How Republican polling went wrong and why they should have known better

We watched it all go down; the supreme over confidence of the Romney camp, the attacks on “liberal” prediction models, and the embarrassment of Karl Rove. The Republican Party was absolutely shocked Tuesday night and they are now finally coming to grips with their mistakes. In an article by Jan Crawford from CBS News, she lists three major miscalculations by the Republican Party.
See here.

In short, she writes that Republican analysts misjudged Independents and undecided voters, and misread turnout. These problems are statistical factors involved in what scientists call the “experimental setup”.

The experimental setup is the framework in which you create your experiment.

Generally speaking, you have a problem you wish to solve and you model outcomes using different variables and weighting. You can modify your variables and weighting in order to see what possible outcomes may occur “in silico” before actually starting your experiment in real life.

In the case of modeling or predicting election outcomes, your weighting of the individual polls against one another is very critical, as well as the correct understanding of your individual variables. In the case of the Republican Party models, they terribly misjudged the independent voter variable as well as voter turnout. I believe that these misjudgments should have never happened and I will explain why.

Republicans felt that they had a big lead with Independent voters. State polls showed that Independents were breaking Republican. The problem was that these Independents were not true Independents.

They were simply Republican voters that were sick of the Republican Party, but would never vote for Democrat. The Republican analysts did not see this, but they should have. As most people know, Mitt Romney was caught on tape thrashing 47% of the American public as free loading bums that do not want to take responsibility of their own lives.

Shortly after the video went viral, a Wisconsin poll was released that asked the American public if they agreed with Romney’s statement.

Below are the two points on independent voters in the poll:
39% of independent voters say Romney’s comments made them less likely to vote for him
20% of independent voters consider them a positive
In one of my comments on TMV, I stated

What I like about this poll is that the comments are so ideologically divisive that you can see the real split between conservative, moderate, and liberal independents.

Only a hard core conservative could support the 47% comment. Anyone person saying that they support his comments is not a real independent…maybe just a conservative that dislikes the Republican party, but will vote R anyway.

First, I will toss out the first point. “39% are less likely to vote for him”. “less likely” is very subjective. It could mean Independent identifying liberals who could not possibly be further away from voting for Romney or just real Independents that were turned off by the statement…

The real information comes from the second point. As I wrote before, those 20% of Independents? …NOT Independents. These are conservatives that will always vote Republican. In my opinion, no moderate or Independent voter could ever identify with that statement.

Only very conservative voters could agree with Romney’s comment. This poll, and many like it, was not part of the Republican experimental setup and those Independents, that were really Republican, completely skewed a very important variable.

Instead of having a having close to 50-50 Independent split in their calculus, they had a very right-leaning split. This right-leaning split, in combination with the calculus that those Independents would also turn out as Republican voters, led to a double calculus of a large group of voters.

The miscalculation of Republican-“Independents” that were identifying as Independents hurt the Republican Party because they were not correctly weighted and added into the polling math, which led to an overconfidence that drove Romney to go after states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, when he should have been in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia.

Why did no one catch this problem? Most likely because of ideological bias. It quite possible that Republicans actually thought the non-conservative Independents agreed with the statement because they too believed it.

It is really hard to understand how they missed it.

The other two misses I will chalk up to ideology. It is unclear why they thought Hispanics or young voters were not going to show up at the polls. They have dismissed the two groups for decades. It is possible that there miscalculation was just an extension of their own prejudice.

The Republican Party has since turned the page on the Hispanic hate and even Sean Hannity wants to play nice. Whether that will translate in the trenches remains to be seen.

Granted, I have not personally seen the polling setup used by the Republican Party, but it is obviously very flawed and I think I have laid out the cause and why it should have been caught be someone, but wasn’t.

wrong graphic via

Author: SHANNONLEE, Guest Voice Columnist

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  1. Thanks for posting!

    Side note, “Tuesday”, being the week after the election.

  2. Great post Shannon. An old saying comes to mind (old in the tech world anyway): Garbage in, garbage out.

  3. Shows what happens when people start believing their own B.S.

  4. An example of the “independents” who really aren’t can be viewed in the comments section of Politico articles. Lots of posters citing GOP talking points even though their profile’s party affiliation says NA or independent.

  5. An example of the “independents” who really aren’t can be viewed in the comments section of Politico articles. Lots of posters citing GOP talking points even though their profile’s party affiliation says NA or independent.

    They seem to think that if they deny afflation to the Party that’s sponsoring and promoting the beliefs they hold they will not be responsible for the damage that their beliefs cause.

    They also seem to be offended and surprised when people listening to their BS call them on it… But they know that they’re just playing games.

  6. I also think moderate has a new meaning.

  7. I think “Moderate” in itself will always be in flux. By definition it means, “Average in amount, intensity, quality, or degree”.

    average…. as the country changes, so will the attitudes that create the average.

    I prefer Independent, but I personally cannot call myself an independent anymore. At least not until the Rep party pulls its head out of its you know what. To me, Independent means that you could possibly vote one way or another in any given election cycle..right now… I am a million miles from voting Republican again.

  8. They seem to think that if they deny affiliation to the Party that’s sponsoring and promoting the beliefs they hold they will not be responsible for the damage that their beliefs cause.”

    By ‘they’ I meant “I am not a Republican” Republicans not independent’s as a whole… and I misspelled “affiliation” ;)

  9. Best course – take into consideration Nate Silver’s predictions and watch the early voting patterns.

  10. Focusing your campaign efforts into making those who already hate the other guy hate him even more, is not an effective strategy. They still just have one vote, regardless of how hard they push that button or pull that lever.

  11. Yeah, Nate Silver has the math down pretty well. But he cant rest, he too must tweak his numbers here and there. He did a great job and I found myself visiting his site more and more often during the end of the campaign season. I still disagree with some of his values, but that is like complaining about a freckle on Marylin Monroe.

    HB, what Mitt’s campaign did and what Fox News does is to keep conservatives voting Republican. They want to make sure that Reps dont have to worry about defecting Rep voters. Mitt’s late move to the middle, which was well-planned, was done late enough to keep conservative, but early enough to move some undecideds…or better said, the people that were never paying attention until the debates.

  12. “It is really hard to understand how they missed it.”

    I don’t think it is. They are morons. A big chunk of the GOP has pretty much given up on using objective facts as part of the decision making process. There is word for people like that, and it is moron.

  13. The right relied on Rasumussen polling. Fox News *projected* an image of invincibility betting that rather than riling up the base of the left, it would galvanize the tea party extremists. I mean, what were they supposed to do? They’re not gonna say, ‘well, we have no chance.’ No party is ever going to do that, and perhaps their denial is why they still have the house…

  14. I don’t know slamfu. These guys are supposed to be hiring experts that are paid to give them the real numbers, not a bunch of yes men. Both campaigns had their own internal pollsters. Romney’s people should have at least looked at what Silver was doing and tried to explain why their numbers are so different.

    Major campaign decision on message and commercial buys are made based on polling data. Polling analysis drives so much…in a billion dollar campaign…how does one party get it so terribly wrong?

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