When I worked in Washington, I was shown round the White House by a junior Bush administration staffer. As our group made it round the building we passed various photos of George W. Bush signing bits of legislation into law, at nearly everyone our guide would stop and tell us how many voters in various key states would benefit from it. When there was a picture of Bush with a governor, we’d be regaled with both sets of approval ratings. It was clear that whatever the administration’s flaws – and there were many – it had an acute understanding of the importance of data and the changing nature of the American electorate.
One would have thought that the campaign of Mitt Romney, a hugely successful businessman, would also have understood the importance of clean, reliable data. But it clearly didn’t. A CBS News report details how the Romney campaign ‘believed the public/media polls were skewed – they thought those polls oversampled Democrats and didn’t reflect Republican enthusiasm. They based their own internal polls on turnout levels more favorable to Romney.’ This meant that when the defeat came, they were totally unprepared for it despite it being what the polls were predicting.
This episode is a real lesson in how political campaigns can delude themselves. To reject one polling company is one thing, but to simply dismiss all the major polls is quite another.