Friday, March 8, 2013

What We've Learned

Lots of TV talk is starting  -  already! -  about the 2016 field of presidential contenders.  Phooey!  It's too soon for all except the lazy talking heads who do speculation and not analysis.

Let's not be too quick to let go of 2012.  There's some important lessons last year and some clear indication as to which old political maxims are and are not valid.  And we won!  After years of hard work, can't we savor for a few months?  Plus, what we learn may be of far more value in 2016 than airy-fairy speculation on Hilary v. Biden  or Jeb Bush v. Mario Rubio, both being rather preposterous nomination match-ups.

1. Let's look first at the conventional wisdom that a president can't win re-election with a bad economy. All the pundits held fast to that one almost to the end.  I didn't believe it, and said so in this blog,  chiefly because Obama's likeability was so high in the polls.  My guess was that people liked and trusted him enough to give him another shot.  Also 7.8% unemployment in mid-fall 2012 looked so much less than the 8% of late summer 2012 or the  10+% of 2009.

2.  Another Pundit's Rule to bite the dust:  Contrary to the pundits' expectations, the public continued to blame Bush for the recession.  And if Bush were to blame, didn't the skinny kid with the greying hair deserve more time to fix the mess?  The pundits, however, declared that the public would perceive it was "Obama's recession" after the first year of his first term and blame him for not having fixed it soon thereafter.  Thus the voters would toss him out.  But that didn't happen. The American people (except for the nut jobs on the right and the talking heads) are more fair than that.

3.  In the grand scheme of things political, this next is not a big deal, but it is to me personally. Bob Woodward is not an objective journalist.  He's a Republican and says so.  But now it's a problem because it has been coloring his reporting ever since Obama got into the White House.  Most recently he's claimed the White House created the sequestering.  (Who cares?  It's what comes next that matters, not what started it.  Besides the sequester was a bipartisan response to the GOP threat to refuse to lift the debt ceiling in 2011 and thereby cause the USA to default.)  It's sad when you see one of your heroes get old and crotchety and partisan when he's not supposed to.  Now he's accusing the White House of "threatening" him.  How dumb can he be to think the White House is that dumb!  I watched him throughout 2012 on the talk shows and was startled and saddened to see him become so forthrightly partisan.  And so wrong.  The awful thought occurs:  Can we still trust the reporting he did in "All the President's Men", "Final Days", and in the Washington Post during Watergate?  Or did he cover for Nixon about something worse?  The books say there was something worse, for which "Bay of Pigs" was borrowed by Nixon's team as a cover name.  We could hope that Carl Bernstein kept Woodward in line while they worked together, but I got the impression at the time and from their Watergate books that Woodward was the dominant personality.  And what could have been worse than Watergate?  What was "Bay of Pigs" a cover name for?  The assassination of JFK?

4.  Money can't buy you love.  (This one's my favorite.)  It took Karl Rove $312 MILLION to demonstrate in 2012 that you can't buy elections.  He had a virtual zero return on all that money he spent on GOP candidates and attacks on Obama .  Yes, you have to have enough money to get a candidate known, though getting free press with news stories is lots more effective.  And yes, you have to have enough to keep a volunteer organization going (though this can be done pretty cheaply).  But when push comes to shove, money and TV ads are not determinative.  But you knew that because I said it over and over again all year.  Write this in stone:  The volunteer at the door wins the election!  That's the real and enduring rule in elective politics.   And only love can get you volunteers.

5. Business men and women who become candidates aren't as smart as they say they are.  Or maybe I expect them to be really smart.  Carly Fiorino and Meg Whitman ran terrible campaigns for senate and governor in California in 2010, except that I did love Fiorino's red-eyed sheep because it was so sleazy!  But the all-time dumb business person candidate was Mitt Romney in 2012.  If there was a mistake to make, ol' Mitt found it and embraced it.  And I'm not just talking political mistake or foot-in-mouth mistakes.  I'm talking money and business mistakes.  Tell me how a man whose main qualification is supposedly his business acumen can choose to pay FIVE times as much for the SAME TV advertising as his opponent Obama.  And can severely understaff his national advertising staff.  And fail to have an up-to-date computer analysis of the voters.  You would think these would be his strongest points.  But no.  A skinny community organizer from the South Side of Chicago beat him on the business aspects of campaigning.  What a world!  You gotta love it!

6.  The BEST POLL?  It's not a polling outfit.  It's a polling QUESTION!  And the question is:  "Who do you think will win the presidential election?"  This question has, over many elections, provided the most reliable forecast as  to who will actually win.  Through the years, it has been correct over 80% of the time as compared with the question "Who are you going to vote for?"  The latter question has produced a correct indication of election results only 69% of the time.  This is wildly and wonderfully weird!  Why or how do people have a knowledge of what others will do that exceeds the import of what they themselves will be doing?  And what happened to their actual votes?  Did over 10% of them change their minds election year after election year between being polled and voting?  Is there a hidden bandwagon effect here which pulls people from their preference to that which they perceive in the crowd. Or is the question "Who are you voting for?" simply a bad question?   It's 6 a.m. as I write this, and  - quite frankly, folks  -  I ain't up to cracking THAT nut.  Your insights are welcome.

7.  The BEST POLL ANALYST?  Far and away it's Nate Silver.  In fact, he's the only one who does real analysis of polls.  Some sites claim to be analyzing but they mostly just do an averaging of any polls that come floating by.  Nate has worked out some pretty good formula for weighting the polls, having cut his teeth on baseball.

How do we know he's far and away the best forecaster?   Because he's been right in the past three federal elections and not just as to the winner but as to the MARGIN of the win.   The only forecaster who came close to him was the VOTING PUBLIC, which told both Gallup and Ipsos/Reuters the same thing as Nate predicted :  that Obama would get 53% of the vote.  In spite of this history-has-proven-reliable information from the voters themselves, both Gallup and Ipsos/Reuters were way off all along and at the very end showed a much tighter race.   In fact,  Gallup, the "grandaddy" of pollsters, consistently underestimated Obama's support even after belatedly adjusting its polling to allow greater representation from cell phone users.

8.  Let's toss Gallup forever.  It's just not living in today's America.  As late as October 19, I was writing, "Forget Gallup and its daily tracking poll that shows Obama trailing by 6%.  Nonsense!"  This Gallup idiocy all year kept pulling the entire media establishment off track.  The only good it did was reinforce the GOP and Karl Rove mistaken belief all along that they had 2012 in the bag.  Hey, Karl, you wanna  challenge the Fox election night numbers guys  again!

There's more about 2012 that is great, sad, bad, or beautiful.  Let's come back to it again sometime soon.  

After all it's still a long time to 2016!

And  -  oh, yeah!  -  we've got 2014 coming!




  1. Great post!

    I've been very amused by story after story of how the GOP is rebranding itself. Given that they were so out-of-touch and so completely clueless going into the election in November, and given how crazy their base is, I'm stocking up on the popcorn!

    1. Thanks, Michele, for the astute comment. The GOP seems to have lost its way and lost its "grownups". Feet of clay all over the place and holes in the toes of their socks!