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Published October 08 2010

Forum editorial: Too early to count chickens

Longtime observers of American politics often talk about “the narrative.” The narrative, they say, becomes the driver of political analysis. It becomes the substance of the story, even if there is little substance in the narrative. It becomes the fashionable theme, subject to little serious critical analysis.

The 2010 election cycle media narrative is that Republicans are energized, Democrats are lethargic, and Americans are angry. Ergo, the pundits conclude, it’s a certainty Republicans will take over the U.S. House of Representatives by a huge margin and likely make big gains in the U.S. Senate.

But more careful analyses of trends in recent weeks are revealing cracks in the narrative. Reassessments are suggesting that counting political chickens before they hatch might be a mistake.

First, several polls in recent days indicate that Democrats will not sit on their hands on Election Day. The narrative that has Republicans sweeping into power in Washington and elsewhere is causing Democrats to pay attention, as they did in 2008. The Democratic base, far from being out of sorts, has been re-energized, if not by great affection for President Barack Obama, by the fear the other side will win big.

Second, while polls indeed do show Republican enthusiasm outstrips Democratic energy, a significant segment of that enthusiasm is entangled with the tea party movement. Several tea party candidates – not to put to fine a point on it – are unelectable by virtue of their whacko policy positions and weird personal histories. Republicans who want to win find themselves between rocks and hard places because of the tea party.

Finally, the legitimate anger felt by many Americans does not mean they’ve jettisoned common sense. Middle-ground voters – the independents – tend to shift and drift, but not aimlessly. Unlike the cocksure partisans on the left and right, nonaligned voters revel in their independence. Early polls suggest independent voters are trending toward Republicans this go-around. But the 2010 political climate is so volatile that no poll of independents should be taken as gospel.

There are a lot of political eggs in Republican and Democratic nests. But there will be no hatching until the polls close on Nov. 2. Counting chickens before then is foolish.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.