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Noonan Eats Crow- Gracefully

November 9, 2012 1 comment

It is only fair to recognize that after Peggy Noonan’s November 5th forecast of a Romney victory because she could feel it through yard signs and well-attended closing rallies for the Republican candidate- the reality of what occurred on election day has hit home.

With grace and a certain amount of humor, this is the former Reagan speechwriter in today’s Wall Street Journal:

President Obama did not lose, he won. It was not all that close. There was enthusiasm on his side. Mitt Romney’s assumed base did not fully emerge, or rather emerged as smaller than it used to be. He appears to have received fewer votes than John McCain. The last rallies of his campaign neither signaled nor reflected a Republican resurgence. Mr Romney’s air of peaceful dynamism was the product of a false optimism that, in the closing days, buoyed some conservatives and swept some Republicans. While GOP voters were proud to assert their support with lawn signs, Democratic professionals were quietly organizing, data mining and turning out the vote. Their effort was a bit of a masterpiece; it will likely change national politics forever. Mr. Obama was perhaps not joyless but dogged, determined, and tired.
Apart from those points, everything in my blog post of Nov. 5 stands.

Which is to say, there’s not much left of it to stand.

My point in comparing the prognosticating approaches of Noonan and the New York Times’ Nate Silver earlier this week, also stands. And my point was an intentionally narrow one. Data analysis and empirical research trump emotion and “feelings” every time.

And by the way, what works in the world of political forecasting, also works in the rough and tumble world of political campaigning- and specifically, the art of the political ground game. Noonan is absolutely correct when she says Republicans may have been putting signs on their lawns, but Democrats were organizing, data mining and turning out the vote.

The precision and demographic targeting of the Obama campaign amounted to the most impressive GOTV (get out the vote) effort in modern political history. Because they identified their voters and then motivated them to get to the polls through personal and local volunteer interaction, they, in essence, created their own electorate.

Here’s a Time magazine piece on the Chicago bunker where the effort was centered, based always on pain-staking research and a conscious dismissal of all previous ground game assumptions.

By comparison, here are details of the Romney GOTV effort, which was supposed to have been coordinated through new technology that was never actually tested and which literally crashed and burned on election day as Romney volunteers realized their system for identifying which voters had voted and which had not, was simply not working.

The larger point here, is that information is power. Those who ignore it or fail to mine it, sift it, analyze it and understand it, do so at their own peril, whether they are trying to win elections or predict their outcome.

Nate Silver’s Probabilities vs Peggy Noonan’s Feelings

November 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Nate SIlver and Peggy Noonan


As part of the introspection that conservative partisans like Peggy Noonan are engaged in after the resounding reelection victory for President Obama Tuesday, surely one of the aspects of this exercise will be coming to the acceptance of the primacy of facts and research over emotion.

As conservatives started aiming their ire at New York Times numbers-cruncher, Nate Silver, in the closing weeks of the campaign, it is now apparent that all the froth was about what Silver was saying not the way he went about coming to his conclusions.  They were shooting the messenger.  And with every broadside, it seemed Silver would just keep upping Obama’s victory probabilities until by the final day, they had crested above 90%.   And for the second Presidential election in a row, he was spot on, accurately predicting 50 out of 50 states (presuming Florida finishes where it is now).

Over at the Wall Street Journal, former Ronald Reagan speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, seemed to be mocking Silver’s nerdy numbers approach by predicting a Mitt Romney victory based on, among other things,  the size of the Republican candidate’s closing crowds, their decibel levels, even her perception of how Romney lawn signs were outnumbering Obama’s.

There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not. Independents are breaking for Romney. And there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same.

She even magically entered the heads of the candidates at the annual Al Smith dinner in New York where she interpreted what she saw as an uncomfortable and distracted Barack Obama as someone who looked like they had just read disturbing data.

But sitting there listening to the jokes and speeches, the archbishop of New York sitting between them, Obama looked like a young challenger—flinty, not so comfortable. He was distracted, and his smiles seemed forced. He looked like a man who’d just seen some bad internal polling. Romney? Expansive, hilarious, self-spoofing, with a few jokes of finely calibrated meanness that were just perfect for the crowd. He looked like a president. He looked like someone who’d just seen good internals.

