Political Animal


November 30, 2012 9:07 AM Team Mitt Fell Prey To Two Big Myths

By Ed Kilgore

Before we get into the Daily Kabuki of the fiscal talks, it’s worth taking a look at the new evidence TNR’s Noam Scheiber dug up about the misplaced confidence that Mitt Romney’s campaign took into November 6. Given a glimpse of some internal Romney polling data and then a bit of phone time with Romney pollster Neil Newhouse, Scheiber deduces that the Romney campaign was especially deluded by how it was dominating most-likely voters down the stretch—those to whom it assigned an 8-10 “most interested in the election” number on a scale of 10:

What’s striking is how much better Romney does among those with the greatest interest in the campaign. If you look at Colorado and New Hampshire in particular, Romney is running up big margins among even the 8-10s, which Newhouse said routinely accounted for 80-90 percent of the sample in his internal polling. (In New Hampshire, the 8-10s represented 88 percent of the sample.) Newhouse said the reason the campaign broke out these numbers is that it helped them “try to gauge intensity.” But it also led them astray—it led them to assume that voter intensity was driving Romney’s leads. And it reflected a flaw in their polls. The people who told the campaign they were 8s, 9s, or 10s were a smaller share of the November 6 electorate than the 80-90 percent they accounted for in Romney’s polls—partly because Newhouse and his colleagues underestimated the number of young people, African Americans, and Latinos who wound up voting.

In other words, Team Mitt forgot that in the end a “vote is a vote,” and that interest or enthusiasm beyond the level necessary to get (in conjunction with GOTV efforts) people to show up and cast a ballot is nice but has no electoral value unless it is somehow infectious.

Aside from succumbing to the “enthusiasm” myth, it seems Romney and his staff also bought into the “momentum” myth: the powerfully seductive belief that sometimes-random polling gains represent an irresistible trend. Newhouse saw a significant jump in Mitt’s numbers in battleground states the Sunday before Election Day, and like his colleagues thought this was “momentum” that would probably continue right through November 6:

When pressed on why many of his final numbers showed an erroneous uptick for Romney, [Newhouse] offered that “it may be a function of Sunday polling”—a valid concern given that many pollsters are wary of polling on weekends.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that Romney’s closest aides and confidants interpreted the numbers quite literally. One Romney aide told me that he ran into Tagg Romney, the candidate’s eldest son, as the results came in on election night. “He looked like he nwas in a complete state of shock,” the aide said. “[As if] these numbers cannot be real.”

Perhaps we’ll hear less crap about “enthusiasm” and “momentum” in the next cycle.

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.


  • marc on November 30, 2012 9:14 AM:

    Seems like Mitt's boys did what the accused the Dems of - overpolling their base.

    A bit of wishful thinking here.

  • stormskies on November 30, 2012 9:18 AM:

    No one should ever forget the propagandist role that the vast amount of the corporate media played in all of this, a role to purposefully deceive and confuse the public as to the actual reality that was taking place.

    Just remember all the times many of us on this message board talked about the purposeful manipulation of 'polls' by the vested corporate interests. The worse offender proved to be, yet again, the Gallup poll. They were the most wrong of them all yet the corporate media cited Gallup the most often in their coverage of the election.

    And then of course all the corporate props called pundits who keep trying to convince us that we had a real horse race on our hands: breathlessly so. No one seemed to care about the actual reality that was taking place: Obama lead among the African-Americans, the Hispanics, the Asian-Americans, Native Americans, white educated White people, the youth vote, and women.

    Yet despite this obvious evidence the corporate media did what, well, the corporation directed it's media to do. And that was to deceive and confuse the American population into believing that which was just not true.

  • rea on November 30, 2012 9:19 AM:

    "Momentum," says Tigers manager Jim Leyland,"is the next day's starting pitcher."

    The Romney campaign should have paid more attention to baseball.

  • T2 on November 30, 2012 9:27 AM:

    what Team Romney didn't get was that there was no Reason to vote for him, except that he was the Republican candidate. That wasn't enough. And it may never be enough any more.

  • sjwilliams on November 30, 2012 9:28 AM:

    I admit that I am still really enjoying these stories of the Romney campaign's dysfunctionality. Republican incredulity (and denial) as to the fact that they lost is also a continuing source of delight for me.

  • c u n d gulag on November 30, 2012 9:34 AM:

    I'd be curious to see how much of a difference cell phones made in this election, in regards to polling.

