Polls had shown a much tighter race.
All of a sudden, the ghost of elections past is haunting the president and his party. In 1980, in 1994, in 2004—in other words, in big Republican years over the past three-plus decades—the GOP has polled much weaker than its final vote.
Why? Late deciders may be part of the answer, but only part.
Something more is almost surely going on. Here's my guess as to what.
Particularly in big years when the party is pulling in or turning out occasional rather than reliable party voters, part of the GOP vote is invisible to pollsters. In Wisconsin—maybe everywhere—there may be reluctance among union members to acknowledge that they will cast their ballot for candidates and the party their leadership so virulently opposes.
Then, too, people tend to see pollsters as extensions of the media. Many conservatives distrust the media, seeing it (for good reason) as adversarial to all they support. So they may not want to be candid with questioners.
Whatever the reason, the big miss by pollsters in Wisconsin raises the question: Could there be a similarly invisible Romney vote in play this year? Almost alone among major pollsters, Scott Rasmussen is showing Romney ahead now. I have heard some pollsters suggest that his 100 percent automated questioning might skew the results away from the Democrats, whose minority supporters may not want to respond to machine calls.
But maybe it goes the other way. Maybe reticent Republican voters are more confident of their anonymity and the objectivity of questions coming from a machine voice and entered responses.
But whatever the technical factors at play, the invisible-to-pollsters Walker support in Wisconsin suggests that President Obama is facing the same phenomenon nationally.
And why not?
Heart-stopping increases in government spending, dangerous-to-the-national-welfare run ups in deficits and national debt, plummeting labor force participation rates (thanks to almost invisible jobs growth), trampling rule of law including transparent attempts to intimidate the Supreme Court in the Obamacare case, fumbling foreign policy justified as "lead from behind" which appears to really mean "don't lead at all," and, oh, yes, a 40 percent drop in family net worth: Looked at objectively, shouldn't this record spell disaster at the polls for the party in power?
The real question is not "Why are Democrats and their friends hitting the panic button now?" It is "Why has it taken them so long?"