Every election since 2004 I've obsessively watched poll numbers, often checking several times a day in the months before the election. And my mood usually follows the latest polls until I check again. It's...really not a healthy or useful thing to do. I suspect I'm not alone...
I have OCD so it's particularly bad. It's like repeatedly checking sports scores and thinking that if I sit in a different position, the result will be different. Of course, the stakes are higher with an election. But then again, polls are not actual points going on the board.
Either way, it's just unhealthy. And in 2020 it's even more absurd since the polls have been so stable for months. As if the latest poll of Swing State X from B+ pollster Y will CHANGE EVERYTHING...until another poll from pollster Z with a B rating counters it.
I don't fault pollsters or aggregators or media for this, by the way. It's my choice to consume - and be consumed by - this extreme flow of information as if I was a day trader. But it's exhausting and yet addicting.
And yes, there are far more productive ways to help out a campaign. And I do some of that too. (Could always do more). So it's not like obsessive poll-reading substitutes for more productive engagement with politics. It just adds an unhealthy layer on top.
It's also weird following the 2020 election while writing a book about the 1860 election, and particularly the relationship between democracy and civil war. FWIW: No, I don't think 2020 leads to Civil War 2.0. There's nothing like slavery to divide Americans so viscerally today.
Beyond that question, though, there are some important parallels between politics today and the mid-19th century. And social media is a big one, especially the way it transforms far-away events into immediate localized threats. Telegraphic newspapers did the same in 1860.
People were obsessed with politics then too, of course. They didn't have polls, but there were state and local elections held throughout the year. And newspapers posted tabulations to be read as tea leaves for the coming bigger election.
Newspaper editors were closely aligned to parties, much has media has become again in the last 30 years. There was no pretense of objective journalism. Rumors and counter-rumors would take up lots of column space. Sometimes it would get very personal or even violent.
Trolling and mockery were the currency of mid-19th century rhetoric just as today. Complaints about mindless partisanship...and commitment to extreme partisanship...was just as strong. Policy platforms probably mattered more then than today. Party machines moved more in sync.
But in 1860 the "Democracy" (as the Democratic Party was popularly known) collapsed into two rival factions, ostensibly over whether there should be a Congressional slave code for the Western territories.
In the North, slavery had largely replaced nativism as the driver of politics by 1860. It was no sure thing in the mid-1850s that the anti-slavery Republican Party and not the anti-foreign/Catholic "American" (Know Nothing) Party would replace the Whigs as the "Opposition."
Newspapers were filled with "public letters" from disgruntled former supporters of Stephen Douglas or William Seward. Others would respond by doxxing (or trying to dox) the pseudonymed writer, often revealing them as utter hypocrites.
Accusations of fraud were rampant - moreso than actual fraud (though that really did happen much more than now). Every single election loss was because of a "suspicious increase in votes" from this or that precinct. There were also some key swing demos, like German Protestants.
Democracy was raucous in mid-19th century. It was all-consuming. It was a way forward for young people, rural and urban alike. It was a way for German and Irish immigrants to become truly American. And those excluded - African Americans and women especially - demanded inclusion.
Anyway, I've long digressed from my original point about obsessing over polls... I guess the point here is that this is an old American affliction, even if it manifests differently today than in the past.

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More from @AstorAaron

24 Sep
Imagine if Biden casually suggested that PA Gov. Wolf should just start throwing tens of thousands of registered Republicans off the voter rolls just for the hell of it. With some BS excuse about them being "fraudulent registrations" or whatever. I think PA GOPers would be upset.
It's one thing for Trump to bluster about "no need for a peaceful transfer of power because I'm gonna win anyway." That's just Trumpian bluster. But he volunteered, without being prodded, that mail-in ballots were a "disaster." And when gotten rid of, he would win.
Again, he has no real power to do any of this. Trump is talking this way because he is losing and he knows it. But surely the PA GOP should state for the record that they have no intention of treating mail-in ballots (by either party) as a "disaster" to be discarded.
Read 4 tweets
23 Sep
The chance of a SCOTUS judge deciding the 2020 election is miniscule. Any newly appointed SCOTUS would have to recuse any case anyway. That Trump says this out loud shows how utterly unfit he is to serve as President a single day longer.
If a newly appointed Justice does not recuse, and makes a decision that affects the outcome in favor of the President who just appointed her, that would render the entire election illegitimate. Then all bets are off.
Trump is openly saying that he wants a new Justice appointed and confirmed before the election for the purpose deciding an election dispute in his favor. If that happens, we are Belarus and should act accordingly.
Read 4 tweets
22 Sep
I lived in northern NJ until I was 12. Pretty much every single person I knew growing up was either Jewish or Catholic. I had never heard of a "Protestant" until I was maybe 11. It's bit like SCOTUS since J.P. Stevens retired in 2010. But it's the opposite where I live now!
My county in East Tennessee (Blount) has just one Catholic church and no synagogues. There are certainly Jews and Catholics here but they are a tiny, tiny minority. I regularly have students tell me they've never known a Catholic person (not to mention a Jewish person).
It's probably an accident of history that SCOTUS has been 100% Jewish and Catholic since 2010 (Gorsuch was raised Catholic but I'm not sure if he still considers himself one). But it's striking how similar that profile is to what I grew up around in NJ and not where I live now!
Read 5 tweets
22 Sep
Democrats won big in 2018 by making the election about health care and threats to take away health insurance. In a pandemic, and with a likely SCOTUS nominee who openly stated ACA should have been struck down, THIS is the issue Dems should run on. Especially in PA & the Midwest.
Don't get sucked into culture war crap about the nominee. Abortion/Roe is fine to run on where it helps. But the immediate threat is to the ACA and the obscene 5th Circuit "non-severability" case. Health care is the unifying issue that takes in the pandemic and the Court.
No better way to ensure that Biden's numbers among older voters and non-college white women will improve a lot over HRC in 2016 than to focus like a laser on health care. (For elderly voters, mention Trump's "payroll tax" deferral threatening SS & Medicare).
Read 5 tweets
21 Sep
There are two different kinds of "conservative Supreme Court." One is genuinely cautious, mostly maintaining existing law though not "legislating from the bench." The other is actively dismantling the post-New Deal Federal order and reversing civil rights/liberties decisions.
The former is a lot more palatable for most liberals and moderates because there is less need for SCOTUS to intervene where legislatures have failed. The latter is genuinely dangerous and would render obsolete even the tamest social programs Democrats (and many GOPers) support.
Some Justices exhibit a bit of both, depending on the case. And some Justices make dissents that sound like the latter version but they'd never join in a majority opinion under the same logic. So it's hard to divided Justices into the two camps.
Read 6 tweets
21 Sep
I'm not sure if rurality is the Dems' problem in the Senate. Vermont is pretty rural. And Dems did win last year in MT and WV. Also, most of the population in western plains states lives in urban areas. The issue is electing Dems in purplish states like NC, GA, TX, FL, IA.
There is no reason for NC, FL and IA to continue having two GOP Senators. Or for GA, TX or even AK to not have a competitive shot at a split delegation. It's up to Dems to field good candidates to win those races. And to consolidate the two seats in ME, CO, WI and PA.
This is all doable. Easier in some years than others, depending on national political winds. But the 2014 Senate disaster should be seen as a Dem turnout flop more than a permanent GOP advantage.
Read 8 tweets

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