    I've said it before - people who still mainly use traditional land lines, tend to be older people. And those are the people who, for the most part, the GOP-leaning pollsters called.

    Younger people of all colors, races, creeds, and religions, have ONLY cell phones.

    Also, poorer minority and white people, who can't afford both, will choose a cell phone - seeing the advantage of having access to a phone pretty much wherever you go.

    And even if the polls included cell phones, there's another factor involved - unlike most land-line phone plans, which are unlimited (at least on incoming calls), many cell phone plans have limited minutes - inbound, AND outbound. And because of that, land-line people will pick-up any calls that come in. Cell phone users tend to be more discerning.
    Hey, a 20 minute polling call on a land-line, doesn't cost you anything but time.
    The same amount of time on a cell phone, will eat at your minutes.

    Maybe some greater minds than mine (which included most people), will look into this, and factor it into future polling.

  • Ron Byers on November 30, 2012 9:36 AM:

    I wrote something similar to Stormeskies comment, but then I realized that the problem was not that all the folks in the Fox Nation were fooled by the media. The problem was the Romney campaign was taken in by the corporate propaganda. At least Joseph Goebbels recognized he was blowing smoke. Neil Newhouse didn't. Neither did anybody at the top of the Romney campaign.

    The function of internal polling is to get an honest assessment of where the nation really is, not to spin up a horse race.

    If you are going to be competitive you first have to be honest with yourself. You have know more about the competition than the competition. The Romney campaign wasn't honest with itself and was really clueless about America and Obama. The old coder phrase "garbage in, garbage out" comes to mind.

  • Peej01 on November 30, 2012 9:42 AM:

    A lot of who still have land lines also have caller ID and use it to screen our calls...so we don't answer everything.

  • rk21 on November 30, 2012 9:44 AM:

    So Romney's pollsters are not actually pollsters, but wishful thinkers. I don't believe this. They have to explain to the idiot billionaires how they blew away hundreds of millions of dollars. My theory is they took the money, spend a bunch on a fliers and ads and pocketed most of it. Now for some gobbledigook to explain the loss to the morons and ensure the money keeps flowing in.

  • CharlieM on November 30, 2012 9:54 AM:

    Victims of the "enthusiasm" myth or the "momentum" myth?
    A better description can be had from boxing - that Mitt fell prey to the Great White Hope syndrome (and all the self-entitled baggage that term carries).
    Show up, throw a few good early punches, and then coast to what is rightfully yours.
    That's why they're all in shock. How the universe works (or at least the way they understand it to be ordered) has been stood on it's head. They had their self-entitled butts kicked by The Other. Again.
    It wasn't that they fell for enthusiasm or momentum. It's that those two things reinforced what what they already knew - that they were entitled and that they were going to win by virtue of *being* entitled.

  • Solid Sid on November 30, 2012 10:03 AM:

    The sheer grandiosity of the Romney campaign is staggering. We heard repeatedly that the enthusiasm gap was strongly in favor of Romney. The Romney campaign could not believe that people were eager and enthused to vote for Obama because they just couldn't see or believe that was an option. How totally clueless....

    Romney's polling effort in the primaries had to be right on. But again they were just polling the base and assumed that every number they saw was accurate. The polling was correct for the primaries...so therefore, it had to be right for the general election..

    Hope the Ed and the polling geeks can get the primary polling numbers from the Romney camp and see where the disconnect from reality started.

  • Perspecticus on November 30, 2012 10:03 AM:

    "Perhaps we’ll hear less crap about “enthusiasm” and “momentum” in the next cycle."

    Yes, and perhaps we'll hear less about how both the GOP and dem Dems equally refuse to budge from their bargaining positions during the current fiscal negotiations. I mean, we won't, but one never knows.

  • Kathryn on November 30, 2012 10:38 AM:

    @rk21..... Read Ralph Reed's defensive comments shortly after election regarding all the outreach he did to the evangelicals, specifically mentioning flyers and inserts into church bulletins, back up your points. The uber business man campaign of Mitt Rommey depended on the same old dishonest hacks like Reed and Nathan Deal (voter registration hired gun) and he got what he paid for, but not what he thought he paid for. Hire self serving crooks and you get self serving crooks. We dodged a canon in this election as his governance would have mimicked his campaign statergy IMO.

