Monday, September 24, 2012

Vastly Divergent Narratives

As Obama opens a wider lead in the polls the mainstream story is that time for Romney to turn things around runs ever shorter.
Not The Largest It's Been--But Not Good ...
The back-beat to this narrative is that there has been no shortage of sniping on the right and Peggy Noonan had some choice words for the Romney/Ryan campaign:
The Romney campaign has to get turned around. This week I called it incompetent, but only because I was being polite. I really meant "rolling calamity."
And to flesh it out, the problem isn't just the national polls--which, in aggregate show Obama up more than 3pts--it's the Electoral college swing-state polling which makes Romney's path to the white house look incredibly difficult:
Red/Yellow Bar Is Predicted Final EV Within 2 Standard Deviations
But that's not the only story: there is a counter-narrative that isn't focused on Romney's difficult (and therefore dramatic) current position. It also isn't focused on the (unfortunate) Romney strategy (which seems to have been to release some-but-not-all of the tax returns giving the Democrats a chance to hit them over the head with this again while vainly hoping to satisfy someone in the middle). This story combines blogosphere silence--or almost silence--on the polling front with a bold counter-story: The general reaction to Romney's nearly wholesale crash in the poll is this: we're winning!

What The Heck?
What's going on is this: there are a few levels of sophistication in the Romney-is-winning meme. We're going to look at them. I want to be clear that we are separating the (entirely logical) Romney-Could-Come-Back/Still-Win-It narrative from Romney-IS-Currently-Winning.

  1. There's A Case For It. Sean Trende makes the case that the winner of this election might be a big old loser seeing what kind of trouble is coming. The economy is going to crash, Iran is going to blow up, and so on. Maybe being out of office for 2013 is a good thing. This, of course, flies in the face of the Conservatives-Have-All-The-Right-Answers position but it does make a certain amount of sense (What really is the "good answer" on Iran?). However, this is a marginal position. Almost no one else is saying this.
  2. Look At History--and By History We Mean Gallup. This has been around for some time (in the form of the Reagan narrative) and this is predominantly because Gallup has been around for a long time--more than pretty much anyone else. This means when we look at "history" we see Gallup, Gallup, and Gallup. Jay Cost makes the case that historically, using Gallup (because, uh, you have to, there isn't a great history of polling otherwise) Obama isn't really a favorite.The problem with this is that when you average in a lot of other (also historical) polling there's a much clearer picture (Reagan was ahead for most of the race and there wasn't actually an 11th hour like Gallup suggests). It also ignores the electoral college factor (Romney does not look poised to win Ohio or Virginia and, as Nate Silver tweeted, if he doesn't win either the election is 'OHVA'--yeah, I know).
  3. Troll-Polls-Are-Lying-Liars-Who-Lie-With-Lying. So we get to the biggie: all those polls that put Obama up ... especially in swing states ... they're lying. I direct your attention to Unskewed!
This guy takes a variety of polls and runs them through Rasmussen weighing (the idea being that Team Obama is successfully manipulating the polling firms to use 2008 populating weighing instead of "the real stuff"). This is their theory:
This is not at all a conspiracy theory. I don't do conspiracy theories. This is a very well designed, well planned and they hope, brilliantly executed plan to help President Obama win a second term. The mainstream media has no intentions of sitting on the sidelines and merely objectively reporting the news of the election contest while watching Barack Obama become another Jimmy Carter. They will create the perception, via skewed polls, that Obama is winning and then hope the campaign can take advantage of this perception and steal enough votes to actually win the election.
It should be noted that if you conclude that scores of polling firms--all independently run--all working for different organizations including Fox News (not to mention Rasmussen which shows Obama up over Romney in several key races from time-to-time) are in some kind of massive collusion to re-elect Obama--and that is the most plausible explanation for the polling numbers? And you are the only ones who can figure this out (unlike, say, the "republican run")--then, uh, yes: you are doing conspiracy theory.

If this were true--literally true--then people like Trende and Scott "The Blogging Caesar" Elliot (from the conservative Election would be shouting it from the rooftops. After all, if you can reverse engineer the polls and show their mistakes, why not simply do so? It's true that for a few weeks HotAir's AllahPundit was doing this with some regularity--although his showing-mistakes was usually limited to talking about oversampling Democrats--something which is presumably corrected by weighing--rather than going after the (proprietary) weighting itself.

It's also noteworthy to mention that AllahPundit got so much grief for posting polls that, I think, he's given up on it. No one wants to hear it no matter what the analysis.

What Do I Think?
Erick Erickson did a piece called Conservative Ostriches on WSBRadio. Unfortunately I didn't get to listen to it--but I think:I get the general gist. There is a head-in-the-sand element to people looking favorably at the Romney campaign. No, it is not as bad as "the media" says it is--and no, it is not fatally over--however when your big strategy is to have a game-changing debate (the first debate is the one everyone watches) and you know that (1) the debate format is going to be dueling press-releases because that's what these have become and (2) the historical record suggests that debates don't usually matter much (Romney will need a there-you-go-again moment or Obama will have to claim Poland is not under soviet control) you have a problem.

I also think that where I may not put total credence in the betting markets, if you look at Romney's price you find this:
See That Drop In the Last Day?
For a "closer look" we'll look at InTrade which has been generally the most friendly to Romney:
Steep Decline From 20th-22nd. Slight Recovery ... But ... Yeah ...
If you believe the polls are cooked consider that (a) the betting markets pretty much cannot be and while (b) those markets are no-doubt informed by the polls, the kind of day-by-day movement we see here simply, clearly, is not. The price for Rick Perry flash-crashed during his Oops-Moment during the debates when a lot of people watching realized he wasn't ever going to win the nomination--and that's what we're seeing here too: people with money are becoming increasingly convinced because of what they see in the media and from the Romney campaign that with 44 days to go he isn't showing signs of a turn-around.

For a guy running as a turn-around expert that isn't the position to be in.

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