If At Once You Don't Succeed, Prognosticate, Prognosticate Again

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 11 2010 10:08 AM

If At Once You Don't Succeed, Prognosticate, Prognosticate Again

Jonathan Last, October 9 .

Kirsten Gillibrand may be in trouble... At the national level it had been assumed that the Gillibrand seat was entirely safe. This is no longer the case...

This year polls show Gillibrand trailing in the suburban counties by anywhere from -4 to -12. If the Republican wave lifts [GOP candidate Joe] DioGuardi further ahead in the New York suburbs—or the National Republican Senatorial Committee decides to push some money into the race—Gillibrand could well be in trouble. Joe DioGuardi is still a long-shot candidate. But in this extraordinary year, all kinds of once-safe seats have swung into play. Kirsten Gillibrand’s is one of them.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


On November 2, Gillibrand defeated DioGuardi by 26 points, with a margin of over 1 million votes, carrying 55 of the state's 62 counties. In Last's defense, the NRSC never played in the race after all, but surely this is the sort of thing that gives pause before making another bold prediction based on a reading of current poll data.

In order to win reelection, Obama must either dramatically reconfigure his presidency or titrate his loss of support in a manner so precise that only two American presidents have ever pulled it off. It’s difficult to tell which would be the tougher trick.

The other possibility, of course, is that he’s toast.

There is lots of analysis like this:

Even if jobs were to mushroom over the next 24 months and the unemployment rate did drop to 8 percent, it would still be higher than it was when George W. Bush left office. People may not remember, but on the day Barack Obama was elected president, unemployment was 6.5 percent. In 2012 Republicans will remind everyone in America of this fact.

I like that switcheroo -- "when George Bush left office" to "on the day Barack Obama was elected president." The unemployment rate jumped from 6.5 percent to 7.6 percent during the transition period. By contrast, unemployment was 7.5 percent the day Ronald Reagan was elected and 7.5 percent the day he was sworn in, and it was 7.2 percent the day he beat Walter Mondale. Voter perception of whether the economy and the country are doing well matters more than the hard number. For example, unemployment was 3.9 percent the day that George W. Bush won in 2000 (well, the day voters voted; he didn't win until 36 days later), and it was 5.4 percent the day he beat John Kerry. If Republicans are led to believe a 25 percent drop in the unemployment rate wouldn't buoy Obama, it could be as misleading as the idea that Kirsten Gillibrand was beatable in 2010.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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