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Following a Political Narrative off a Cliff

Rarely do we get such an obvious example of how the media loves a dramatic political narrative, even when the facts don’t fit it. In this case, the political narrative is that the Democrats are in deep trouble and that the upcoming midterm elections will be a repeat of the election that swept the “contract with America” Republicans into power during the Clinton administration.

For example, when Chris Dodd (D-CT) recently announced his retirement from the Senate, the media reacted as if it was the last straw for the Democrats. But the reality is that Dodd was very likely to lose that election, so his retirement means that the much more popular Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is all but guaranteed to be the next senator from Connecticut. So rather than being a disaster for the Dems, Dodd’s retirement turned a likely loss into a sure win for the Democrats. But that didn’t stop the press from sticking to the narrative that the Dems are in trouble and would be hurt by Dodd’s retirement.

The media is fixated on the four Democratic senators who are retiring this year, but doesn’t seem to notice that even though there are far fewer Republicans in the Senate, six of them are retiring this year. Who’s in trouble now?

What I’m curious about is whether this falsely negative press for the Democrats will hurt them, or ultimately help them. While negative press reports surely depresses poll results when people are asked whether they approve or disapprove of the job the Democrats are doing, in reality all politics is local, and the same people who express their disapproval in general may happily vote for their specific Democrat to represent them in Congress.

Above all, the deciding factor in midterm elections is turnout, and if the bad press helps mobilize Democrats to turn out in greater numbers, it could ultimately help the Dems. And besides, just because people might disapprove of the Democrats, most of them think even worse of the Republicans.

Of course, the conventional wisdom says that the president’s party loses congressional seats during the midterm election, but that’s another political narrative. It is going to be an interesting year.



  1. Dontcha just grow tired of the media narrative, sometimes? Eventually it all sounds like the same thing over and over again:
    1. Begin with “Democrats in disarray.”
    2. Give the Republican spin.
    3. Quote a Democratic operative saying that “We are in disarray, but it probably won’t be a total catastrophe.”
    4. Rebut the Democratic operative.
    5. Delay all facts to the end when you don’t have enough time to explain them.
    6. End the story.

    (credit: DeLong)

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  2. Pat Pattillo wrote:

    Mankind is basically adversarial in nature. We’re wired that way. Even in the course of doing good there are dragons to slay. So this will work to the Democrats advantage either now or later. Our arrival at some tipping point, with respects to Malcolm Gladwell, could be vastly accelerated if we had a president who recognized our very nature and who did not count on good will an collaboration from those who will never exhibit it. People will rally behind on who shows the courage to resolutely shout “Enough!” despite a pervasive malaise of appeasement and even hoplessness, not just with the state of the nation but also with Obama cuddling up to Wall Street by populating his adminsitration with their advocates.

    Didn’t ha campaign on hope? Bah, humbug!

    Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink