Political Animal


April 18, 2012 3:14 PM Morris’ House of Cards

By Ed Kilgore

I hesitate to use Dick Morris as an example of anything other than what some people will do to turn a buck. But RealClearPolitics published a column by Morris offering his expert analysis of what’s ahead in the presidential contest, and since it offers a virtually perfect illustration of how numbers can be used by the dedicated spinner to paint a deceiving picture, I’ll briskly deconstruct it.

Morris’ purpose is to predict—more than six months in advance, mind you—that not only is Mitt Romney going to win, but he’s going to win by a landslide.

The bedrock of Morris’ “analysis” is the so-called “incumbent rule,” the tarnished principle, seriously battered in 2004 to the eternal chagrin of Democrats, that undecided voters break sharply against incumbent presidents. It’s a “rule,” BTW, that still has strong salience in many down-ballot races, where incumbent support is often artificially boosted by superior name recognition until the deal is about to go down.

But Morris doesn’t mention recent doubts about the “incumbent rule,” instead just laboriously adding up the gap between an incumbent’s standing in the final Gallup Poll going back to 1964, comparing it to the actual results, and decreeing that as a scientific measurement of how undecideds have broken. He even, hilariously, adds up the total “shift” from final Gallup to final results over eight elections to yield this most dubious of statistics:

In other words, of the total of 19 points that shifted between the final poll and the election results, 17 points or 89 percent went to the challenger.

Obscured, of course, in this flurry of numbers is the fact that in the only relevant election in the last two decades, 2004, the incumbent actually gained points after the final Gallup.

But now that he’s “proved” Obama’s going to get killed in the late going, Morris busily works at setting the lowest possible baseline for where he’s likely to be, using a recent Rasmussen poll (of course) showing Obama trailing Romney among likely voters (another dubious standard this far out from the election) 48-44. So on the apparent theory that Obama will get none of the undecided voter, Morris figures he’s on his way to at least an eleven-point loss.

For dessert, he adds these observations (my comments are in brackets):

There are other indications of a Republican landslide in the offing. Party identification has moved a net of eight points toward the GOP since the last election [according to Gallup, the net shift has been just two points]. In Senate races, there are currently eight Democratic-held seats where Republicans are now leading either the Democratic incumbent or the Democratic candidate for the open seat [while presidential races sometimes affect Senate races, it’s never been seriously argued that the reverse is true].

All jollity aside, Morris’ exercise in unlimited spin should serve as a cautionary tale of the kind of house-of-cards it is possible to build if one is determined to ignore every bit of contrary evidence militating against Total Victory for My Team. I’m sure he could make a superficially impressive case for an impending Obama landslide if he hadn’t cast his financial lot with the GOP. But Republicans aren’t the only ones facing this temptation. Just ask anyone who prematurely celebrated John Kerry’s victory in 2004.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Hedda Peraz on April 18, 2012 3:38 PM:

    Morris is right; it will a landslide of such epic proportions that Republicans need not bother going to the polls (on November 7th)

  • mellowjohn on April 18, 2012 3:39 PM:

    dick morris' one saving grace is that he's consistently wrong about everything!

  • kevmor on April 18, 2012 3:54 PM:

    Also by Dick Morris: "Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race" (2006)

    The prosecution rests.

  • Quaker in a Basement on April 18, 2012 3:57 PM:

    Now if we correlate Morris' numbers with the history of his predictions versus the eventual outcome...

  • tanya on April 18, 2012 4:03 PM:

    He sound like Morris is challenge us of to GOTV... Wish I know personally who doing just that (even with the voter suppression)...

  • jjm on April 18, 2012 4:17 PM:

    Is he the one who paid prostitutes to let him suck their toes?

    But he typifies the mind set of the conservatives, which is, as a Bushie distilled it, "We make our own reality." The GOP/conservatives have absolute and total faith in the ability to lie with statistics, to gin up 'popularity' (like a high school junior running for class president) with ads and banners and bells and whistles and drum majorettes all shouting loudly.

    They discount people's ability to cut through the crap they put out in a steady stream.

    But it comes out of their economic outlook as well. The article by Louis Menand in the recent New Yorker on Romney is telling. Since the 70's when a company was judged by its actual know-how and performance and its employees were among its most valuable resources, we have come to the point where human beings in any company are just considered expenses that have to be cut. And the only thing that now counts is the price of the company's stock as a measure of its worth. That was not the case before Reagan though it is now.

