Many in the press are gearing up to present today's special election in New York's 26th Congressional District as a referendum on Republican budget proposals and plans to reform entitlement programs.
MSNBC's website collected examples of such claims from numerous news outlets, including the Associated Press, Roll Call, the Hill, and a pair of local newspapers. Left-wing news outfits such as the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo have also tried to play this card.
The facts belie these claims. A conservative third party candidate seems to have siphoned significant support from the Republican candidate, and polling data suggests district residents support Republican Medicare reform proposals. But don't expect that to stop reporters from making their referendum claims, just as they did after the 2009 special election in upstate New York.
Here's what the AP had to say about today's election:
Today's tight race in New York's 26th Congressional District has become a referendum on the Republican plan to transform Medicare.
The western New York district is among the most conservative in the state.
Nevertheless, the latest poll shows Democrat Kathy Hochul (HOH'-kuhl) with a slight lead over Republican Jane Corwin in the race to succeed Republican Chris Lee. Lee resigned in February after shirtless photos surfaced that he'd sent to a woman on Craigslist.
Corwin was the early favorite but has seen her lead shrink after expressing support for a proposal to recast the government's health plan for seniors as a voucher program.
The AP mentions that Jack Davis, the conservative third party candidate, trails in a distant third, but doesn't mention what the precise numbers are. A quick Google search reveals the latest Siena poll findings: 42 percent for Hochul, 38 percent for Corwin, and 12 percent for Davis. In other words, absent Davis, Corwin would likely be able to overcome the statistically-minuscule four-point gap.
What's more, efforts to tie Corwin's lagging poll numbers to her position on Medicare routinely ignore recent poll data showing that NY-26 voters, by a 53 to 36 margin, want their representative to support the Republican Medicare plan.
Like this special election, the one in NY-23 in January 2009 saw a split ticket right up until the week of the election, with Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman squaring off against moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava. Like NY-26, that election was billed as a referendum on the Republican agenda - at the time its opposition to Obamacare.
As the Washington Examiner's Conn Carroll noted of Democrat Bill Owens's victory in NY-23, "The New York Times called the loss 'a blow to the right' that undermined 'party’s most deeply held conservative principles.' Democrats took the election as evidence that they would hold on the House in 2010. How did that turn out for them?"
And of course the "referendum" talk in 2009 tended to ignore or downplay gubernatorial victories in New Jersey and Virginia that ended up being far more predictive of the electorate's mood the following year.
Don't expect media predictions to be any more accurate this time around.