Posts Tagged ‘Dick Morris’

Reality Pierces Republican Bubble

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

Last week’s election was a big victory for President Obama and the Democrats.  But aside from a win for the Democrats, the election was also a win for the pollsters — you know, the trained statisticians who make their living surveying public opinion? These guys were under attack this year by Fox News and the conservative media. According to the perpetually paranoid over at Fox News, the pollsters who were showing Obama leading in the Electoral College for the entire year were just as liberally biased as the overwhelming number of scientists who believe in global warming and the statisticians in the Bureau of Labor Statistics who showed a decline in the unemployment rate in the run up to the election.

Even to the bitter end, Fox contributor and Harvey Fierstein impersonator Dick Morris was predicting an electoral college landslide for Romney, and the conservative media bought it hook line and sinker. I always try to keep Mark Twain’s maxim about statistics in mind, but when you have different polls with varied methodology all telling you something that’s at odds with your view of the world, that’s a pretty good indicator that your assumptions might be incorrect. Morris was contrite this week, explaining that he assumed a turnout more in line with 2004, but it’s not clear that there was any evidence to suggest this except the personal opinions of him and others on Fox.

I was having this debate months ago with my conservative uncle whose comeback for “the polls are showing you behind” was always “not according to Scott Rasmussen.” Rasumssen was was the king of the 500 person automated poll which assumed a strong Republican turnout based on responses to questions regarding party identification. Rasumussen’s polls consistently showed a Republican bias of a few points, which can make a real difference in a close election. But a little knowledge can be dangerous and Rasmussen’s polling bred a cottage industry of bloggers contesting the polling in the presidential race by adjusting the party identification mix the pollsters were predicting based on their interviews. The website unskewedpolls.com was the most prominent of the naysayers and they “specialized” in taking other peoples polls and recasting the results by adding more Republicans to the mix.

Meanwhile, the conservative media shills needed to find a visible scapegoat and they found it in Nate Silver, a statistician who turned to election prediction in 2007. Silver had a great record in 2008, predicting every state except Indiana for Obama. In the wake of that election, he was hired by the New York Times as a blogger, where (in case you were wondering) he did well predicting the Republican Congressional landslide year of 2010 as well.

Silver’s model was projecting an Obama win for most of the year based on his narrow but steady lead in the Electoral College polls. Oftentimes, his percentage prediction of an Obama win seemed over-optimistic, so you could quibble with the confidence level, but it’s hard to look at a guy who leads for most of the year in enough electoral college states to win the presidency and argue that he’s not the favorite. Plus, this is a statistical model. One assumes that if Romney was showing the same swing state resiliency, then it would have shown the same result for him.

By the Monday before the election, Silver had Obama at an 85% chance of victory. Meanwhile, the folks at Fox were still telling their viewers that Romney had the momentum and was going to win this thing. Dick Morris, George Will and others predicted a Romney landslide. Perpetually smarmy Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote a blog post that Monday in which she predicted Romney would win the election based almost completely on… a feeling she had. Business Insider called it “the most anti-Nate Silver column imaginable,” not because she spoke about or even alluded to Silver, but because her analysis was almost completely devoid of empirical facts. This seemed like bravado at the time — a way to embolden the troops before a big fight–but in the aftermath it looked like they spent so much time in their own bubble that they couldn’t imagine any other objective reality where a majority could vote for Obama. Last week James Fallows likened it to the dismay attributed to Pauline Kael in the wake of the 1968 election when she couldn’t imagine how Nixon could have won, since “no one I know voted for him.”

To a certain extent, this makes sense. If you spend all your time talking to white Republicans who think that Obama is leading this country on a dangerous slide to socialism, that’s going to color your analysis. To be sure, Romney did carry white voters by a big margin and if the electorate turned out to be as white as they all seemed to think it would be, then we would have been looking at President Romney. But with all of the evidence pointing the other way, these guys should have known better. I have to imagine that there’s more than a few Fox viewers this week who feel like they’ve been had.

Romney Doesn’t Have The Mojo

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Well, here we are.

