Are Obama’s Good Polling Numbers Hurting Him?


A couple of days ago, after I posted a bunch of poll models showing Obama with a fairly sizeable electoral college lead, a friend wrote to me:

Rs vote no matter what, rain, shine, or submerged subways. And the aggregators are putting the fear of God into them, firing them up even more. In contrast, lots of lefties see the odds and plan to do something else on election day.

As much as I’m not surprised to see the recent attacks on Silver, et al., I welcome them. There needs to be a lot less confidence in those numbers, regardless of how strong they are.

Dems look for reasons not to vote and Silver and others — or “reality” — serves that up. Some superstitious fear now would be a good thing. I think Palin scared the bejeezus out of the left in ’08, but they lack that oddball character on the right these days.

This is a fairly common sentiment. And it makes sense. It’s entirely reasonable to think that projecting an air of confidence might make your supporters overconfident and decrease turnout on Election Day. Better to keep them running scared.

But there’s an odd thing about this: professional politicians apparently don’t believe it. At all. Oh sure, they’ll keep sending out the scary emails all the way through November 6. “Folks, there are a bunch of races that are simply too close to call,” screams the latest plea in my inbox from Dick Durbin. “Contribute $7 now, before time runs out.” (Really? $7?) Publicly, though, presidential campaigns pretty much never do this. In fact, they usually go to absurd lengths to demonstrate that their campaign is a juggernaut that will sail to victory. They apparently believe—and so do I—that people are energized by being associated with a winner. Confidence in victory boosts turnout, it doesn’t suppress it.

Question: is this true, or is it just old-school conventional wisdom with no real basis in reality? I wonder if there’s any actual research that’s on point here?

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