Why the Conservative Media Got It So Wrong:There is no doubt that going into the final days of this presidential election there was a greater disparity in the perceptions of what the outcome would be among the media elites of each political side than any other time in the era of modern technology. Liberals were completely convinced that President Obama would be reelected, while conservatives tended to not just believe Mitt Romney would beat him, but that he would do so in a landslide.
So why did the conservative media get it so wrong? Because I am a conservative who was confident that Obama would win a tight race, I think that I may be in unique position to explain why this happened.
First, while you would think that the advent of modern technology and the explosion of polling data which now exists (it is truly staggering how much more information there is today than there was, say, in 1980) would help in making political predictions, it actually does the opposite. This is because having access to so many numbers allows political partisans to cherry-pick which data points they like in order to fit their agenda and preferred outcome.
As Mark Twain is alleged to have said, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.
For conservatives, this natural human inclination to embrace the data that they like and discard the rest is greatly enhanced, and essentially injected with steroids. This is because they have a very understandable and highly justified distrust of a news media which has been showing open hostility to the prospects of our candidates for as long as any of us can remember.
While I am not the very first person to question the credibility of everything I hear in the news media, having once worked for a polling institute and having commissioned several high profile national polls myself, I understand that polls, while hardly perfect, should not generally be thought of as part of the biased news propaganda machine (which is why, ironically, the Fox News poll is often not at all favorable to conservatives).
But because conservatives are understandably so distrustful of everything they are told by the media, it becomes easy for them to fall into the trap of assuming that polls showing Obama winning are inherently flawed. They are even able to come up with enough real numbers to make arguments which appear to be based in intellect, even though they are really being driven by emotion and self interest.
This phenomenon was made even more pervasive because to the conservative political junkies who spend their lives absorbing every possible news item with the assumption that it is simply not possible to comprehend how anyone would vote to reelect Obama. This fed into their fervent belief that the polls must simply be wrong (as did their forgetting that, when nearly everyone votes in a swing state, it really doesn't matter how much more enthusiastic one side is than the other).
What they didn't seem to understand is that an incredibly small percentage of the electorate was dealing with the same data points about Obama as they were. The vast majority of voters, especially those who make up "undecideds," make their candidate selections based on a frighteningly small amount of "information" (which is why, as silly as it was, Obama was politically smart to jump on the "Big Bird" issue).
Not realizing this reality further perverts what is already the modern bubble in which commentators tend to live due to this era of extreme media fragmentation. Because we all gravitate to the information we want to believe is true, this creates a set of circumstances in which the truth gets easily lost.
For instance, at the well respected conservative website Hot Air, well over 90% of their respondents to a poll the day before the election believed that Romney would win, most by a large margin. It is not a coincidence that the site provided information and commentary which almost universally both backed up and facilitated that belief.
Related to this is also the commercial aspect of the modern news media. There is absolutely no doubt that partisan outlets (which now describes about 100% of the media) do far better with their audiences when they tell them what they want to hear. I personally got an enormous amount of irrational grief (and actually lost twitter followers!) because I dared to write about how I thought Obama would win, even though my predictions were actually more optimistic than what the left was tending to portend. The fact that I was correct will mean absolutely nothing to my detractors because credibility no longer has any currency in this celebrity driven culture.
This last point is why Dick Morris can add to his extraordinary record of being catastrophically wrong about just about every major prediction he makes without fear (as long as Fox News renews his contract) of being held accountable. Conservatives are not going to be angry at conservative commentators for telling them what they wanted to hear. They will now simply blame the mainstream media, fraud, and the "low info" voters instead. The conservative outlets themselves will now be all too happy to still have Obama around as a cash cow for the next four years.
I will say that I was shocked that the usually credible Michael Barone also fell into this trap of predicting a Romney landslide based on instinct rather than actual data, but the fact that it can even happen to him proves just how strong all of the forces at work here really are.
I was not influenced by these factors not because I am particularly smart, but rather mostly because I don't trust people. I only trust actions based on self interest. I was perfectly willing to buy the notion that the polls were, to a small but significant degree, biased in favor of Obama, but there were far more reliable factors which told me this was not really the case.
It was clear to me that beating Obama would require a performance equivalent to a major "upset" in sports. In almost all cases when such an event happens there is at least one moment when something dramatic occurs to change the balance of the contest. The first debate was not that moment. All that did was get Romney into the game. He still needed to land his knockout punch and, despite being given the Benghazi story as weapon with which to deliver it, he was either unwilling or unable to do so.
When the Romney campaign decided at the last moment to make a significant play in Pennsylvania (the graveyard of modern Republican presidential candidates) it was a dead give away about what was really happening. Interestingly, those who interpreted that action through their hearts and their wallets saw it as a sign of strength and a coming Romney landslide. Those of us who only seek the truth saw it for what it really was: an act of desperation caused by the belated realization they couldn't win Ohio because they were too weak in their response to Obama's attacks on the auto issue there.
One of the many reasons that the conservative movement is in such deep trouble is that those who were wrong here will suffer no consequences and those who knew the truth will receive no benefit.
This conservative understands the media. Statistics do matter in elections.