As my colleague Greg Marx has pointed out in the past, political science can get short shrift in political journalism. The poli-scientist’s interest in structural matters—the state of the economy, for instance—lacks the excitement, or talking-point potential, of pundit chatter about a president’s failure to connect or the deficiencies of his innate elitism.
One of the best and most insistent writers pushing against the trend and pushing for the media to further embrace political science this election cycle has been University of Michigan political scientist Brendan Nyhan. Today, he has put together a preview for those subjecting themselves to Tuesday night’s televised election coverage—what he expects will be an “avalanche of nonsense.”
It’s long been obvious that Obama’s political standing would decline as a result of the poor economy and the passage of time. Similarly, substantial Democratic losses in the House were always likely given the large number of seats the party had to defend in a midterm election in which it controls the presidency. The continued weakness of the economy subsequently appears to have enhanced the Republican advantage, helping to produce tomorrow’s pro-GOP wave.
Instead of focusing on these structural factors, journalists and other political figures have constructed a staggering number of ad hoc claims about messaging, tactics, etc. to “explain” what has happened to Obama and the Democrats.
Nyhan has rather brilliantly gathered those “explanations” into an election night bingo card—see below—the idea being to cross off each one as you hear it coming from a pundit’s mouth. I guess winning depends on which channel you choose to watch.
Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.