The remarkable thing about Noonan’s approach to political prognosticating, is that you’d think she’d know better by now.  She’s had her hand in the political game for nearly half a century.  Not that she’s alone in couching her hopes on imaginary factors she thinks she sees, like massive, noisy, huge campaign crowds at Republican rallies, advantages in political lawn signs, or someone’s demeanor sitting at a dais.   It’s natural- it’s human  to hope against hope.

Granted I was all of 16 at the time, but I remember feeling such hope for George McGovern in 1972.  Surely, polls can be wrong.  I mean, wow, 20 thousand people came out for him at one event or another.  How could a decorated World War II Air Force veteran with such strength of character be losing to Richard Nixon, for Christ’s sake.

Not too dissimilar, I suppose, from a conservative partisan thinking how such a good, religious, responsible family guy like Romney could possibly be losing to the likes of Barack Hussein Obama, for Christ’s sake.

Well, McGovern, of course, would go on to win  only Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. and Mitt Romney would go on to lose every single swing state in the election except for North Carolina (and again, we await Florida).

The lessons here are obvious.  Not that it really matters, of course, if pundits get their predictions right or horribly wrong- they are paid to bloviate no matter what.  But if one wants to be accurate and be taken seriously again someday- it would be wise to keep emotions out of it.

It would be essential, I think, to not let your observations be colored by your tribal leanings.  It might make sense to understand that 21st century polling, for example, is actually a science and that the study of statistical probability actually has an anchor in reality.

The trick for those who want to be in the business of predicting things, is learning to accept that the facts you see may not be what you wish they were.  It’s human, even endearing to think that wishing can make things happen.  But it’s not very professional.

 

Election Home Stretch: But First a Hurricane

October 27, 2012 Leave a comment

(OK, this graphic could have been done more professionally but my resources are limited)

I’m not sure which hype will win the day.  The closest, craziest Presidential election race ever, or the storm of the millennium- a combo hurricane/blizzard/nor’easter more perfect in its evil ingredients than even the last Perfect Storm in 1991 that was so horrific it was turned into a popular movie.

I do know this.  Because I live in the all-important swing state of Virginia, any possible power outages will have the added benefit of wiping out several hundred political TV commercials, thus frustrating the mass media strategies of both campaigns.   Honestly, these media strategies have always been puzzling to me.

On the 833rd viewing of a particular campaign spot, is something supposed to suddenly click?  Does the viewer slap his head in a moment of unexpected epiphany?  “You know, the first 832 times I saw that commercial, I must have missed the candidate’s furrowed brow at the mention of massive deficits- but now it all makes sense to me!”

I get a kick out of the regular “people” in these commercials.  It’s not bad enough that the “small businessman/woman” is clumsily reading cue cards, but they’re also not even a small businessman/woman, they’re just bad actors.  “Ok, honey, at the end of the speech about how your kids are all in debt, give us that forlorn look, right into the camera- bingo, that’s a wrap!”

I’ve been whipsawed now for several months.  It’s Morning in America!  Millions of new jobs have been added!  No, it’s Armageddon in America!  It’s all a living hell until January 20th when everything suddenly changes!

Ok, so Hurricane Sandy’s impending visit will give us a political commercial respite, but what if the power outage also takes out the internet?  Then, what?  Where, exactly, am I supposed to find out the latest on the political polls?  My God, what happens when 1pm comes and goes and I haven’t been able to check the latest Gallup tracking numbers?   Is it really possible I may not be able to read Nate Silver for over 48 hours?

Well, the good news is that not only do I still have leftover tuna cans from last year’s big hurricane, I added to my supplies yesterday with a last-minute, late night visit to the local Harris Teeter.   True, they had run out of cheap water, but I do now have several dozen very attractive and incredibly expensive bottles of Fiji water.

I also have a very entertaining Saturday ahead of me.  From my 10th floor Pentagon City apartment, I have an excellent view of the Costco parking lot.  Storm preparation mayhem and panic all unfolding right before my very eyes as I sip my Fiji water and munch on my tuna and crackers.

God, life is good.