Did Palin hurt McCain?
As Obama starts his presidency, people wonder about the fate of the other memorable politician of the 2008 election, Sarah Palin. She divides opinion like no other political figure since Hillary Clinton—liberals see her existence as a symptom of everything wrong with the Republican party, while most conservatives are fiercely protective of her and see Palin as their best hope for the future. But both sides have one thing in common—everyone is trying to understand the phenomenon that is Sarah Palin.
In order to understand Palin, it is crucial to get the facts straight. It seems to now be accepted as incontrovertible fact among liberals that Palin hurt John McCain’s candidacy, and was (and is) a major liability to the Republican party.
First, exit polls indicated that Palin was not a liability for McCain. (Though the accuracy of exit polls is very, very doubtful). About sixty percent of voters said she impacted their decision, and more (though not that many more) of those voters voted for McCain than Barack Obama. So it isn’t as if Sarah Palin drove many voters away from McCain.
The real reason for McCain’s defeat was the economy. (At least, the economy sealed his fate—the election was always an uphill battle for him, and he very well could have lost even in a bull market). The economy started to worsen in the middle of September. John McCain announced that he was suspending his campaign to deal with the economic crisis on September 24th. It was on September 26th that McCain fell out of the margin of error in the Rasmussen tracking poll, and never recovered.
In retrospect, it seems that one of John McCain’s fatal blunders was his decision to suspend his campaign to try to fix the financial mess. When he announced his decision, I wrote that “[s]uspending his campaign is a bold move by McCain; one that will either succeed spectacularly or fail miserably.” It seems safe to say that it failed miserably. John McCain lost because of the economic collapse, not because he picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate.
So why does the media focus on Palin’s role in McCain’s loss? Because Palin’s story was the most (or one of the most) interesting narrative of the election, and too many in the media would rather focus on an interesting story than an accurate one. It is much more interesting to attribute McCain’s loss to his selection of an inexperienced, attractive hockey mom than to boring economic issues.