Back in the days when I was super active with my high school debate program, there was a winning strategy regularly employed called “ballparking.” In a debate round, one debater takes the affirmative position and one debater takes the negative. Technically speaking, both sides put forward a case, then spend the rest of the round arguing for their own case and pointing out the flaws in their opponent’s. But, if one debater is demonstrably stronger and smarter than the other, what happens is that both sides end up debating the stronger speaker’s case: one side argues that she is right, and the other debater argues that the other side is not right, without putting forth a substantive counter-argument of his or her own. So both sides are playing on one “ballpark,” and the side whose ballpark that is will win nine out of ten times.
At this point in the election cycle, the Obama campaign has effectively ballparked the debate. The Obama campaign is talking more or less solely about Obama, arguing that he would make a good president. The McCain campaign is…also talking more or less solely about Obama, arguing that he would not make a good president. What the McCain campaign is not arguing is that McCain would make a good president, irrespective of Obama’s views or qualifications.
Both campaigns are playing on the Obama ballpark.
For this reason, my prediction is that Obama will win. Trying to convince people to vote against Obama is not the same thing as trying to convince them to vote for McCain.
Having said that, however, my unhappy prediction is that the majority of undecideds will break for McCain. Thanks to the efforts of both campaigns, the question facing voters at this point is not: Who should be president, Obama or McCain? The question actually facing voters is: Do you trust Obama to be president? People who still can’t quite bring themselves to answer “yes” to that question today will probably be unable, in the end, to answer “yes” to that question three days from now.
Along those lines, though, my further prediction is that third-party candidates will show better than is currently being anticipated, and will tip both the national popular vote and specific state electoral votes in unexpected ways. I think that a minority, but still statistically significant number, of people who can’t quite bring themselves to vote for Obama will also find that they’ve been given no compelling reason to vote for McCain, and will cast their votes for third-party tickets. I’m thinking somewhere in the neighborhood of between two and four percent.
Ultimately, I believe this will benefit Obama, as his constituency is by and large strongly supportive of him specifically, whereas a large contingency of both McCain supporters and undecideds are not nearly as enthusiastic about the Republican ticket.
But here’s the thing: the Conventional Wisdom right now says that Obama must maintain a 50% majority; if he slips to so much as 48% or 49%, the undecideds will break for McCain and give him the victory.
I agree with this in part. However, what most of the handicappers are forgetting is that the McCain campaign hasn’t bothered to build its own ballpark, much less invite voters to visit it. If McCain loses so much as 2% of the undecideds to Obama, third-party candidates, or some combination thereof, it’s game, set, match.
And I predict that he will.
In the end, I think Obama wins the popular vote at right around 50% (versus a McCain 47%, let’s say), and wins the electoral vote by a convincing majority, with a couple of the very close states—Iowa, Missouri (for example)—flipping for him due to third-party votes.
Hey—I could be totally wrong. What the hell do I know? But that’s how I’m calling it now!