My Campaign Desk column today about why we shouldn’t lend too much credence to those analysis pieces about the meaning or message of the Massachusetts Senate race focuses on newspaper stories. But at TNR.com, John Judis has a more sophisticated argument for the proposition that the Bay State result is “clearly a message to the president and his party.”
Judis is one of our sharpest political writers, and he rests his case more on a survey of recent polling than last night’s election results. The data lead him to the claim that Obama’s difficulty in “speaking to and for middle America” has caused him, and his party, to lose key ground among senior citizens and the white working class.
It’s a good case—stronger, certainly, than the “news analysis” that appeared in your local paper this morning. At The Monkey Cage, though, John Sides takes a skeptical look at Judis’s analysis and offers these cautions: the apparent movement of demographic groups may really be partisan movement; there’s reason to doubt that working class voters are actually acting out of individual self-interest, as Judis suggests; and there’s no reason yet to abandon the explanation that Obama’s approval ratings depend on the economy. If you’re at all interested in this topic, read ’em both.
Everyone has a theory. But there is precious little in the way of concrete data to support any particular explanation — because few polls of the more than a dozen polls of this race have even sought one — suggesting that what’s about to happen in Massachusetts is still difficult to understand, and likely to remain so.
As Cohen also notes, the absence of data means “pundits of various stripes are free to spin to their hearts’ content about what this election means.” That process will take place even without the mainstream press prodding it on. And, in the self-reflexive, self-fulfilling way that politics works, the battle over the narrative will have real consequences, and thus becomes a newsworthy event on its own terms. Still, the best answer that reporters can give to readers about the broader message in Massachusetts is probably: We’re not really sure.Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.