Friday, November 30, 2012

Those Romney Internal Polls

The New Republic's Noam Scheiber has (some of) Mitt Romney's internal polling from the last weekend of the campaign, and has discussed it with Romney pollster Neil Newhouse.

It's worth a few comments.

First, as Andrew Rudalevige notes, these polls do not justify the type of confidence that Team Romney was reported to have on election day. Romney is close, and closer than the polling averages had it -- but he's still losing. This set of numbers really doesn't inspire a lot more hope than the public polling did; both leave open a real possibility that Romney could win if it turns out he runs a bit better than the polls, but neither really give any reason to expect that.

Second: it's very hard to see any harm in it. Every campaign needs to act as though it believes it will win. But that means that every person in every campaign needs to act that way, and the easiest way to do so is to really believe it. I see nothing in this story, and generally I've seen nothing in any of the post-election coverage, to indicate that Romney's campaign erred in any way based on their apparent wishful thinking about the polls.

Third, in particular it's very hard to argue that redeploying resources to Pennsylvania at the last minute was a mistake. It's probably easier to argue that they should have been targeting Pennsylvania all along, but then again I'm not really aware of evidence that they made any significant targeting mistakes, either.

Fourth, it's very much worth tracking the consistency between what is now reported as the inside Romney campaign view and what (many, most) GOP-aligned news outlets were saying.

Fifth, none of this really gets to the key questions going forward, which as I see it are about (1) why Barack Obama's national vote wound up pretty high in the plausible range of what the fundamentals predicted, and (2) whether the Democrats have opened up a long-term electoral college advantage.

Now, I think all of this is based on the premise that there really wasn't much that Romney could have done about most of the lay of the land. Could he have discouraged African American and young voters from coming to the polls? Hard to see that. Could he have flipped the Latino vote? No, not really; on both policy and, really, rhetoric, his hands were tied by his party.

What he had the ability to do, especially in the final weeks of the campaign, was to move around resources to where they would be most useful. As far as I can tell, Team Romney mostly did a reasonable job of that. They also had control of their own turnout operation, which received lousy reviews...but it's pretty hard, I think, to tie that to polling-based overconfidence, or really anything beyond managerial incompetence (assuming that is that it's true, which we don't really know). So while there's plenty of interesting material in this scoop, I'm not sure how much it really tells us at the end of the day.


  1. just put a checkmark in the loss column

  2. Well, I think we can at least put to rest the pre-election Romney propaganda spin that the last-minute effort in PA and Wi was an effort to "expand the map" beyond 270.

    They were behind in OH, they knew they were behind, and they knew if they couldn't pick up another state they would lose (assuming they believed their own BS about having FL, VA and NC) in the bag.

    So, yes, they were desperate.

    And if anybody believes that Romney-didn't-have-a-concession-speech written, I've got a melting iceberg I'd like to sell them.

    1. The concession speech seems completely reasonable to me. If this is your last run, then composing a graceful, eloquent concession speech is a bad mistake. Candidate time is the most constrained resource, so a minute of Romney-time spent on attention to a concession speech is a hugely expensive minute wasted.

  3. Seems like they thought they would win. Why? This interesting TNR post doesn't answer that.

    Jonathan Bernstein's observation that "it's very much worth tracking the consistency between what is now reported as the inside Romney campaign view and what (many, most) GOP-aligned news outlets were saying" remains true.

  4. One thing I think has been overlooked on the "Democrats have an electoral vote advantage" thing is that Obama was uniquely qualified to turn out that many minorities. It will be much harder for a white Democrat to do the same but maybe not so hard for a female Democrat.

    1. THIS. I'd go even further and say nominating someone who's over 60 next time around (like Biden or Clinton) will lower turnout as well. If the Democrats want to keep their advantage among young people, they really need to cultivate new, younger faces. I see the Republicans doing that, but where is the next wave of young dems?

    2. Makes sense, but it's still wrong I think. The white vote as a share of the electorate has been declining by about the same amount since 1992; 2008 and 2012 had roughly what you would expect and it seems implausible that 2016 won't have even more minority turnout. Now maybe a white Democrat can't do quite as well with African-Americans but I think roughly equaling Obama's performance with Latinos (something Clinton and Carter both did) is likely.

    3. First of all, don't forget that some of Obama's Electoral College advantage was in states with relatively few black or indeed any minority voters--New Hampshire and Iowa, especially, but he would also have won in Wisconsin and Colorado even with a much lower African American turnout. Hispanic voters were important in Colorado and Nevada, but there seems little reason to think that, say, Hilary Clinton would do much worse with them than Obama did.

      The only state crucial for a Democratic victory--remember that Florida, Ohio, and Virginia were not essential for Obama this year--where black turnout really mattered was Pennsylvania. No doubt it would be hard for a white Democratic candidate to get anything like Obama's turnout in the African American wards of Philadelphia. But it is also hard to see any white Democratic candidate doing as poorly as Obama did in Appalachian Pennyslvania. So the two effects may cancel each other out. In any event, the Democrats won four presidential elections in a row in Pennsylvania (1992-2004) with substantially lower African American turnout than Obama got. In all four of those elections, the Democrat's margin in Pennsylvania was larger than his national margin--though in 1996 just barely so.

      In short, I think the Democrats will still have an Electoral College advantage in 2016.

