Though he’s suggested that President Obama should “hit the road,” Harvard historian Niall Ferguson nonetheless believes the president has a better than even chance — perhaps a “3 in 4 chance,” according to some polls — of winning a second term.
Ferguson’s latest Newsweek column suggests several possible reasons for the president’s strong showing in the face of disappointing economic news. Among them: the possibility that polls are wrong.
People aren’t telling the truth to the pollsters. The deciding factor in this election will be whether or not a relatively small slice of the electorate—suburban, middle-class voters in a handful of states—deserts the president. Four years ago, as Michael Barone has pointed out, many such people voted for him. Now they are suffering from buyer’s remorse. But there is a certain stigma attached to voting against the man who came to personify not just political change but the end of centuries of racial prejudice. So when asked by pollsters, the swing voters simply don’t fess up.
A variant of this argument is that people currently telling pollsters they’d vote for the president tomorrow won’t actually turn out on Election Day. This seems to me a more likely scenario. Young people and African-Americans turned out in unusually high numbers four years ago. Precisely these groups have fared the worst in the sluggish economy of the past four years. Sure, they’ll never vote for Mitt Romney. But these disillusioned folks may just stay home “staring up at fading Obama posters,” in Paul Ryan’s memorable phrase.
To be clear, Fergsuon is not saying he buys this argument. In fact, he “inclines” toward another explanation — that the economy really isn’t the No. 1 issue in the election, and that Obama supporters are motivated more by interest in issues such as candidate likability, concerns about Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, and preserving current abortion protections.