A friend on Facebook cited the president’s commanding lead on Intrade today – 72 to Romney’s 27 – in an attempt to shake my faith in Romney’s chances. (This isn’t the main point of this post, but I do find it remarkable how many Obamaites are genuinely perturbed by my confidence that a Romney victory is in the offing. If you’re guy’s a sure thing, why bother to berate the delusional?)
I got renewed insight into how distorted electoral perceptions are this time around when the same friend noted that the more than 20-point Intrade spread was “well beyond the margin of error.” Margin of error?! How does a commodities market, which reflects self-selected investor confidence and not a random sample of the electorate, have a “margin of error?”
More than in any election in memory, the polls have become their own narrative, almost as if each poll is an election unto itself. Romney has bigger crowds at his rallies than the president, more money than the president, significant numbers of new Republicans registering in swing states, a much more motivated base than the president, a more effective ground game than the president, more recent and effective debate performances than the president, and he’s running in an environment where the president’s glaring failures, both foreign and domestic, are becoming increasingly difficult for even a sycophantic media to ignore.
Anyone who thinks Obama isn’t in serious trouble is either burying their heads in the sand, or they’ve taken cover behind the odd alternative universe being created by a warped perspective of polls – specifically, what they are, and what they mean.
I’ve already talked repeatedly about the fact that the polls are oversampling Democrats to an absurd degree, and, in fact, many in the press are starting to notice. A new website, unskewedpolls.com, actually takes all of the major polls and reweighs them according to current party identification, and in each case, Romney holds a commanding lead and is above the critical 50% threshold.
But today, just for the sake of argument, let’s consider the polls at face value. If I’m an incumbent looking at numbers like Obama’s, I’d be sweating bullets. Why? Because most if these polls are still very close. Romney’s “gaffes” that the punditry breathlessly cite as proof that the election can now be cancelled strangely don’t seem to be moving the numbers at all. And even with a generous helping of Democrats tossed into the mix, the president is almost always floundering somewhere below 50% in both national and swing state polls.
That’s the key right there.
An incumbent that can’t cross 50% just over a month before an election is not sitting in the catbird’s seat. These undecided voters have endured the Obama presidency for four years now. What’s going to happen between now and November 6 that’s going to get them to fall in love with him? Another month of soaring unemployment? More dead ambassadors? More ads telling people that Mitt Romney gives women cancer?
As for Intrade, feel free to comb through this blog’s archives and find me gloating about Romney’s stellar Intrade stats – in 2008. Romney was going to win the Florida primary, according to Intrade prognosticators, and then Charlie Crist endorsed McCain, and Romney’s campaign tanked as quickly as his Intrade numbers went south, which they did instantly. Intrade is a reflection, not a forecaster, of conventional wisdom, and it is a lagging indicator that shifts with events. To discuss its “margin of error” is to assign it with magical powers neither it nor Nate Silver at the New York Times has.
Yes, that Nate Silver, the guy who is a statistical wizard who does no polling on his own and is hostage to the flawed assumptions of the polls he is given. Most who gasp at my unflappable Romneyism throw him in my face as proof of my inherent stupidity, since, you know, Nate’s very smart.
Yes, I know he is smart. He’s also proceeding from a number of flawed assumptions, which makes him wrong. The best SAT scores and most brilliant models cannot compensate for bad data. In addition, he is not clairvoyant, and his predictions carry no electoral authority.
And that’s the problem, isn’t it?
A Martian stepping in to this debate could be forgiven for thinking that the election was a sequence of mini-elections, decided by daily random samples of a thousand people or so, and he who crosses the finish line with the most polls wins. As it stands, Nate Silver sputtering on election night that the electorate was uncooperative with his brand of modeling won’t do anything to earn Mr. Obama a second term in office. Polls are not elections; they shift quickly when events warrant, and when it comes to the probability of winning actual votes, Mr. Romney is the one in the stronger position.
Thus I don’t mind, and, in fact, I welcome the derision of the lefties who feel compelled to remind me that I’m out of my skull. Their scorn is reassuring, as it is symptomatic of an underlying, unsettled electoral anxiety that they dare not name. No, my ire is raised more by the pantywaist Republicans cowed into submission by conventional wisdom, frightened of being laughed at by the people getting it wrong. They are too eager to offer conflicting and useless advice to a campaign they do not understand and that is doing just fine without them, thank you very much.
And while they’re not nearly as bad, I also have very little use for the columnists who write stories with headlines like “Romney Can Still Win,” or “He Still Has a Chance, You Know.” Again, watch the demeanor of the candidates. It is Obama, not Romney, who is running scared.
The question should be, then: Can Obama still win this? Of course, but not if nothing changes between now and November. The race is still very much Romney’s to lose.