As all the world knows (“the world” in this case being people who read this blog) I recently questioned the accuracy of the pre-election polls and predicted that Romney would be our next president (see: https://bitly.com/SKtME4+)
Since then, I have been the subject of much derision, especially within my own household, where it has been suggested that I had been hubristic (not the word actually used) to question the great Nate Silver, the New York Times blogger, who had predicted with 91% certitude that Obama would win.
I don’t want it to sound like sour grapes, even though it is, but I think the pollsters caught a lucky break when Obama won because they weren’t as accurate as all the “I told you so’s” suggest.
On the day before the election, the RealClearPolitics site (http://tinyurl.com/3woqv5l) aggregated all the polls and came up with an average projection of 48.8% for Obama and 48.1% for Romney. In other words, they projected that Obama would win by 0.7%. But in the end, he won by 2.8% — a full two percentage points off. The polls predicted a remarkably close election but it wasn’t really that close at all. The pollsters were able to claim victory because they called the right victor, while glossing over the fact that it could just as easily have gone the other way.
The point of my pre-election blog post was that even though the polls predicted Obama would win, Romney still had a good chance; due to the challenges in polling, including the rise of cell phone-only homes and whatnot, the polls are not as precise as the media gives them credit for. It was luck that they were two percentage points off in favor of Romney; if they had been two points wrong the other way, Romney would have won and it would have been the biggest polling debacle since 1948 when Dewey was projected to beat Truman.
Anyone who has glanced at a television or read a news story since November 6 knows that the Obama won on the strength of high turnout by African America, Hispanic and young voters. In the lead-up to the election many Republicans criticized the pollsters for predicting that turnout among these groups would be as high in 2012 as it had been in 2008. So the pollsters were right about this and the GOP was wrong. Congratulations to the pollsters.
Except that the real reason Romney lost was that white voters stayed home. White turnout was down by six million from 2008. If whites had voted at the same levels they had four years ago, Romney might have won, especially considering that he lost the four big swing states by only 400,000 votes.
If the pollsters were so smart, why didn’t they foresee lower turnout in 2012? If they were so brilliant in projecting how many African Americans and Hispanics would vote, how come they were so wrong about how many whites would show up? This was supposed to be a year when the electorate was unusually engaged. I guess not.
Over the past ten days the Democrats have offered the Republicans lots of unsolicited advice about how the GOP can improve itself, most of which boils down to “act more like us.” On behalf of the Republican Party, I would like to say, thank you SO MUCH. We REALLY appreciate the pointers!
It’s funny that after months of blasting Romney for being such a buffoon, they don’t offer the obvious advice: get a better nominee. We were all seduced by Romney’s great first debate performance into thinking he was a plausible candidate. But somehow he let the Democrats successfully caricature him as a mixture of Richie Rich, Thurston Howell III, Charles Montgomery Burns and Lord Voldemort. Americans don’t necessarily dislike rich politicians (see for example, Kennedys and Roosevelts), but they are not going to accept a rich guy who seems uncomfortable with his wealth and can’t articulate why being rich is OK.
In the end, Romney was an awful lot like Bob Dole and John McCain – someone who was moderate at heart but had acted conservative to win the primaries. The Republicans who win general elections (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) don’t need to poll-test their rhetoric; they know what to say and are generally consistent throughout the whole process. So while the GOP does need to address demographic changes that are shaping the electorate they really need someone who has a better idea of why he, (or she, Condoleezza Rice) wants to be president.
Some other random thoughts:
- Of all the poll-tested answers delivered during the campaign, surely the most ridiculous was Romney’s assertion that his favorite “Jersey Shore” character was Snooki. Certainly this was a lie. The idea of Mitt and Ann Romney sitting around the house watching the “Jersey Shore” and deciding that they liked the undisciplined, self-regarding falling-down-drunk, self-described “meatball” is just too absurd to contemplate.
- Because of the aforementioned decline in white turnout, Romney actually ended up with fewer votes than McCain in 2008. Maybe this is the time to apologize the Sarah Palin. Say what you will about her understanding of geopolitics, she was able to bring in a lot more votes than Paul Ryan. And, because she has a much more positive position on immigration, she didn’t turn off Hispanics like Romney did.
- According to the Philadelphia Inquirer (http://tinyurl.com/b4wwrdm) Romney received zero votes in 59 Philadelphia precincts. Apparently in those precincts Obama beat Romney 19,605 to 0. I am not a conspiracy theorist, so my only comment is: hmm, interesting. Even when there are elections in North Korea or Uzbekistan, there are a handful of votes for someone other than the Dear Leader.
- There has been a lot of grumbling about how Obama’s relentless negative advertising drove down Romney’s favorability ratings. And yes, perhaps they went a bit overboard when they suggested that he was to blame for the cancer death of laid off worker’s wife, even though the worker had declined to buy health insurance that he could have afforded. But we also have to remember that the worst damage to Romney came during the GOP primaries, thanks to Newt Gingrich especially, but all those other jokers too. Thanks a lot guys.
- And speaking of the primaries, it’s worth remembering that if it hadn’t been for some Petraeus-like shenanigans, Herman Cain might have ended up as the nominee. This should dispel the myth that GOP voters are racist. Crazy, maybe, but racist no. Like most voters, Republicans want to be inspired and that’s what Cain did and Romney never could. They want to see their hopes and dreams articulated and validated. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the next GOP nominee will be a sane version of Herman Cain – a silver-tongued orator with no mistresses or sexual harassment allegations in the closet.
- Finally, I’m from Massachusetts. I love my home state. But when are the major parties going to stop nominating Bay State candidates? Dukakis, Kerry and Romney were all dismal nominees who lost winnable races. And yet this lesson seems unlearned. Already people are talking about Elizabeth Warren for president. Go ahead. Make my day.