    4. Obama will still be around and will campaign heartily for the democratic nominee. Some of these pessimistic speculations act as if Obama vanishes during 2012 campaign season never to be ears from again. He's going to be a major dnc speaker and he'll be deployed to key youth and minority areas

    5. Ron Unz (writing at The American Conservative) has noted that despite the increase in minority turnout, and the eventual relegation of the white population to actual minority status if nothing changes in terms of population growth rates, there is still an overwhelming proportion of the nation's population that's white.

      Nearly 80% of the population, in fact.

      He goes on to cynically note that if the modern Republican party makes every effort to appeal to only these voters, there's every reason to believe that they can do so successfully for at least 3-4 more presidential election cycles.

      He absolutely recognizes how destructive such a move would be to the country as a whole, but he isn't sanguine that such recognition would inform the Republican leadership and thus prevent them from adopting such a strategy.

  5. What interests me about Romney's internal polls is the appreciable difference between the polls in the "battleground states" vs. all the other states. Their polling in the non-battleground states was fairly close to the actual results. Their polling in the battleground states was WAY off the mark, by 5% or more. This tells me that the discrepancies were deliberate. They could have had more accurate results in the battleground states, but they were cooking the numbers to make Romney look good, and/or seem more confident.

  6. Some of this hand-wringing re: Romney's polls is a bit unfair, it seems to me. Who is the hero of the election outcome? Surely Nate Silver, no? And yet, on election eve, Nate Silver put the probability of an Obama victory at 90%. Drill into the accompanying text from Silver and you discovered that, based on the polls, Silver saw essentially no probability of Obama losing, but he put the likelihood that the polls were systematically wrong at around 10%.

    That may not seem like a lot, but think about that 10% in the context of a p-value in a traditional scientific experiment. 10% is really. really. high. You won't pick up the latest issue of Science or Nature and find research with p values <0.1. Those types of results are reserved for something like the Journal of Dubious Open Access Data.

    So while it may provide schadenfreudy delight to question why conservatives doubted the data, its a fair argument to say that even Nate Silver, when he assessed a 10% probability that the data was systematically wrong, was himself - in essence - arguing that the polling data wasn't of an especially high quality.

    It only seems that Nate Silver endorsed the polls because the common man doesn't have an intuition that a 10% chance that a set of scientific data is crap is tantamount to saying that said data is, essentially, crap.

  7. Several additional points here merit amplification ...

    1. State-based public polls were generally accurate in 2012, while the national polls clearly underestimated the Democratic vote. State polls indicated that Obama would likely finish with a minimum of 281 electoral votes, more likely 303, and possibly 332 if he could pull out a perceived upset in Florida. Florida was a must-win state for Romney that typically leans Republican, and in which Romney had shown clear leads in mid-October. Aggregate public polling indicated Florida was virtually deadlocked, with Obama gaining in the final week.

    While there was a clear disconnect between Republican/Romney campaign pollsters' expectations of the electorate's composition, national public polls also underestimated the minority composition of the electorate.

    Most of the national public polls assumed a 24-26% non-white portion of the electorate. Yet exit polls indicate the non-white portion of the electorate was 28%, an increase from the 26% non-white share in 2008. Obama's current 3.6% popular vote lead is at least two points larger than that suggested by the final aggregate of national polls.

    2. On the realignment question, demography is certainly against Republicans. Republicans' once-tight electoral college hold during the 1968-88 era has faded due to increased diversity. 1988 was the last time the Republican Presidential candidate achieved 300 electoral votes. Democrats have won 332+ electoral votes in 4 of the last 6 elections, and have won the popular vote in 5 of those 6 elections.

    Democrats' Blue Wall, comprising 18 states plus DC which have gone Democratic in all six post-1988 Presidential elections, now totals 242 electoral votes. That is a huge base with which to begin in Presidential elections. There are three additional states (New Mexico, Iowa and New Hampshire) totaling 15 EV which have been carried by Democrats in 5 of 6 of those post-1988 elections. That's 257 EV which clearly lean toward Democrats in a typical Presidential election in the current era. A Democrat need only hold those 21 states plus DC, and win Ohio, or any two of Nevada, Colorado or Virginia (all trending Democratic at Presidential level) to clinch electoral victory. This also could be accomplished by winning Florida, though Florida is the most Republican-leaning of these swing states, so my assumption is it will not be the "tipping-point" state. If a Democrat carries Florida, he is probably carrying enough other states by larger margins to ensure victory without Florida. Such was the case in both 2008 and 2012 when Obama carried Florida, but did not need it to win.

    3. To sustain a realignment, Democrats will need to move beyond winning Presidential elections and gain and sustain full governing authority. This requires taking control of the House so divided government does not disrupt policy shifts needed to cement Democrats' majority over the longer term.

    The clear obstacle here is that Presidential electorates do not resemble mid-term electorates demographically. Those voters who have become regular Presidential year voters but who fail to show up for mid-term elections disproportionately tend to vote Democratic.

    Republicans' 2010 success was not merely a product of a struggling economy. It was also attributable to an electorate much whiter and older than the Presidential-year electorates of 2008 and 2012. Democrats' big challenge is to ensure that the younger voters and minorities who have powered their Presidential victories adopt more habitual voting patterns including voting in the mid-term years and not only in Presidential years.

    4. Republicans' electoral appeal is increasingly limited on a regional basis to the South and Border South, and to sparsely populated Plains and Mountain West states which yield few electoral votes. It is becoming increasingly clear that Republicans' continued reliance on policies which appeal primarily to white Southerners might undermine their appeal to the national electorate.


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