Eric Gay/AP
In this Oct. 3 photo, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney points to President Obama during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver.

Will presidential election loser blame hurricane Sandy?

If President Obama's reelection bid fails, his staff may cite lost days of campaigning. If Mitt Romney falls short, his campaign could point to a perception that hurricane Sandy stopped his momentum.

Will the loser in next week’s presidential election blame his fate on hurricane Sandy? “First Read” over at NBC News raised that question Wednesday, and we think it’s interesting. That’s because it gets at the fine line between actual effects and magical thinking, which is part of so many expert narratives about political campaigns.

As the First Read gang notes, “Given how close this election is, it won’t be surprising if the losing side ends up blaming Sandy, whether it’s fair or not.”

If President Obama fails in his bid for a second term, his staff may turn around and point at the three days of campaigning he’s lost to Sandy-related activities. 

If Mitt Romney falls short in his bid to unseat Mr. Obama, his campaign could ascribe the loss to the perception that Sandy “elevated the president and stopped the momentum narrative for Romney,” First Read writes.

There are ways Sandy could really affect voting outcomes next Tuesday, of course. Pennsylvania got hammered; if flooding and lack of power depresses turnout in heavily Democratic Philadelphia, it is possible the Keystone State could swing to Mr. Romney, providing him a path to 270 electoral votes. If New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie continues to praise Obama for his storm response, it is possible some swing voters in, say, Virginia will be impressed.

Single events have already appeared to sway the course of the 2012 campaign. Romney rose substantially in the polls following his strong performance in the first presidential debate.

But “elevated the president and stopped the momentum narrative for Romney”? Please. Saying that wouldn’t be punditry. It would be soothsaying.

We’re not picking on First Read here: They’re not saying they believe that stuff themselves. They’re saying other people might say it in the face of defeat, and they’re right about that. Romney, Obama, it wouldn’t matter. Both sides have officials/surrogates/partisans who could utter that kind of thing with a completely straight face.

Which brings us to our main point: We’ve come to political punditry at a relatively advanced point in our journalistic career, and we’re constantly surprised by its imprecision. It’s like sportswriting (which we’ve also done) without the intellectual discipline imposed by the feedback loop of player stats and game scores.

“Shaping the narrative” is one of our favorite phrases. When you hear somebody say that on one of the shouting-pundit cable shows, your internal horse-patty detector should go off. “Defining expectations” is another. “Momentum” is in general a suspect subject, though it’s a bit more solid since you can always check actual polls. And so on. If you’ve made it this far, we’re sure you can provide plenty of your own examples.

So beware folks spouting off about the “Sandy effect” as if they’re sure what it is. Losers need scapegoats, and it’s easier to point the finger at a 500-mile-wide storm than at their candidate or his campaign.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Will presidential election loser blame hurricane Sandy?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today