Grant Bosse:Okay, I admit it, I believed the wrong polls
As the poet, philosopher and Texas Gov. Rick Perry so eloquently said, “Oops!”
The art of punditry is the ability to fit any new evidence into your pre-existing narrative. That’s how the same people who warned us about the coming ice age are now leading the global warming bandwagon. And how Dick Morris still gets paid to talk on television.
So let me start with what I got wrong about the 2012 elections. I said that either the national polls or the state polls would be proved very wrong. I trusted the national polls. I’d like to think I trusted them because Gallup and Pew have a decades-long track record of reliability, and not just because Rasmussen was whispering sweet nothings into my ear. The national polls were showing Mitt Romney with a huge lead among independents and a far more excited partisan base than President Obama.
The state-level polls showing Obama ahead relied on a universe of voters that looked a lot more like the 2008 Democratic high tide than the neutral or marginally Republican turnout that the national polls projected. The state polls were right. I was wrong.
I have long discounted the effectiveness of Get Out The Vote, or GOTV, operations in political campaigns. Knock and drag efforts and those really annoying last-minute phone calls might bring out a few extra voters but never made a difference if your candidate was going to win or lose by three points. The Obama For America database seems to have changed that.
The Obama GOTV effort was built on four years of data built on top of the 2008
campaign. OFA took every speck of publicly available data, including the wealth of information we share about ourselves online, to determine who was most likely to pull the lever for Obama, and what issues were most likely to motivate them.
Romney’s much-ballyhooed Orca voter-tracking system was a generation behind the cutting edge, and never stress tested to make sure it would actually work. The bad data coming out of Orca fed the Romney campaign’s belief that they had made up ground in early voting states, were slightly ahead across the swing states and within striking distance in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The decision to expand the map rather than concentrate on Ohio made sense, if their data was right.
It wasn’t, and it turns out they weren’t ahead in Florida or Virginia either.
After a campaign, we tend to credit every winner as a political genius and every loser as incompetent. But this year, each candidate ran the race he wanted to run. Obama ran as if there were no undecided voters out there and focused his campaign on narrow issues that motivated low-propensity voters.
I think that taxpayer subsidies for Big Bird and birth control pills are ridiculously unimportant compared to the prospect of a nuclear Iran or the possibility of sliding back into recession.
But I don’t get to decide what motivates left-leaning voters who sometimes, but don’t always, vote.
Romney pointed out that in the closing days, the Obama campaign was focusing on smaller and smaller things. Romney tried to win the argument. Obama tried to win the election.
Those are some of the things I learned last week. Cable news is full of talking heads conducting an autopsy of the Romney campaign and claiming to know how the Republican Party can rebuild itself.
They’ll blame New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for hugging the president or Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan for scaring old people.
They’ll tell you the GOP needs to stop nominating establishment moderates or right-wing radicals. They’ll say Republicans need to cater to Hispanics on immigration, or stop fighting the culture war.
Maybe they’re right. But is their advice any different from what they were saying last week?
As we mark the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month, I also would like to include a quick note in honor of our veterans. They fought for our right to choose our own government, and the peaceful transition of power we’ll see over the next two months is a remarkable testament to their service and sacrifice. Thanks, Dad.
(Grant Bosse is vice president for media for the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank based in Concord.)