As someone who has spent much of his career as a paid political professional, there are moments in most campaigns when the horserace coverage of the campaign makes me want to scream. Not that I dislike horserace coverage — I enjoy it as much as any political junkie. No, the problem is that it so often misses one fundamental aspect of the way American politics works. All too often, news and commentary about public opinion makes the implicit assumption that most Americans are attentive to politics. If all Americans followed every campaign story closely, it would make sense to watch national polls for evidence of a immediate reactions. But it just isn’t so.
Blumenthal goes on to explain that there are three campaigns underway right now, and to explain the most important one:
The third and most important campaign, however, is occurring right now among voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. The same division exists there between well informed voters and everyone else, with one critical difference: In those two states, the candidates are spending millions of dollars to push their messages at less attentive voters through television advertising, direct mail and other forms of voter contact. And since candidates are constantly campaigning in person in those states, the local news in Iowa and New Hampshire is also covering the race much more heavily than elsewhere.
The third campaign is the most important. It is worth watching trends there more closely, both because voters there are now tuning into politics, and because voters nationally typically start to pay more attention to politics as those two states render their decisions. For that reason, large and dramatic shifts in the national polls are far more likely in January than they are now.