bitter gruel indeed. Thus the economic downturn in Hong Kong had little effect on the happiness of the city's many maids, but it exacted a devastating toll on their status/wealth-driven, high-expectation employers.

Buy my new novel from Claire's Great Adventure or buy a signed copy from me (a great gift for teens)

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