Heading into election as an underdog

As November 4th draws closer, we’re hearing more and more from the McCain campaign about the race tightening, being confident of victory, being right where they want to be, etc. This makes sense, he certainly doesn’t want to appear pessimistic. I’m wondering if there was equal optimism from underdogs in past elections where one candidate had a lead. Dukakis, Mondale, and Dole specifically.

I remember feeling very discouraged in 1984 about Mondale, I can tell you that. On the other hand I felt great in 1996. Of course I was on the winning side then. So I’ve seen it from both sides.


Here’s a quote from the Chicago Sun Times in the final days of the 1988 camapign.

That was on November 6. On November 8, George H.W. Bush won 40 states and 426 electoral votes.

For a long time, Harry Truman was the patron saint of presidential underdogs. Truman had been behind in the polls in 1948, and of course won.

Public opinion polling was in its infancy in 1948. There was only a handful of pollsters, and I believe that most of them stopped polling well in advance of the election because they thought it was a foregone conclusion.

No matter. Truman had been behind and he won, and every underdog for the next generation was going to do the same. Here is Mondale invoking the Truman legend:

That’s the thing. The losing candidate may not realize how bad it is, or is being told it’s a much closer election than it really is. I doubt those close to McCain are telling him anything negative at this point so as not to discourage him.

So while most reasonable people would agree that McCain is the underdog here, stranger things have happened and there is still plenty of time for something to happen that causes a 15% voter shift from one candidate to the other… which may be all McCain needs to pull this one out!

Regardless of what McCain really thinks he will continue to appear optimistic until it becomes clear sometime on election night that he has lost. Let’s just hope that the Supreme Court isn’t called in to decide this one for some odd reason…

I totally disagree. I’m positive that McCain knows exactly what the situation is, and is using that knowledge to try to hone in on the most likely combination of events to pull him over the edge.

If he needs a 15% shift, he won’t do it. There is not “plenty of time” for that big a shift. Short of a meteor wiping out the northeast no earthly event could cause that change.

I agree with your disagreement. Both McCain and Obama are politicians. They know how to count votes and they know how to read polls.

But neither one of them got this far by NOT believing they’re going to win, and being ready to do what they needed to do to get them in the best possible position.

The thing is, McCain doesn’t need a 15% shift. Here’s what the latest polls say on fivethirtyeight.com

Florida - McCain down by two points, with 8% undecided
Indiana - tie with 2% undecided
Missouri - McCain down by 1 point with 5 percent undecided
North Carolina - McCain down by 1 point with 3% undecided
Nevada - McCain down by 4 points with 4% undecided
Virginia - McCain down by 4 points with 2% undecided

Everyone of those states is within the margin of error. A little statistical error and a few more of the undecided vote than go for Obama, and McCain needs only one populous state (Ohio or Pennsylvania) and one small state (New Hampshire, Maine or New Mexico) and he wins.

hard as it is to believe, one of the very first polls had Landon by a landslide in 1936. Landon actually won two states: Maine and Vermont. The poll had been carried out by telephone and in those days, only relatively well-off people had telephones.

In 1948, the polls ignored the undecideds. Polling is much better now. A terrorist attack could turn it around I suppose, although considering how remiss Dubya was in allowing the first one, it is hard to see why.

That 1936 Liberty Digest error is justly famous. What everybody chooses to forget these days is that they had called the previous four elections correctly.