Markos Moulitsas and Alex Pareene on McCain’s Mysterious Bump, Obama and the Electoral College, and Fetishizing the Undecided Voter

Barohn McBama and Jorack O'Cain. Photo: Getty Images

Every day until November 4, a series of writers and thinkers will discuss the election over instant messenger for nymag.com. Today, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas and Gawker’s Alex Pareene discuss campaign lies, the movement to declaw the Electoral College, and why you shouldn't be worried about the polls — yet.

A.P.: Hi! How are you today?

M.M.: Good. Great.

A.P.: Cool. Not hyperventilating about white-lady polling numbers then?

M.M.: Not yet. If these numbers don't bounce back down in a week or two, then I'll start worrying. As of now, this is par for the course. Not great, but they call them "bounces" for a reason.

A.P.: Yeah, it's too early to get too worked up. Though it's been argued that we SHOULD all be super worried, as it's motivating.

M.M.: One point about the panic-inducing polling we're seeing … The national polls don't tell us who's really winning. We elect our president in the Electoral College.

A.P.: Of course.

M.M.: And if McCain wins Idaho by 30 points instead of 20 points, who cares?

M.M.: In the state by state, the post-convention numbers are a mixed bag, but none show big shifts. A few points up here, a few points down there, but the bottom line is that Obama has a solid base.

A.P.: Actually, last I saw, Obama tightened it up in Florida and gained a bit in Colorado, right?

M.M.: Yeah, that was the latest CNN numbers, I think, but the shifts were so small it could all be floating within the margin of error. So things are still surprisingly stable in most battlegrounds. Now the real battle is engaged. And given that Republicans are facing steep losses at the Senate and House levels, the presidential is all they've got.

A.P.: Are we within the realm of a possible Obama electoral-vote victory and popular-vote loss? It's a dumb hypothetical, but it's been possible over the last couple of elections on either side.

M.M.: It's not a dumb hypothetical, and it's very well possible. Narrow victories in places like Virginia, North Carolina, and Colorado, coupled with steep losses in the deep South and other Republican strongholds, could certainly give Obama a victory in the EV, and still lose the popular vote.

A.P.: What does a responsible progressive argue for in that instance?

M.M.: What's there to argue? The Constitution is the Constitution.

A.P.: Ha! I love it.

M.M.: The problem in 2000 wasn't that Gore won the popular vote, it was that the GOP stopped the recount in Florida.

A.P.: Yeah. Would THAT be the end of the Electoral College?

M.M.: Nah. But there is a great effort along the way to circumvent it. If 25 states pledge to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, then we have effectively done so. And the project is making great progress. Let me dig up the Website … National Popular Vote. It's been passed by 21 state legislative chambers. They've passed it in states representing 50 of the necessary 270 EVs to make it a reality. In California, it's passed both chambers and is on the governor's desk. Really cool stuff.

A.P.: It's a great idea. I had no idea it was actually coming along so well.

M.M.: It's law in Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Hawaii.

A.P.: Back to polling — I am curious about the Daily Kos tracking poll you're rolling out this week (right?). What will it do that the other tracking polls won't?

M.M.: It launches Thursday, since it's a three-day rolling average and polling began yesterday, Monday. I don't know how different it'll be from others, but for one thing, we'll be completely transparent about the crosstabs and the results of the daily samples.

A.P.: Nice.

M.M.: In fact, I've got about 60 polls on the way through Election Day, and I've made it a hallmark to be completely open about all the data I get. Most operations will either be stingy on the crosstabs, or the partisan ones will only release the polls and data that makes their side look good. I've pissed off a lot of party types by running everything I poll, even the stuff that doesn't look so hot for my side.

A.P.: Well, that ought to help when every mention of your results in the press is prefaced by "FAR-LEFT HATE SITE DAILYKOS POLL SAYS …" or something

M.M.: Yeah, it's an occupational hazard. I used a non-partisan pollster with a clientele firmly rooted in newspapers and other non-partisan media outlets. But it's easier to discredit the publication than the pollster. So, hey, tell me how this election is playing on your side of the media divide, the Gawker empire. I mean, the convention speeches beat American Idol! That seems like progress…

A.P.: Oh, it's been fun. We cover media, that's really our beat, and I actually get away with being a bit more strident in the "this shit is hurting America" sense than Gawker would've been in the past. (Though it's always been entrenched, liberal elite in tone.) And I lived in D.C. for a while when editing Wonkette, so I hope I get to impart a little bit of "how things work, or don't" to those cloistered ivory-tower readers of ours.

The Dem convention was great television, perfectly stage-managed. The GOP convention looked like amateur hour next to it, but that one night of hype kinda outweighed the rest.

M.M.: I agree. It certainly looked like amateur hour! So how do you explain the McCain bump? I'm personally stumped. If media is so key to moving people, how did the GOP convention get anything out of it?

A.P.: Well, if you look at it as a media event outside of issues and policy and even all the horserace stuff, it's just novelty and drama. Football lead-in audience of people who know that NOW is the time they're supposed to be paying attention to this stuff. And inasmuch as the media drives any of it might just be the fetishization of "the undecided voter" as the sort of ultimate American independent. Everyone feels so proud for not knowing what the fuck is going on!

But I do think it is just the drama of it. They liked the new kid. They like that hero with his plucky lady friend!

M.M.: I love your use of the word "fetishization" there. It's true. The David Broder approach to politics. If you pick a side and are passionate about it, that's bad.

And even in this election, remember that Obama's drawing a crowd was bad when McCain couldn't fill a senior center. Now that Palin is drawing a crowd, no one complains about big crowds being bad anymore.

A.P.: It's really annoying for Dems, but it's nearly impossible to get those sorts of arguments to stick. He said crowds are bad and now he gets crowds!! Everyone prefers the bully.

M.M.: Of course. Calling a politician a hypocrite is like calling water wet. Everyone already assumes it.

A.P.: I admire how Obama can actually deliver a really good punch like "McCain just doesn't get it," but he just as often comes off as way too solicitous. It's hard for Dems to attack without looking like they're on the defensive.

M.M.: Not that hard. They just have to do it.

A.P.: Well, yeah, that's true.

M.M.: If not Obama, because he still believes the shit about changing politics, then at least his surrogates. Because as we're seeing with the claims that Palin opposed the Bridge to Nowhere, fact is, they'll lie. They know they're lying, the press knows they're lying, and no one seems to care.

A.P.: They shifted to the "we'll just repeat bullshit until people believe it" tactic as soon as they got Palin on board. Her TelePrompTer broke!

M.M.: We have one team that plays to win, and it ain't mine.

A.P.: the RNC did seem, to me, to reintroduce a particularly 2000, 2004 style of media management, which is obviously "all-out war" while also capitalizing on everyone's unwillingness to identify spades.

Anyway, before we go — you've probably been paying better attention. Will Al Franken win in Minnesota?

M.M.: Yes. Tough state for McCain, and Franken has weathered some early hits. I'd be more worried with Pawlenty on the ticket.

A.P.: Hot damn.

Earlier: Ezra Klein and Alex Pareene on McCain’s Dreams for the Presidency and O’Reilly Versus Obama

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.