Hide Your Head, CW

Amid all the post-game commentary, let’s take a look at just how the old warhorse of campaign coverage performed. We’re not talking about David Broder, or Johnny Apple, or Robert Novak here. We’re talking the much-revered (and touted) Conventional Wisdom.

In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, reporter Larry Eichel reports: Not so hot. (Registration required)

In the weeks leading up to Nov. 2, academics and political strategists often opined that social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, would be secondary concerns. Such issues matter most, they concluded, when the nation is not at war and when the economy is humming.

That was the conventional wisdom, at least outside parts of the Republican Party. No more. As the results indicated, those issues proved huge.

Eichel rattles off some of the favorites:

CW: High turnout would help John Kerry and the Democrats. (Wrong; high turnout helped Bush and the Republicans.)

CW: The election would be a referendum on the Iraq war. (Wrong; only 15 percent of voters cited that as the most important issue, falling behind values, the economy and terrorism.)

CW: Cell-phone users’ inaccessibility to pollsters would skew poll results. (Wrong; in the last days, pre-election polls were highly accurate. It was exit polls that went awry, and that had nothing to do with cell phones.)

CW: Young voters would dramatically change the electorate. (Wrong; the under-30 vote was no bigger in 2004 than 2000.)

That got us to thinking about some other ballyhooed bits of CW. For example, the prediction that Election 2004 would be a redux of 2000, with no immediate winners. Close but no cigar.

Or how about the CW that churchgoers would support President Bush? On the money, it turns out.

And what of the CW that “Bush must win Ohio” to be returned to office. While Campaign Desk cautioned the media from buying into the whole idea of battleground states back in June, Ohio did turn out to be pivotal in the election.

Bottom line here: CW — like that other favorite, PD (polling data) — is about as dependable as a broken clock. Twice a day it’s on the mark; the rest of the time, it’s useless.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.