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November 08, 2012

What If The Election Was Won For Even Stupider Reasons Than You Thought?

After a loss, you're supposed to take stock. Ask the Big Questions. Ruthlessly question your assumptions, even your core beliefs.

You're not supposed to make up silly excuses and tell yourselves happy stories about why you lost. You're not supposed to make up a narrative where you should just do all the same things again.

Hacks do that. Genuine thinkers, on the other hand, probe deeply into their starting assumptions and suggest Big Changes.

I get all that, and that's true 90% of the time.

But what if the data actually suggests that Random Chance played a greater role in this election than any other?

Datum: 12% of all voters made up their minds in the last week before the election.

This was right when Sandy struck -- and crucially, in the aftermath of Sandy. Sandy struck Monday, into Tuesday morning, before the election.

Datum: 42% of voters said in exit polls that Hurricane Sandy was "important" to their vote.

Datum: Earlier polls had Romney winning Independents by 10 or more points. In exit polls, he won Independents by only 5. That's the sort of barely-winning margin where the other candidate can still prevail. Bush narrowly lost independents in 2004, for example.

Datum: One of the key reasons for Romney's surge was the feeling that he was the more bipartisan choice. He ran hard on that. And he was leading in many polls on leadership. But in exit polls, he lost the leadership question. Why?

Datum: We're all now saying "the polls were right." But if the polls were right, they were also right earlier. What to make of Romney's former lead in the polls, which vanished as Election Day approached? Why did he go from about a +1 in the RCP average before Sandy, to a -1 after Sandy? In Gallup, he want from +5 pre-Sandy to +1 post-Sandy; one doesn't have to think those numbers are precisely right to still realize there was a big shift away from Romney, to Obama.

If, as we are all now saying, "the polls were right," then they were right pre-Sandy, too. If they weren't right pre-Sandy, why is the left covering Nate Sliver with laurels? His entire thesis was "the polls are right," and not just at the end, but the whole way through.

Datum: Bush was ahead in polls by 3 points going into the 2000 election. Then the DUI story broke on the weekend before the election. He wound up losing the popular vote by around 0.5%. Late breaking news which had a greatly disproportionate impact on the vote. Its importance was not due to its actual importance -- its importance was due solely to its recency.

What if the whole election was swung by a random Black Swan event which had nothing to do with anything that was being debated throughout the past two years?

I think people are averse to crediting so much to chance and chaos.

I think chance and chaos play a much, much bigger role in our lives than we're comfortable admitting. We tend to screen it out. Why does one man die at 41 while another man lives to 93? Why does one driver skid to a harrowing but safe stop on the shoulder of the road, while another car skids beneath an 18-wheeler, killing all inside?

What if all the work and effort and thought and prayers we put into this race were undone in 48 hours by a hurricane no one saw coming until October 27th?

This doesn't mean there's nothing to improve on. Our GOTV effort, early reports are indicating, was poor. The vaunted ORCA program often didn't work at all; as information comes in, this might be called a huge failure. Romney grew into a good candidate, and seemed sincere and warm at the end of the campaign... but seemed out of touch and robotic for most of it.

And Akin's and Mourdock's decision to really ramp up the War on Women narrative lost us all sorts of otherwise gettable votes.

But while we look for Big Important Reasons why we lost the election, we shouldn't ignore Small Stupid Reasons we lost-- because the data do seem to be indicating we lost quite a few votes for the smallest, stupidest, randomest reasons imaginable.

Hey, I Keep Saying This! But "jackleg" provides a good quote about it:

“The course of every intellectual, if he pursues his journey long and unflinchingly enough, ends in the obvious, from which the non-intellectuals have never stirred.” -- Aldous Huxley

Intellectuals tend to be scornful of the obvious and stupid, because they prize their ability to see the subtle and the clever.

But 90% of the workings of the world are, in fact, obvious and stupid. If you search only for the subtle and clever, you'll actually wind up missing the solution 90% of the time.

Note Well: Let me repeat again that of course this is not the only reason Romney lost. I listed nine more yesterday; six more have occurred to me since. And of course Obama did many things right -- like microtargeting nonvoters with racial/class/gender Otherizing appeals. (Congratulations, Lightworker! You've healed a nation!)

But let's not overlook the obvious and crudely stupid here, either, as we set out to say Clever Things.

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posted by Ace at 02:41 PM

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