A few weeks ago, I was listening to a radio interview with a guy named Nate Silver. He’d created a mathematical model for crunching all the data from all the political polls, plus looking at various past patterns and so on, and distilling all this into amazingly accurate election predictions. His accuracy rating alone was persuasive, but I also understood some of his remarks about how stats, math and probabilities work and why his model of them in particular worked. I was convinced.
Nervously, I went to his blog on the NY times to see what outcome he was predicting for the election – if they talked about this in the interview, I hadn’t heard that part. I was nervous because I knew his data was good, and therefore if he predicted an outcome I didn’t like, my only hope would be for a miracle. Instead, I found he was predicting an Obama win and a slim Democrat majority in the Senate – results I could live with.
So how is it, with the same access to news about people like Nate Silver and other excellent data sources, that the Romney campaign totally did not see his defeat coming? Why didn’t they realize it was they who should be praying for a miraculous win against all odds? Why did they believe the skewed data from their internal reporting, which suggested lower African American turnout in Ohio than actually occurred? Were they like the film industry, interpreting the data according to their own delusions? That was my first thought, and with $400 million on the line – about four times what the film industry is usually charged with getting a good return on – I do think the need to believe certain things can sway people from reading data objectively.
But I also wonder if Romney’s pollsters had access to information Nate Silver could only guess at: namely, the extent of their voter suppression efforts. Did Romney’s team know just how hard various Republicans had worked on a de facto repeal of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution they so dearly claim to love? They’ve expressed a belief that there would be a lower turnout of African Americans this time – in 2008, 11% turned out to vote. In 2012, it was 15% despite all the efforts of the Republican party.
Did they simply underestimate the sheer determination and “fuck no, we won’t go” of African-American voters? I believe this was a big component in Romney’s defeat, and that all the people who stood out in the sun or freezing cold for 6 hours and another 2 hours indoors to vote, possibly losing entire days of work and the money that went with them, are Big Damn American Heroes. This refusal to leave was surely as important as any Civil Rights march from the 60s.
Barack Obama, in his acceptance speech, mentioned the long lines and voter suppression and said “We’ve got to do something about that.” This is a line that does not appear in any transcripts of the speech I’ve found, which suggests those early transcripts were provided by his campaign, based on his planned speech, and that particular remark was off-script and from the heart. In any case, it was a thrilling remark: the idea that some people should be prevented from voting because they don’t vote for the “right” people is as un-American as it gets. No patriot supports this idea. It’s bad enough when politics gets treated like sports, but this isn’t even sporting – it’s analogous to saying “The reason their team keeps beating ours is that they have better players. Let’s break the legs of those players so we can win!”
Voter suppression is the Tonya Harding approach to politics. That is unacceptable.
I believe, however, that the Obama team knew the suppression that was going on, too. (In hindsight, it also appears Nate Silver factored it into his predictions very accurately.) I suspect the Democrats knew, based on data crunching like Silver’s, that they could win despite it – and that was their plan: let the Republicans play a spectacularly dirty game, and still lose, and in so doing provide loads of evidence to use against them later. And it worked: the Republicans did every single thing they possibly could to win, and they still lost.
- They threw hundreds of millions of dollars at it.
- They’ve shifted districts around in lots of counties and states to make Democratic victory virtually impossible there.
- They made voting as difficult as they could for African American regions in swing states.
- Business owners (either on their own initiative or possibly encouraged by the party) threatened to lay off employees or close businesses if Obama won. Fortunately, David Siegel pulled a Romney (flip-flopped) on his promise and instead gave raises to his employees [ETA: one commenter claims to be an employee of his, and says no raises occurred]. My heart goes out to those people whose employers followed through on these promises – but I hope they blame their extortionist employers and not Obama or the voters. People who actually know how business works do not fire employees because of election results. That’s just stupid.
And they still lost. Think about it.
Looking at the data, it’s very easy to comprehend. Republicans are way out of touch with an electorate that voted out all “the rape guys“, voted in (or voted to keep) a lot of women, voted for gay marriage and for legalizing pot, and rejected the Republican’s racist take on immigration reform. The voters showed clearly that their values are far enough left of where the Republicans think they are that the Republican party is no longer relevant to the majority of us. It’s all right there in the data… but I guess it suits the Republican narrative better to just make up stuff:
But last night Karl Rove threw out a different theory: It was actually the Obama campaign itself that won the election by suppressing the fragile white-person vote. How did he do it? By showing them negative ads. He “succeeded in suppressing the vote” Rove said on Fox News, by running ads “”that turned off” Romney voters and kept them from voting.
Never before has the power of advertising been so wildly overestimated. Is Karl Rove suggesting that white people are so stupid they can be brainwashed by ads? Anyone who’s observed partisans watching campaign ads against their candidate knows they don’t suddenly submit to what’s being said: they rant and call it lies and point out perceived hypocrisy. If ads could brainwash people as well as Rove thinks, then AskJeeves would be #1 instead of Google. This doesn’t even get close to plausible, Karl.
But the film industry also has all the data it needs to realize that audiences aren’t a bunch of bigoted, easily threatened white guys anymore, and they still refuse to get it. Maybe they can blame Hurricane Sandy for their downfall too.
Like the film industry, the Republican party must evolve or get replaced with something more suited to our times. We need two strong parties – nations benefit from having both conservative and progressive elements to balance and check each other. But “conservative” does not mean “regressive.” Conservative means not moving forward before you’ve analyzed the data to make the best choices. The Republicans are so far away from any real definition of conservativism that they can be of no further use to the United States – unless they evolve.