How consultants lost the election as soon as it began

Christopher Bedford | Editor in Chief, The Daily Caller News Foundation

It’s just over one month after the 2012 national elections found Republicans and conservatives poorer by hundreds of millions of dollars, two senators, eight congressmen and one presidential candidate.

With the dust settling, one thing is clear: The hip-shooting consultants screwed up, and they screwed up big. Of course, folks always accuse the politicians, pollsters and pundits from the losing party of screwing up big, but we’re here to start the long, arduous and slightly bitter task of laying out exactly how the party screwed up big, because the Lord knows the consultants wouldn’t tell us even if they could. (RELATED: The tyranny of the political consultants)

Now, we don’t have access to all of their spreadsheets or whatever else they may raise in their defense, so we’re going to have to go off what we saw and start with a question: How many times did anyone hear a Republican on TV talking about how black turnout matters in Ohio?

The answer is very rarely: Television viewers “very rarely” saw Republicans saying that the black vote mattered in Ohio (teaser: the share of black voters in the Buckeye State went up four points). Instead, all we heard were things like “The undecideds are likely to break for the challenger [Mr. Romney];” Mr. Obama has “big defections of independents and they’re driving his vote down;” and “This election has always been about the undecided voter.”

All of this was, at the time, accepted conventional wisdom, but all of the speakers missed the key to the White House by willfully ignoring the data.

“In Ohio, Romney has been leading among independents in most polls, but a lot of those statewide polls have been getting electorates that, in party identification terms, are actually more Democratic than in 2008,” one normally insightful pundit said. “That seems counter-intuitive, but those are the results they’re getting. I think there may be a systemic problem with the polls.”

So here are a couple of data points for the GOP’s recently unemployed soothsayers to chew on while they type their cover letters:

Fact 1: According to CNN exit polls, Mitt Romney increased the GOP’s share of the independent vote by six points from 2008, while Barack Obama’s share declined seven points.

Fact 2: According to CNN exit polls, Mr. Romney increased the GOP’s share of the independent vote by two points over George W. Bush’s share in 2004 and three points over his win in 2000.

Fact 3 (and here’s the kicker): Mr. Romney lost the popular vote in the 2012 presidential election by nearly four points.

So how did a 13-point independent swing — that saw Republicans carry even more independents than they did in their last two presidential victories — not push Mr. Romney into the White House? Well, here’s where the incredible power of sheer denial comes into play. And it’s also where this gets exciting. And infuriating.

In Mr. Bush’s 2004 re-election, CNN exit polls show that the voting electorate was 77 percent white, 11 percent black, 8 percent Latino and 2 percent Asian.

The exit polls show that John Kerry won 41 percent of the white voters, 88 percent of black voters, 53 percent of Latino voters and 56 percent of Asian voters.

In 2008, the racial waves in the electoral landscape — that everybody and their mother had been predicting for years — began to hit the shore, and Mr. Obama won a voting electorate that CNN exit polls tell us was 74 percent white (a three-point fall from the 2004 voting electorate), 13 percent black (a two-point rise), 9 percent Latino (a one-point rise) and still 2 percent Asian.

Meanwhile, the CNN exit polls show that in that same 2008 election, Mr. Obama won 43 percent of white voters (a two-point rise from John Kerry’s share in 2004), 95 percent of black voters (a seven-point rise), 67 percent of Latino voters (a 14-point rise) and 62 percent of Asian voters (a 6-point rise). That’s a rise in every racial category, and it did not bode well for the Grand Old Party.

In addition, the party makeup of the voting American electorate changed dramatically: In 2004, CNN exit polls show Democrats and Republicans tied 37-37 percent, but in 2008, those same exit polls showed Democrats at 39 percent and Republicans at 32. This, too, did not bode well for the Grand Old Party.

So what did the poll wizards do? Well, they dismissed the 2008 data as an outlier: The idea that the racial composition of the United States was changing — as it had been since it was first settled by Europeans — was just a Democratic trick, they confidently claimed. The 2008 electorate, they assuredly asserted, was a flash in the pan ignited by phony “hope and change” messaging and fanned by the historic nature of electing the first black president of the United States.

And party affiliation? Of course people were excited to register for the party of hope and change! That flash, they promised each other (and the folks paying them piles of cash), was just that: In 2012, the blacks and Latinos, overwhelmed by unemployment and underwhelmed by Mr. Obama, would stay home, while the white independents would come marching back to the Republican banner.

Data-driven Democratic operatives, on the other hand, predicted (conservatively, and largely accurately) that the racial and party shifts were not going to simply fade away, and would stay about the same as they were in 2008. (RELATED: Why ORCA is innocent, and no one wants to talk about it)

But before we get to that, some of what Republicans said would happen actually happened. At the behest of the consultants, Romney followed the conventional wisdom, shooting for the independent vote and ignoring the blacks and Hispanics as blocs hopelessly lost to the Democrats. In the end, white Americans swung back (59 percent to John McCain’s 55), as did independents (50 percent to Mr. McCain’s 44).

But the other half of the consultant’s spell fizzled out: CNN exit polls show white turnout at 72 percent (falling two points), black turnout at 13 percent (staying even), Latino turnout at 10 percent (rising one point) and Asian turnout at 3 percent (rising one point). By party ID, Democrats fell one point, while Republicans stayed the same — hardly bridging 2008’s seven-point gap.

So while Joe Biden told an audience of blacks that Republicans are “going to put y’all back in chains,” and while Mr. Obama bypassed Congress to award amnesty to over one million illegal immigrants, Mr. Romney and his supporters dutifully targeted independents, spending hundreds of millions in the process.

And he made great gains, too, beating Mr. Bush’s numbers from both his 2000 and his 2004 wins. But black voters went for the president with 93 percent (a two point drop from his 2008 share), Latinos by 71 percent (a four point rise) and Asians by 73 percent (an 11 point rise).

So the bottom line is this: Just to make up the racial swing in the popular vote, the GOP would have had to double their gains among independents, winning 56 percent.

How many hundreds of millions would conservatives and Republicans have to give the consultants to pull that rabbit out of the hat? If we know anything about how consultant operate, they’ll let us know soon enough.

Here’s a terrifying idea for Republican politicians, pollsters, pundits and voters to think about: The 2012 presidential election was effectively over as quickly as it began because the Republican consulting class’ reasoning — and, thereby, entire strategy — was based on denying that 2008 ever happened.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the ethnic makeup of this land is changing, and will continue to change, just as it has since before the United States was founded. Simply put, Spanish-language ads and Facebook updates are helpful, but Republicans have a choice to either make a genuine, long-term, and concerted effort to reach out to minority voters, or to follow the consultants’ lead and find shelter in demographic delusions.

Which pill the GOP will swallow likely depends on who is put in charge of explaining to the donors and politicians the cold blast of reality on Nov. 6, 2012. If it is the folks who rely on data, the GOP may have a future in this country. But if the same folks who ran the 2012 campaigns are in charge of explaining what went wrong — as they would surely like to be — the GOP’s flag is headed for the ash heap of history, and conservatives and libertarians will have to find another banner.

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