  • hornblower on November 30, 2012 11:06 AM:

    I'm not big on the corporate manipulation meme. But maybe in the next election someone from the campaign should talk to people outside their social circle and see what they are thinking. I guess young Mr. Romney has no friends who are not rich and entitled like himself.

  • Barbara on November 30, 2012 11:12 AM:

    I think rk21 is right. I can't help but feel that a lot of this post-election apologia is just covering up for having pulled something over on others, for a fee. I can't say that about any specific person, and truly, it would be shocking if Neil Newhouse deliberately misled his own candidate or staff, but in my heart, I just do not believe that so many people could have deceived themselves so utterly given the amount of publicly available contrary information. You can be in a state of shock when something undesired finally happens, even if you were expecting it. This was me, for instance, when the U.S. finally invaded Iraaq in March of 2003. It was shocking but not unexpected.

  • marianne19 on November 30, 2012 11:16 AM:

    I'm an unenthusiastic (but likely) NH voter who was polled by both PPP and Rasmussen in the last weeks of the campaign. They never asked if my deep and abiding disdain for Republican behavior outweighed my lack of enthusiasm for the Democrats.

  • Rip on November 30, 2012 11:45 AM:

    The creation of a sub-category of "extremely likely" voters by republican leaning pollsters was sign of their delusions. While there seems to be some disagreement on exactly how many eligible voters are are actually registered in any given year, the consensus seems to be that somewhere between 80 and 90% of those registered will vote in a presidential election, which is obviously going to include millions of voters whose enthusiasm is not overwhelming. Parsing out who is an 8-10 on the scale seems like a wasted effort.

    The enthusiasm with which one votes does not impact the value of that vote.

  • bluewave on November 30, 2012 11:46 AM:

    No, this narrative still makes no sense. Even these polls show Romney behind in many of the key states he needed if he was going to win. Simply no justification for this absolute belief they were going to win-- willful self-delusion or somebody is still lying, take your pick.

    Perfectly in keeping with the Romney/Bain business model, however.

  • Nick on November 30, 2012 12:15 PM:

    I am still loving this all, deeply. Many good points above. My two cents: trying to "1-10 scale" the intention to vote seems so wildly stupid I can't even imagine it. There are so many variables. For me, I was not as engaged as in 2008, if that's the right word, but NOTHING would have stopped me from voting. I liked PPP's likely-voter screen, which was basically: 'you gonna vote?' And they were pretty much on the money this year.As for 'highly enthusiastic,' Ireference the immortal article by Peggy Noonan the day before the election, when she descibed Romney rally attendees as 'gripping the hands of officials to tightly.' Yes -- as if to say, "Save us from the black man in the White House!" Yes ... that's 'enthusiastic' all right. But thankfully those people were outnumbered big-time.

  • G.Kerby on November 30, 2012 12:39 PM:

    I have to think that part of this was due to the Corporate-CEO syndrome. In the corporate world, one NEVER disagrees with the CEO or his hand-picked inner-circle. To do so is a sure path to banishment. The CEO has a plan. His top advisers fall over themselves to see who can praise the plan the loudest. They don't need some low-life data handler telling them that the plan is bunk.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on November 30, 2012 1:26 PM:

    I would have loved to have spent election night in the presence of Team Romney so that I could have laughed right in their face. They are nothing but lying, dishonorable bastards.

  • Rahul on November 30, 2012 3:52 PM:

    Oh, we'll continue to hear the same crap in the next campaign all right!

  • rikyrah on November 30, 2012 4:26 PM:

    I read that this morning, and thought to myself -

    this was just the last person to take the CHECK from Willard.

    I have said it before, nobody had anything good to say about Willard unless they got a CHECK from him...

    Willard's entire campaign was one long GRIFT, IMO.

    They grifted Willard.

    Karl Rove grifted hundreds of millions.

    Ralph Reed - grifter.

    So, there is a grifter component. the other part of the blame goes to the MSM - which was told by its corporate masters to pretend that there was a 'horserace'.

    Willard only led with old White people.
    And blue-collar Whites...

    and, never with any consistency in the battleground states.

    but, yet, we were told over and over how it was a ' horserace.'

  • mudcity on December 01, 2012 8:11 AM:

    I feel one important element is left out of the analysis of the campaign and that is the degree to which Romney and his inner circle, his wife and extended family, believed that this election and his presidency was going to be evidence of God's will. Thus the ability to ignore reality and hence the shell shock when he lost.