There is no conventional wisdom pushed as hard by the anti-Republican media than the notion that Republicans were in a self-contained media and punditry bubble and refused to believe — or worse yet, deliberately distorted — contrary polling. Beware this conventional wisdom.
I have examined how that conventional wisdom is wrong because it extrapolates from error in judgment to some level of dishonesty.
In the case of Dick Morris, among the most reviled because of his optimism, I have shown that the meme pushed by Politico, Political Wire, and others that Morris admitted he didn’t believe his numbers relies on a dishonest truncation of his words. Morris and many other Republican pundits were wrong because their models predicted a return to the norm on turnout, viewing 2008 as an outlier. Wrong? Yes. Dishonest? No evidence.
An article at The New Republic, The Internal Polls That Made Mitt Romney Think He’d Win, examines how Romney’s internal pollsters got it wrong on turnout modeling as well. These were people who did not get paid for Fox News appearances, which is the supposed reason offered by the anti-Republican media for Morris and others getting it wrong.
Newhouse and some of his colleagues have said that the biggest flaw in their polling was the failure to predict the demographic composition of the electorate. Broadly speaking, the people who showed up to vote on November 6 were younger and less white than Team Romney anticipated, and far more Democratic as a result. “The Colorado Latino vote was extraordinarily challenging,” Newhouse told me. “As it was in Florida.”
This point can be overstated. For example, New Hampshire and Iowa are both predominantly white states, and Obama won both whites and older voters in each of them. Likewise, whatever the challenges of polling Latinos, they were only 14 percent of the electorate in Colorado. It would be a stretch to say they explain most of the error in a Romney poll that was off by 8 percentage points overall in the state.
Still, the data I obtained did reveal symptoms of the “compositional” problem Newhouse cites.
But beware the meme of deliberate disregard, as was pushed by Buzzfeed in response to the New Republic article, The Republicans’ Other Internal Numbers Predicted Defeat. The actual article does not support the headline:
This narrative of Republican surprise serves elements of the post-election agenda of Romney’s circle — it underscores their argument that they weren’t deceiving the press and donors — but it leaves out an important fact: A longtime Romney adviser was circulating a second, rival set of numbers that showed President Obama winning with “over 300” electoral votes, one person who saw them told BuzzFeed.
Alex Gage, the Republican targeting expert who compiled the projections, was not working directly for the campaign. But he was hardly an outsider: Gage began advising Romney in 2002, and his wife, Katie Packer Gage, was Romney’s deputy campaign manager in 2012. Prominent Republicans close to the campaign circulated his numbers, though a top aide denied having seen them.
And on the afternoon of Election Day, Gage e-mailed a “best case” scenario map that had Romney winning by just two electoral votes— but losing Colorado, Iowa, and a slew of other battleground states, many of which the Romney team swore to the bitter end that they were going to win.
The Buzzfeed article presents no evidence this contrary indication was presented to the campaign, and the only data was that supposedly circulated the afternoon of the election itself. In any event, if the campaign had faith in its internal polling in the face of contrary public polling, it’s hard to see how the Gage data would have changed the mix.
We may never fully understand what went wrong with the Republican internal polling, but errors in modeling judgment seem to be the emerging issue. Don’t jump to extrapolate that into dishonesty unless you have the evidence to prove it.
An internal war among Republican circles may be warranted, but it should be based on fact, not memes pushed by the anti-Republican media.