    So how long can these companies run on investing in money to make money, and not make anything else?

  • Ron Byers on April 18, 2012 4:18 PM:

    There are several reasons no politician hires Dick Morris as a consultant anymore. Not only is he disloyal in the extreme, he isn't very good at political analysis.

    By the way Tanya is right. A strong Democratic GOTV campaign to counter the Republican's organized voter suppression efforts is the most important aspect of the coming election. Has anybody told Debbie "Whatshername" Shultz? Does anbody in DC even care about the ground game?

  • Kathryn on April 18, 2012 4:26 PM:

    Apropos of nothing, whenever I see or hear Dick Morris, I get a vision of him in a toga and a wreath around his head with his beefy arm hanging out. Regardless, Dick Morris is a bigger whore than any participant in the Secret Service scandal by a long shot and why Real Clear Politics would have him write any article for them is beyond me.

  • sharing on April 18, 2012 4:31 PM:

    The role of women in mormonism:


  • Kathryn on April 18, 2012 4:41 PM:

    @Ron Byers .....If Virginia is at all typical, Obama campaign is up and running with something like 22 offices in the state. The offices are opening months before they did in 2008, surely others who comment here volunteered in 08 and have been recruited to help in 12. It's the Republican party that's got organization problems in the states according to Maddow Show reporting and their primaries and caucuses have been pretty freaking messed up, if you recall.

  • mk3872 on April 18, 2012 4:55 PM:

    Bush didn't win in 2004 or 2000.

    In 2004, Kerry won except for that Ken Blackwell stole Ohio by not providing enough ballots to inner-city precincts.

  • exlibra on April 18, 2012 5:36 PM:

    Kathryn, @4:26 PM

    Wherever did you get the idea of a toga and a wreath? He's a clown, all right, but this is what he looks like:

    hint supplied by Craptcha: "udanci 210"

  • James Van Hise on April 18, 2012 7:11 PM:

    No idea why Fox News employs this guy. If MSNBC has someone on staff with the sex scandal history of Morris, they'd be screaming. Aside from that, Morris is an idiot who just says what his employers want to hear. In the fall of 2007 Morris stated that the Democrats would never nominate Barack Obama because he couldn't possibly win.

  • wordtypist on April 18, 2012 10:25 PM:

    Save this one so you can republish it in November.

  • Geneva Mike on April 19, 2012 9:48 AM:

    Why do guys like this get a free pass to say this kind of nonsense, then, after the fact, no one ever calls them on it? I guarantee that, if Obama wins this November, as seems likely, Morris will still be all over cable news, and no one will ever ask him on-air why he was so off on his prediction. He'll still be considered an "expert".

  • Sisyphus on April 19, 2012 10:44 AM:

    Actually, there is ONE case in recent history that I can recall that could suggest that a presidential candidate rode the coattails of a senate candidate. It was Illinois, 2004, when Obama had a truly absurd margin of victory, and Kerry was about 2 points behind him.

  • Zorro for the Common Good on April 19, 2012 12:21 PM:

    Let's not forget one of Morris' other famous predictions -- his electoral projections in late Sept. 2008:


    Yep, six weeks before the election, Morris had CO, IN, VA and NC as "Strongly McCain", NV, NM, IA and NH as "Lean McCain" and MI, WI, PA, WA and OR as "Toss-Up". Needless to say, Obama won all of them. In fact, other than IN, VA and NC, Obama's margin in all of those states was greater than his overall margin.

    And with that, I'll just outsource the rest of my "Morris is always wrong" critique to Mark Nickolas so I can head over to InTrade and make some money betting against his predictions: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-nickolas/worst-pundit-in-america-d_b_160212.html

  • Obee on April 19, 2012 1:12 PM:

    He also had Hillary as a shoo-in for the nomination in 2008.

  • HatchAx on April 19, 2012 1:26 PM:

    I've seen polling numbers used that way before: Karl Rove used similiar analysis on TV & columns to assert the GOP was in no danger of losing either the House or Senate. Except he had to use unreleased "internal" polls & Morris at least gets a Rasmussen from a couple of months ago