After all of the blood, sweat, tears and trash talk, the election is one and a half days away. I don’t think a day has gone by in the last four months in which I didn’t check the polls for the day. Real Clear Politics is the biggest aggregator of polls in the country, and I’m on that website every day despite their obvious Republican bias. One thing you do get from Real Clear Politics, is a sense of how different news sources provide alternate realities. The Republican flacks have all come out to predict their candidate’s victory on Tuesday. To read Michael Barone and Dick Morris, we are headed to a Mitt Romney Electoral College landslide. Even George Will, an Obama hater to be sure, but at least someone who has been intellectually honest in the past, predicted a Romney Electoral College victory of 321 to 217 (including Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire). 

I do find that the Left is more intellectually honest in their analyses of the situation, but then again, they have had the numbers in their favor for the last year. Statistician and election prognosticator Nate Silver has been a target of the Right lately because his model has consistently been predicting an Electoral College win for President Obama. Currently, his model is forecasting an 85% chance of President Obama winning the Electoral College. Do I think that Barack Obama is an 85% favorite in this race? I’d say that’s aggressive, but it’s very difficult to argue that he is not the favorite.

When you are winning an argument, you don’t need to jump up and down to mke your points. You usually just need to calmly recite the facts. Silver has done exactly that over the past few days and in the process has made a very convincing case for an upcoming Obama victory. The key to the Obama victory is what has been called his “Electoral College Firewall,” comprised of Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and/or Nevada. The theory in a few sentences: in the week and a half after the first debate, Mitt Romney caught up in Colorado and Virginia and took a narrow lead in Florida, but his gains were not enough to overtake Obama in enough states to win the Electoral College. The easiest path for Mitt Romney to flip this result are winning either Ohio or Wisconsin, and Iowa or Nevada. Even with a win in Ohio or Minnesota, he’s not guaranteed victory unless he can hold Virginia and Florida (and in some scenarios Colorado). 

Looking at Ohio specifically, Real Clear Politics currently has Obama up by 2.9%. Republicans pundits argue that this result is within the margin of error of most individual polls, and that makes it a tossup, but this ignores the fact that across 12 Ohio polls in the last week and a half, Romney has not led in one.  One pollster had him down by only one and Rassmussen (a notoriously Republican biased pollster) has it a tie. This is not what a tied race looks like. If you want to see an actual tie, look at Virginia, where Obama and Romney often switch leads by a point or two, depending on the pollster and date of the polls.

Silver looks at Romney’s momentum in the swing states over the past few weeks and concludes that, if anything, Obama’s firewall is solidifying in these states:

There were 12 polls published on Wednesday among Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin. Mr. Obama held the lead in 11 of the 12 surveys… On average, Mr. Obama led in the polls of these states by 3.9 percentage points.    

In a more broad based look at the race from Thursday, Silver takes on the pundits that argue Romney is ahead or that the race is a tossup. He basically demolishes the arguments that Mitt Romney has been showing any momentum since his post-Denver debate bounce, as well as the idea that undecideds usually break for the challenger (they have in some elections, but not in the past 3 presidential elections). This really only leaves two options: either the state polls are getting it completely wrong, or Obama is a very big favorite to win. It’s not impossible that the polls are wrong, but it seems exceedingly unlikely that so many polls showing the same thing can be that far off.   

My take on this? In order to unseat an incumbent, you need to make the case for two main things:  1) the incumbent needs to be fired, and 2) you’re a better alternative. There’s certainly an argument that Romney and Co have been successful at the first. Although Obama is close to 50% approval, the popular vote is too close to call, and I get the sense that most of the country would be at least open to a change in leadership. But while Mitt Romney may have done a good job of convincing the country that Barack Obama might not be a great leader, most people look at Romney and don’t believe that he is a credible alternative. The reasons for this are myriad, but they include the complete demolishing of Romney’s business record by the Obama campaign, the ideological contortions that we all witnessed him go through in order to get the Republican nomination and the fact that he just doesn’t seem like a guy that most Americans will want to see on their TVs for the next four years.

I don’t take anything for granted and an upset is still possible, but it’s looking less and less likely that Romney has the mojo to turn this around in the next 40 hours.