Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Waiting For The Wave

(John Podhoretz of the New York Post) speaks for everyone* when he writes:

Every serious politico is baffled by the polling on this fall’s elections, in which Democratic Senate candidates across the country are doing a remarkable job of hanging in despite the general consensus that under conventional circumstances this would be a “wave” year for Republicans.

This is more or less true: as The Omnivore understands it there should be a wave! Why isn't there? Why is this a coin-toss election (at least right now)? JPod thinks it's because of the tech-gap:

The answer, I think, is far more technical than ideological. Democrats are vastly superior when it comes to the mechanics of American politics, and have been for nearly a decade, while the GOP’s technical skills have withered since 2004.
Maybe. Certainly there was a documented technical superiority gap for the 2012 elections. But The Omnivore isn't quite sure. After all, while Podhoretz correctly describes the Democrats campaigning on social media, which might influence election polling, the real impact of the technology we saw was actual Get Out The Vote voting

To The Omnivore, it looks like J-Pod is choosing the least uncomfortable rationale to the observed phenomena. Let's take them roughly in order of comfort:

Rationale Why It is Comforting Yes—But …
Skewed Polls We’re doin’ FINE! The Liberal media is lyin’ on us. 2012 … it still hurts.
Tech-Gap The center-right populace of course agrees with us—but because of the millennial technical gnomes the DNC employs we’re struggling … THIS TIME. We’ll get better! It’s not clear that a social-media gap exists now or that polled reluctant voters are being influenced through Facebook.
Voter Fraud The Democrats are cheaters and liars. We’re morally pure / superior. Total, absurd lack of evidence.
It’s The Republican Candidates … Duh. We’ve seen Republican candidates self-destruct. We know it happened in 2010. We just need more guys like Cruz. They don’t suck this time. This time they’re pretty good.
Sheeple It’s not our fault. It’s the lazy populace that just doesn’t listen. Hey—only 15% of the populace are following the election at all! So this sucks—but they’ll wake up! Wait for those Benghazi hearings to really get going! If, uh, people are not following and … uh … the 18-29 year-olds are following least (follow the links) why does the polling show a tie?
Brand Damage It isn’t … especially. If the Republican brand is badly enough damaged to make a tie out of what ought to be a wave, how bad is it??

What’s Really Going On?

The Omnivore suspects it’s this: Leadership fracture. The congressional Republicans have shown a remarkable lack of cohesion and policy-thought-leadership in the past 8 years. Their signature achievements, after all, were limiting Obama to one term and blocking the Affordable Care Act. This has got to have a negative impact on a “give us the steering-wheel” election. The good news is that (a) the GOP has a pretty darn good chance to hold the Senate after this and they will have a solid 2 years to promote a more positive (and hopefully, successfully enacted) agenda.

Let’s also keep in mind that they are trying to take a bunch of seats away from Democratic incumbents—which is always harder.

But all that aside, The Omnivore thinks there is simply two different games being played here.


The Game of Voters

When you play the game of voters you win … or you lose. Dying’s pretty medieval, eh? In this election—probably more than even 2012, the game-plan for each side has been different. The GOP is trying to solidify and rally their base to help ensure that high-probability voters don’t abandon the party. The Democrats are trying to engage low-probability voters and get them to the polls. This has two very different approaches and counter-strategies. This is why we see the Republicans making it hard to vote while the Democrats are trying to play up indignities to women / minorities / etc. in order to motivate them. It’s why we see Benghazi hearings (which play to the base but will convince almost no one else that anything interesting happened in … was it Syria? The Omnivore forgets) vs. the proposed Obama-Amnesty pronouncement.

Each of these strategies has an equal-and-opposite force effect: when you push on racial issues, GOP base voters feel like they’re being called racists and object to it. When you enact voter suppression, minorities feel oppressed and may be more likely to get in the game.

At the heart of all polling is a turn-out demographic model. This is used to project from the sample-size of actual calls / questions to the population being studied. Exactly how each polling place does that varies and it’s something of a secret as far as The Omnivore can tell. It’s what makes Poll-A more/less reliable than Poll-B (well, that and number of calls and how the questions are formulated).

While The Omnivore wouldn’t dream of unskewing anything, it is possible that we’ll see some kind of upset where the population that shows up was different enough from the projections to push this one way or another. If that does happen, The Omnivore thinks it would probably help the Democrats as the Republican demographic is probably both better understood and … erm … more easily reached by land-lines.

Take that as you will …

Also Read: Does the GOP Still Have a GOTV Data / Consultant Organizational Problem?

* "everyone"


  1. I think you're overthinking it.

    The Republicans have been hijacked by a gang of terrible human beings with tenuous grips on reality. And the voters are responding to that.

    1. Ever the optimist!
      -The Omnivore

    2. In statistical aggregate, at least, the voters' grip on reality does not appear to be much better than that of Republican politicians. It's one of the primary keys to understanding American politics (the other is money ), and is about equally true - though in different ways and for different reasons - across the political spectrum.

      I'd welcome a "get out your brains" initiative, but who'd champion it? It fails politicians' "cui bono" test.

      -- Ω

  2. I hear repeatedly an observation you've made here, Omnivore:
    Democrats are working at getting voters to the polls.
    Republicans are working at making it harder to vote.
    Which group believes more in democracy seems pretty obvious.