Back in the olden days, there was just Election Day. None of this Early Vote stuff.
Every Election Day, in every campaign I worked in, first thing in the morning, The Great Turnout Freakout would hit. The calls would start early:
“Turnout is incredible! It’s higher than ever here! We’ve never seen longer lines!”
“Our voters aren’t turning out in Whoville! You’ve got to do something!”
“It looks like there’s nothing but Republicans in line this morning! This is a disaster! There’s no way we can carry the county if it doesn’t change!”
It would go on like that all day.
Then, in the afternoon, you’d start trading gossip with other politicos and with reporters. Somebody heard about early exit polls. Somebody else had early numbers from Charlotte. Somebody else knew what it all means.
By the time the polls closed and the real numbers came in, you’d be numb from information overload.
That night, and in the days afterward, you’d find out that nearly all the rumors and gossip and tidbits that you obsessed over all day were wrong.
And the votes came down about like your polls said they would.
Now, with Early Vote, The Great Turnout Freakout lasts for two weeks. That’s two weeks of swapping, passing on and misinterpreting the latest morsel of data or rumor or prediction somebody heard from somebody who heard it from somebody who really knows what’s going on.
It’s a wonder anybody working in a campaign can keep their sanity.
Here’s my advice: Ignore it. Ignore it all. Ignore the anecdotes about long lines or short lines at one polling place or another. Ignore the scraps of incomplete numbers that people don’t understand but feel compelled to pass around like a map to hidden treasure.
Ignore the last-minute polls that show Trump winning North Carolina by 6 or Hillary winning 28 percent of Republican voters.
Ignore, especially, the stories by reporters who don’t understand the first thing about real campaign data and are relying on information they get from “experts” who may or may not know anything or from campaign insiders who always, always lie about the real numbers.
It’s not that the insiders are necessarily dishonest. They just have every incentive to lie. If their numbers are bad, they lie so their supporters won’t get demoralized. If the numbers are good, they lie so their supporters won’t get complacent.
You can get a decent idea of what’s really happening if you talk to campaign operatives who are (a) knowledgeable and (b) straight shooters.
My sense of the Democratic campaigns now is that they are confident and guardedly optimistic. But they’re like Charlie Brown – scared that Lucy’s going to pull the football away at the last second.
You can also look at how candidates and campaigns act. Take Richard Burr – his “bullseye” crack and his campaign’s decision to stop giving the N&O his schedule. They look scared to death.
Or you can accept the uncertainty, which is hard given how passionate and anxious people are about this election.
Or you can be like the fellow who said, “I couldn’t take any more pressure and tension, so I decided to relax and watch Game 7 of the World Series.”
So much for that.