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A brief election post-mortem

November 7, 2012

Conor Friesdorf at The Atlantic has a quick-reaction column today, bizarrely blaming “the conservative media” for last night’s loss.  Friesdorf builds his argument on the currently towering figure of Nate Silver, and blasts those on the right who “rejected the possibility” that Silver’s projections were the modern equivalent of Delphic oracles.

I’m a bit confused by this, because I don’t know anyone who simply rejected outright the possibility that Silver could be right, but I know plenty who believed that the assumptions in his model would prove to be incorrect and that a big conservative turnout could result in a Romney win. And, frankly, that was the right thing to do – because simply accepting Silver’s projections and an Obama win as a fait accompli would only have depressed GOP turnout even more, and possibly cost them their current thin reed of House control.

I also must dispute Friesdorf’s description of last night’s result as a “trouncing.” Obama lost at least 9% of his 2008 electoral vote total, and accumulated 10 million fewer votes despite this being an even larger electorate. This campaign was a grim march through a disillusioned nation. Obama survived, he did not “trounce.”

From the end of World War One to the end of the last century, the nation could be counted on to coalesce around one candidate or another – in those 20 elections, the victor managed to earn fewer than 2/3 of the electoral votes only four times (1948, 1960, 1968 and 1976).   However, since the turn of the current century, this is the third time in four elections that the winner has failed to clear that bar (and the fourth time, in 2008, it was only barely cleared with 67.8%).  In that long era of true mandates, the average number of electoral votes tallied by the winner was 420 and an average share of over 78%.  We are clearly in a new era, where the parties are re-sorting themselves, not unlike the late 1800s.  I don’t believe either party has a real advantage, in part because neither one has a clear vision of the national future – or, at least, not one that they are willing to clearly and openly articulate.

All that being said, conservatives certainly do have a lot of work to do in advance of 2014 and beyond, but I don’t think Silveresque predictive data analysis should be at the top of the list. Conservatives need to understand the layered “whys” of their recent losses much more than the superficial “hows” that predictive analysis yields. I have some ideas on those “whys,” but I prefer to keep this blog focused on policy rather than politics, so I am hesitant to get into them.

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