Posted by: mutantpoodle | November 1, 2012

The Math

Yesterday was not, shall we say, a great day in Romneyland.  Let’s review:

Los Angeles Times: Obama gets boost in swing-state polls

Five Thirty Eight: Obama’s Electoral College ‘Firewall’ Holding in Polls

Washington Post/ABC: High marks for President Obama on Hurricane Sandy response

So the Romney campaign went to work.

Mitt Romney’s top staff offered reporters an endless number of reasons they’re going to beat President Obama on a conference call Wednesday. Not included on their list of Romney advantages: a clear lead in the polls.

“Obama has a political enviroment problem,” Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said. “He’s got an intensity problem, he’s got an image problem and he’s got a ballot problem — and they all add up to a challenging Tuesday next week.”

[snip]

“We feel we are in a very good place, that this race is exactly where we had hoped it would be a week out,” senior adviser Russ Schriefer said.

While the campaign never went so far as to say it held a lead in key states like Ohio, Wisconsin, or Nevada in public or internal polls, staffers pointed to various reasons they felt Obama still held a losing hand.

“Right now their firewall is burning,” political director Rich Beeson told reporters.

So if I understand this correctly, the Romney campaign was hoping against hope they could be, less than one week before the election, behind in state poll averages in such a way that the Princeton Election consortium’s conservative probability of an Obama re-election is above 95%.

I don’t think so.

Even before Hurricane Sandy reminded people why they gave Obama such high marks during his transition in 2008, polls were moving in his direction. Sandy was a triple gut punch to Romney: it halted the campaign in its tracks for three days, it put Obama out in front of the country in the best possible light, with no “meanwhile, the Romney campaign…” counterweight required, and it showed everyone Chris Christie, who, for all his flaws, was genuine in his effusive praise of the President.

So you get spin like what you see above, which reminds me of one version of an old lawyers maxim: If you don’t have the facts, argue the law; if you don’t have the law, argue the facts; and if you don’t have either, pound the table and demand justice.

The Romney version seems to be this: If you don’t have the polls, point to momentum; if you don’t have momentum, point to the polls; and if you don’t have either, make shit up.

I remember that delicious morning in 2006, when Karl Rove showed up on All Things Considered to school Robert Siegel on why all the publicly available information was wrong, and Republicans would hold on to the House and Senate.

SIEGEL: We are in the home stretch though and many would consider you on the optimistic end of realism about…

ROVE: Not that you would exhibit a bias, you’re just making a comment.

SIEGEL: I’m looking at all the same polls that you are looking at.

ROVE: No, you are not. I’m looking at 68 polls a week for candidates for the US House and US Senate and Governor and you may be looking at 4-5 public polls a week that talk attitudes nationally.

SIEGEL: I don’t want to have you to call races…

ROVE: I’m looking at all of these Robert and adding them up. I add up to a Republican Senate and Republican House. You may end up with a different math but you are entitled to your math and I’m entitled to THE math.

SIEGEL: I don’t know if we’re entitled to a different math but your…

ROVE: I said THE math.

For what it’s worth, Rove is calling this one for Romney, too.

There’s a lot of stupidity floating around. Some reporters in DC are flummoxed that no one will tell them who is going to win this thing, dammit!

And The Fix – I am not making this up – has moved Ohio to a tossup, not because polls are moving toward Romney – they’re moving in the other direction! – but because, in addition to it being somewhat close, it’s an “absolute necessity for Romney to win the state if he wants to be president.”

Well, that seems solid.

Paul Krugman noted the other day how much beltway journalists want someone to give them the inside scoop. If you want the name of a Supreme Court nominee, that makes sense, but in an election, the best information might not come from, well, interested parties.

…Martin’s tweet also reveals a broader issue in reporting, which I’ve commented on before, I think (no time to search): the unhealthy cult of the inside scoop.

A lot of political journalism, and even reporting on policy issues, is dominated by the search for the “secret sauce”, as Martin puts it: the insider who knows What’s Really Going On. Background interviews with top officials are regarded as gold, and the desire to get those interviews often induces reporters to spin on demand.

But such inside scoops are rarely — I won’t say never, but rarely — worth a thing. My experience has been that careful analysis of publicly available information almost always trumps the insider approach.

This is sort of obviously true in election season: in a vast, diverse country, no amount of talking with big shots (who are pushing an agenda) — or for that matter hanging out at campaign events and trying to assess the mood — is a substitute for polls that collectively sample tens of thousands of voters.

None of this matters if people don’t, you know, vote, but I haven’t gotten any sense that Obama for America told it’s staff and volunteers to take the weekend off.

Furthermore, while I am not, in fact, a Republican insider, I do know this: several points down with the trends moving away from me wasn’t where Mitt Romney wanted to be on November 1, 2012.

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