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If there is one thing that you can probably bet on, it is that the winners and losers in today’s balloting will draw the wrong conclusions from the outcome.
The winner of the presidential election — of 270 votes in the Electoral College — will almost certainly see his victory as confirmation that Americans support his agenda, ignoring what is likely to be a split decision in the Congressional elections and a presidential election that shows the country evenly divided.
Yes, the victor gets the right to govern, but instead of the tight contest producing humility and modesty in the camp of the winner, it is likely to be misinterpreted as some sort of ringing mandate. That’s what George W. Bush did after the 2000 election, even though he lost the popular vote to Al Gore.
The losing side will find somebody or something to blame — the media, racism, state voting laws, Hurricane Sandy, super PACs and “outside” money, its own nominee or the lies of the opposition — to explain away the loss. First, there will be disappointment and anger, and then there will be plenty of finger-pointing.
The same goes for House and Senate candidates. Will Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) believe she won re-election because voters approved of her performance or because voters thought she wasn’t as bad an alternative as Republican Rep. Todd Akin? And if she understands that she won only because of Akin, will that affect how she votes during the next six years?
Whatever happens in the presidential contest and in the fight to control Congress, there is no reason to believe that we will enter a new era of cooperation and civility. Bipartisan reaction to the destruction in the Northeast notwithstanding, the two parties have very different views about government and plenty of talking heads who are quite happy to accuse each other of lying and cheating.
Whatever tonight’s results, pollsters will find themselves under the microscope. In a number of races, Democratic and Republican pollsters are producing quite different data, and all of them can’t be right.
In the Indiana Senate race, for example, GOP pollster John McLaughlin showed state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) running even or a couple of points ahead of Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) late last week, while Democratic polling had Donnelly well ahead, as did a bipartisan Howey/DePauw poll conducted by Christine Matthews of Bellwether Research (a GOP firm) and Fred Yang of Garin-Hart-Yang Research (a Democratic firm).
While there are questions about the cycle’s polling, there are some things that are indisputable.