Never saw it coming

Of all the post-election stuff I’ve read, I’m truly fascinated by all these accounts that the Romney campaign really and truly didn’t see this coming and were sure they were going to win.  Very nice piece from John Dickerson:

How did the Romney team get it so wrong? According to those involved, it was a mix of believing anecdotes about party enthusiasm and an underestimation of their opponents’ talents. The Romney campaign thought Obama’s base had lost its affection for its candidate. They believed Obama would win only if he won over independent voters. So Romney focused on independents and the economy, which was their key issue. The Republican ground game was focused on winning those voters. “We thought the only way to win was doing well with independents and we were kicking ass with independents,” says a top aide. One senior adviser bet me that if Obama won Ohio, he would donate $1,000 per point to my favorite charity. (That would be a $10,000 hit since Romney lost Ohio but won independents by 10 points). In the end, Romney won independents nationally by five points—and it didn’t matter one bit.

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign was openly dismissive of the Obama ground game. Why are they wasting so much money with neighborhood offices, they asked? (In Ohio, for example, Obama had almost 100 more offices than Romney.) In retrospect, the Romney team is in awe and full of praise of the Obama operation. “They spent four years working block by block, person by person to build their coalition,” says a top aide. They now recognize that those offices were created to build personal contacts, the most durable and useful way to gain voters.

Amazing.  Much of the blame for this has to fall on Romney.  Perhaps he’s not quite the brilliant analytic mind everyone makes him out to be.   A number of political scientists have written that many R’s have been identifying as Independent (probably since the Republican brand is so tarnished) in recent years, so it was only natural that Romney would have an advantage among Independents because currently the catch-all category contains a disproportionately high amount of Republican leaners.   Something tells me, though, that the Romney campaign (foolishly) doesn’t actually care what political scientists think.  Or heck anybody else. As Yglesias notes:

As a lot of people have noted, it’s pretty weird that Mitt Romney was “shellshocked” by an electoral defeat that was widely predicted by public opinion surveys, betting markets, andThe New York Times. That Romney fell prey to a certain amount of wishful thinking and thought he was going to win is very understandable. But surely some awareness that the consensus prediction of third party observers might come true should have penetrated into his inner-circle right? And isn’t Romney supposed to be some kind of data-wizard genius investor businessman?

But, back to Dickerson as I found this bit particularly interesting…

In the final 10 days of the race, a split started to emerge in the two campaigns. The Obama team would shower you with a flurry of data—specific, measurable, and they’d show you the way they did the math. Any request for written proof was immediately filled. They knew their brief so well you could imagine Romney hiring them to work at Bain. The Romney team, by contrast, was much more gauzy, reluctant to share numbers, and relying on talking points rather than data. This could have been a difference in approach, but it suggested a lack of rigor in the Romney camp.

To some degree this surely comes from the ever-growing Republican create-your-own-reality bubble while Democrats are more than ever ruthlessly relying on social science and hard data.  The big question now– are the Republicans smart enough to play catch up?

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

3 Responses to Never saw it coming

  1. itchy says:

    “The big question now– are the Republicans smart enough to play catch up?”

    It’s not a matter of smart, it’s a matter of emotional intelligence.

    Without question, they’re smart enough. But do they have the courage to admit mistakes and weaknesses and make corrections?

    • Steve Greene says:

      True, but I meant smart in a more generic sense. I.e., smart enough to see beyond their reality-denying bubble? As long as people who do, like Frum, are apostates, I suspect the answer will be no.

      • itchy says:

        Agreed. This isn’t the first time they’ve been defeated and been forced to react. I have no reason to expect the reaction will be any different this time.

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