So, were you surprised by the easy win Obama scored last week in his presidential re-election? How you answer that question is a good indication of where you get your political news and which pundit you relied on for predictions.
If you were like me and lived off of the twice-a-day reports from Nate Silver, the numbers nerd of The New York Times blog, fivethirtyeight.com, you were only surprised by how quickly it all came together on Election Night. Silver correctly predicted the results in all 50 states, and he did it by sticking to a computer model that he constructed last spring. He was totally objective in each report he issued over the six months leading up to Election Day, never once letting his personal ideology (whatever it may be) or any other bias enter into his calculations.
His methodology was simple: just track all of the polls, the national polls, the state polls, the polls that are run infrequently, the polls that are run daily, the polls that “lean” Republican, the polls that “lean” Democratic. He just amassed all of the poll results (towards the end as many as 20 a day), entered them into his model, and let the computer spit out the results.
And his reports were nothing more than explanations of what the model was saying on any given day. He projected the percentage chance each candidate had of winning, the likely percentage of the popular vote each candidate would receive, and the projected Electoral College totals for each candidate.
And, as might be expected, his numbers fluctuated over the six months of his reports. Leading up to the party conventions, the numbers were pretty close, with only a very slight advantage for Obama. Following the conventions, Obama’s numbers improved considerably, again, as might be expected, and they took a nosedive, back almost to the pre-convention numbers after the first debate (the Denver debacle).
Thereafter, however, they began a slow climb, as he (and Joe Biden) won the succeeding debates and as the Romney-Ryan ticket became disoriented by side issues like “legitimate rape” and claims that Chrysler was shipping jobs to Japan.
On election eve, Silver had Obama locked in with a 90.9 percent chance of winning the election, with a popular vote prediction of 50.8 (to Romney’s 48.3), and an Electoral College advantage of 313 to 225.
Or, you could have been like a Republican friend of mine who lived on the predictions spouted by the folks at Fox News, “pundits” like Dick Morris and Newt Gingrich, both of whom predicted Romney landslides, and newscasters who focused on the Rasmussen Reports polls, heavily Republican in their bias, and usually off by two to four percentage points from the Silver model on any given day.
My friend, and many others like him who think the world of political news coverage begins with Rush Limbaugh in the AM and ends with Sean Hannity at night, was shocked by the results, not just in the presidential race, but in the Senate as well, where his gurus had been assuring him that, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock notwithstanding, the Republicans were a lock to retake control of the upper body of Congress. (They ended up down two or three, depending on how Angus King, the independent from Maine, chooses to caucus, from where they had been.)
Or you could have been like Mitt Romney himself, who, if the “inside reports” are correct, had not been told anything other than that he had momentum going for him and would likely win, when he finally stopped campaigning on Election Day. Holed up in his hotel room in Boston, he waited with family members while aides watched the returns in another room.
Assured he would prevail in a close vote, he had only written a victory speech. Imagine, then, his great surprise when he was finally informed that the night was not to be his. Talk about living in a bubble!
But apart from the prognostications, the results of the election were remarkable, if not shocking. If ever an incumbent president was ripe for the plucking, Barack Obama was it. He hadn’t delivered a recovered economy, despite his promises that he would. He hadn’t reduced the level of gridlock, despite his promises that he would. And he hadn’t communicated effectively to the country on his accomplishments over the past four years, despite his promise that he would.
And if this Republican candidate and his party couldn’t beat this president, you have to wonder how the party will prevail four years from now, when the economy figures to be considerably improved and the Democrats will be running with an even larger constituency aligned with it.
It’s that constituency that should be worrying the Republicans more than anything else, because they are becoming a minority party, just as the country is becoming ever more demographically diverse. The GOP attracts white males, winning that voting block handily. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it doesn’t win any others.
The party needs to get a new identity. It is currently a mish-mash of interest groups and ideologies, none of which have broad electoral appeal. It is gripped by evangelicals who have a social agenda that is completely out of step with mainstream America. It is controlled by tea party activists who demand balanced budgets and hate compromise. It is commandeered by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and the Fox News gang, who claim an ideological purity that cannot succeed in the real world. And it is pledged to the demands of Grover Norquist, who will not allow any tax increase for any reason.
It needs a Dwight Eisenhower, or even a Ronald Reagan, to shake it up and pull it back towards the center of American political thought. It needs to find a way to appeal to the many minorities that are far more comfortable with the Democrat’s message in 2012.
They thought they had that guy with Mitt Romney, but they destroyed him as he fought to get the nomination, and he was never able to recover.