New York Times Downplays Democrat Success on Election Day

What a difference a week makes – along with a huge gaffe by a former presidential candidate, and some unexpected changes in polling results.

The New York Times has published an Election Day article entitled “For Democrats, Even a Gain May Feel Like a Failure” (hat tip to AJ Strata) that dramatically lowered the bar of expectations for the Party of Pelosi and Reid. The piece by Adam Nagourney ominously began:

In most midterm elections, an out-of-power party picking up, say, 14 seats in the House and five seats in the Senate could call it a pretty good night.

But for Democrats in 2006, that showing would mean coming up one seat shy of taking control of both the Senate and the House. And it would probably be branded a loss — in the case of the House, a big one.

Wow, Adam. Tell us what you really think:

For a combination of reasons — increasingly bullish prognostications by independent handicappers, galloping optimism by Democratic leaders and bloggers, and polls that promise a Democratic blowout — expectations for the party have soared into the stratosphere. Democrats are widely expected to take the House, and by a significant margin, and perhaps the Senate as well, while capturing a majority of governorships and legislatures.

These expectations may well be overheated. Polls over the weekend suggested that the contest was tightening, and some prognosticators on Monday were scaling back their predictions, if ever so slightly. (Charlie Cook, the analyst who is one of Washington’s chief setters of expectations, said in an e-mail message on Monday that he was dropping the words “possibly more” from his House prediction of “20-35, possibly more.”)

Some Democrats worry that those forecasts, accurate or not, may be setting the stage for a demoralizing election night, and one with lasting ramifications, sapping the party’s spirit and energy heading into the 2008 presidential election cycle.

The tone actually got even more dire:

“Two years ago, winning 14 seats in the House would have been a pipe dream,” said Matt Bennett, a founder of Third Way, a moderate Democratic organization. Now, Mr. Bennett said, failure to win the House, even by one seat, would send Democrats diving under their beds (not to mention what it might do to all the pundits).

“It would be crushing,” he said. “It would be extremely difficult.”

Mr. Cook put it more succinctly. “I think you’d see a Jim Jones situation — it would be a mass suicide,” he said.

Then, the blame game started:

But any casual reader of a newspaper, or watcher of television news, or consumer of polls could be forgiven for thinking that the nation was about to witness its biggest shift in power since Republicans seized control of Congress by capturing 54 House seats in 1994. In the past week, analysts like Mr. Cook and Stuart Rothenberg, as well as on-the-record Democrats and Republicans, were talking about the Democrats’ racking up as many as 35 seats. (Republicans, of course, may have decided that they have a Machiavellian interest in setting up Democrats with inflated expectations.)

“From a communications standpoint, the Democrats have done a lousy job managing expectations,” said Justin Blake, an executive vice president at Edelman, the public relations firm.

Interesting. So, it's the Democrats and the pollsters that are responsible for the public's expectations of the election outcome? Isn't it fascinating that the Times chose not to put that microscope on itself, and take some responsibility for this situation?

Physician -- heal thyself!

Polling New York Times
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