6:12 AM EST, December 2, 2012
We now know from exit polls and post-election interviews that most supporters of Mitt Romney, including his campaign officials and, apparently, Romney himself, were convinced as Election Day dawned that the election was in the bag. For Romney. Quite likely by the landslide over a hapless Barack Obama that was predicted by Dick Morris on Fox News.
Why were so many Romney supporters convinced that he would win?
It was more than just something driven by the usual political spin. Every campaign spins of expected victory. But most losing campaigns are realistic in the gloom-filled headquarters that victory likely is not at hand.
Karl Rove wasn't just spinning with his predictions of victory. He really believed Romney would win and demonstrated that in disputing the projections, even of Fox, that it was over. Obama had won Ohio and re-election.
Why did the Romney campaign fully expect victory?
Why, when most polls in the battleground states were showing Obama ahead?
Why, with Nate Silver, the careful, cautious analyst of polls and myriad other election data, who seems never to miss with his FiveThirtyEight projections, calculating at campaign close that Obama, not Romney, had the momentum and Obama had a 90.9 percent chance of winning re-election?
It wasn't just wishful thinking. More important was a misunderstanding of the electorate.
Romney supporters, including his campaign strategists and the pundits like Morris and Rove, talked to each other and cited just certain polls they wanted to believe, reinforcing their strongly held convictions that Obama was a failed president, that voters would toss him out of a White House that should instead be occupied by "a real American."
There were some polls, with samplings -- as it turned out -- weighted too much toward Republican respondents and underestimating turnout of voter categories tending to favor Obama. Pundits supporting Romney cited those as proof. And thus their predictions were taken as gospel by many folks who believed that surely Obama would not win again.
But while they convinced themselves, those Fox pundits don't have much of an audience among the groups that voted so heavily for Obama -- African-Americans, Latinos, single women and younger voters in general.
Older white males, who are more likely to tune in, voted in overwhelming percentages for Romney. Many of them no doubt found it hard to believe that those pundits could be wrong. Their friends and associates were saying the same thing: No way for four more years for Obama.
Some furious Romney supporters in states he carried big in the South are so disgusted with the way the rest of America voted that they now sign petitions for their states to succeed from the Union.
Succession? Another Civil War?
If victory had not seemed so certain and defeat so beyond belief, the bitterness would not run as deep.
But why didn't even the Romney strategists pay more attention to the Silver projections? Two reasons. They preferred to believe polls with more Republican flavor in the sampling, counting on their base being more energized to vote. And they knew that Silver, who got everything right -- except Indiana -- the last time, had been hired by the New York Times.
They don't like Times editorials -- and why should they with editorial-page support for so many Democrats? So they discounted Silver, who deals in cold, hard numbers, not partisan fluff. Skip the editorials, sure, but read Silver.
Silver cautiously weighed polls, considering which ones reached cell phone users, which had a record of accuracy and which were current in the most important states.
He wouldn't quickly confirm either the boost for Obama after the Democratic National Convention or the boost for Romney after the first debate. But when solid polling over days confirmed those boosts, so did Silver.
The race was reasonably close, but FiveThirtyEight (named for the number of presidential electors) always found Obama ahead, though with just a 61.1 percent chance after that disastrous first debate.
Romney supporters, citing crowds he was drawing, claimed he had momentum. Crowds are deceptive. All those polls in battleground states were not.
Next to be disappointed? Probably any Democrats who think the results of 2012 mean that their party has future elections in the bag.
Jack Colwell is a columnist for The Tribune. Write to him in care of The Tribune or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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