December 5, 2012 3 Comments
Harvard had a recent conference with all the recent strategic advisers from both the Obama and Romney campaigns. John Dickerson has an excellent piece summarizing all the most interesting tidbits. Most interesting to me was just how incredibly dedicated the Obama campaign was to getting their polling right while Romney’s campaign was off in this fantasy-land where all the public polls were wrong and they were going to win handily:
Triple-Screen Polling: The Romney campaign was shocked on election night. Advisers had predicted that Romney would win decisively. That confidence was based largely on their polling, which was based on a generous interpretation of the electorate. The Obama campaign, by contrast, had several different streams of polling information coming in. This allowed Obama’s camp to more accurately understand what the undecided electorate was thinking and what their voters believed, so they could hone the president’s message and the scripts volunteers would use on the doorstep when canvassing. Obama’s main pollster Joel Benenson would put together one round of data from the battleground states. The campaign also hired pollsters with expertise in specific battleground states to do a second poll. Then, each night, the campaign itself polled 9,000 people in battleground states. Simas also had his own little private poll of undecided voters he checked in with and rotated regularly during the campaign. (We had a group like that, too!)
According to Simas, in order to test their polling methods, they then called in polling experts to deconstruct the three different sets of polls and recommend how they could do it better. Each time a new public poll came out, members of the Obama polling unit looked at its assumptions in order to determine if the public poll had a better understanding of the public than the campaign. That gave them confidence to stick with their numbers and ignore a lot of the public noise. “It just becomes a big horse-race story,” said Axelrod of the campaign coverage, “and you guys don’t even know where the horses are.” (Wait, this is a race of horses?)
Wow. That is astoundingly thorough. I love that they were so absolutely willing to put their own efforts under a harsh light to try and improve. That’s not an easy thing for most people to do. And to think that the Romney pollsters were just blithely assuming that they only had to win independents and that the demographic composition of the electorate would look like 2004. Those guys should be sued for malpractice. I don’t think it is an an accident, though. I’m not quite prepared to attribute it to the more open to competing views liberal mindset (though, that is a possibility), but I do think it is, at least in part, attributable to the epistemic closure that seems to have so taken over the Republican party. So many really are living in their own reality. And 2012 was a great example of the very negative consequences of that.