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November 03, 2012

The 91% Election

Karl Rove predicts that a Romney-Ryan victory will be declared early in the morning on November 7th.  He makes a well reasoned argument, backing it up with facts, figures, and his own astute observations.

In addition to the data, the anecdotal and intangible evidence—from crowd sizes to each side's closing arguments—give the sense that the odds favor Mr. Romney. They do. My prediction: Sometime after the cock crows on the morning of Nov. 7, Mitt Romney will be declared America's 45th president. Let's call it 51%-48%, with Mr. Romney carrying at least 279 Electoral College votes, probably more.

I think Rove is right, but I suspect the margin will be greater than he predicts, and the election will be called sooner.  In fact, I think I may be making a pretty early night of it next Tuesday.  Rove made his assessments based on what he sees in the data, and he may very well be right on the money.  But there's a large chunck of missing data.

According to the folks at Pew Research Center only 9% of the households they call will agree to an interview. Most don't even answer the phone.

It has become increasingly difficult to contact potential respondents and to persuade them to participate. The percentage of households in a sample that are successfully interviewed – the response rate – has fallen dramatically. At Pew Research, the response rate of a typical telephone survey was 36% in 1997 and is just 9% today.

That 9% success rate means 91% of households that Pew attempts to survey won't give an opinion.  This might be considered a meaningless statistic since a poll, after all, is a sampling of the general population.  The question is this: Is that 91% representative of the general population?  If so, then the 9% who respond are also representative and Rove's prediction is most likely dead on. 

Here's why I don't think that's the case.  Let's first take a look at this chart which accompanied the Pew article quoted above.

Pew Research Center

There are two things to look at, and they may just be coincidental.  The chart shows a 13-point drop off in the percentage of households who answered the phone between 1997 and 2000, and another 10-point drop between 2009 and 2012.  My off-the-cuff analysis suggests that the first big drop in Pew's success rate coincided with the emergence of the internet as a source of news.  The rise of the blogs was the result and the cause, both at the same time, of a dramatic decline in people's trust in the mainstream media.  Admittedly, there are other factors, such as the high number of households that rely on cell phones rather than land lines.

But it so happens that the Drudge Report website made its debut in 1997.   Blogger.com was launched in 1999.  Shortly thereafter the popularity of political blogs boomed in a virtual revolt against the mainstream media's liberal bias.  I suppose it could be coincidence that Gallup's plunging success rate occurred in the same timeframe.

But then there's that drop between 2009 and 2012.  In 2009 Congress pushed through ObamaCare, passing competing House and Senate bills.   Also in 2009 the Tea Party came into being to oppose ObamaCare.  A characteristic of the group that unanimously opposes ObamaCare is its distrust of the mainstream media. 

Three years ago, in 2009, the Tea Party gathered on the mall in Washington, DC, on the anniversary of 9/11 actually, to protest against ObamaCare.  It was my first experience with a protest of any kind, I picked a good one.  It was quite obvious that Tea Partiers were highly motivated.

There were tens of thousands, probably close to a half a million people there who, like Susan and me, invested a little money and a lot of time to make it to this Washington event.  We spent eighteen hours in the car to get there and back.  Not everybody traveled that far, but there were some who came farther.

This is not the crowd that plans to stay home on election day.

The first notable election day after that Washington Tea Party rally was a Massachusetts special election to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Ted Kennedy, a champion of universal health care, by the way.  Republican Scott Brown came out of nowhere to upset heavily favored Democrat Martha Coakley.  Brown campaigned as the Senate vote that would block ObamaCare, and the Tea Party elected him against all odds.

ObamaCare passed anyway, and Obama signed it into law when Congress violated its own rules to get it through.  The Democrat controlled House "deemed" that it had already passed the Senate version, thus avoiding reconciliation and the need for another Senate vote.  Senator Brown did not get his chance to kill ObamaCare. 

Contrary to conventional wisdom of the day, the Tea Party wasn't done.  The following year in the 2010 midterm elections, Tea Party enthusiasm drove Republicans to a gain of 63 seats in the House of Representatives, ending Nancy Pelosi's brief tenure as the first woman Speaker of the House.  In the Senate Republicans picked up 6 more seats, not enough to gain control, but enough to break the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority.  And at the state level Republicans gained 680 legislative seats in statehouses across the country.

Some, like Karl Rove, felt that the Tea Party was a radical right-wing group that, after costing Republicans control of the Senate in 2010, would fade into irrelevance.  In 2010 several Tea Party candidates knocked off established Republican candidates in primaries, then went on to lose to the Democrats in the general election.  Most notable among them was Christine O'Donnell who defeated nine-term Representative Mike Castle in Delaware's Republican Senate primary, and then went on to lose in the election to Democrat Chris Coons.  Castle had been heavily favored over Coons.

Soon afterwards mainstream pundits again celebrated the demise of Tea Party influence.   Their perceived presidential favorites lost out to Mitt Romney in the Republican primaries this past year.  Romney was considered way too moderate for radical right-wing Tea Party tastes.  Rick Perry came out of Texas to challenge Romney.  At first he was wildly popular, but he faded quickly after suffering brain freeze during a debate.  Herman Cain was another Tea Party favorite who briefly challenged but was forced to drop out when rumors of marital infidelity came to light.  Newt Gingrich had his run, and so did Rick Santorum. 

Progressive wishful thinking has it that a disappointed Tea Party wouldn't support Moderate Mitt.  But Romney's challengers were rejected because they were judged to be less likely to defeat Barack Obama.  What progressives don't get is that the Tea Party's preferred candidate is the one who will win the election, get rid of ObamaCare, and stop the radical transformation of the United States into a European style social democracy.  Failing that means the end of America as we know it.

The notion of a Tea Party in disarray is nowhere near the reality, as they continued knocking off RINOs in Republican primaries.  In Indiana encumbent Senator Richard Lugar lost to the Republican State Treasurer, Richard Mourdock.  In Texas Tea Party candidate Ted Cruz defeated the establishment candidate, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination.

Recent elections, all of the ones since ObamaCare was passed, have been characterized by high Tea Party impact.  There is every reason to think this election will be the same. Since the 2010 midterm election the Tea Party has shifted from demonstrating to volunteering. The results are visible in Gallup's poll of early voters.

Romney currently leads Obama 52% to 46% among voters who say they have already cast their ballots. However, that is comparable to Romney's 51% to 46% lead among all likely voters in Gallup's Oct. 22-28 tracking polling. At the same time, the race is tied at 49% among those who have not yet voted but still intend to vote early, suggesting these voters could cause the race to tighten. However, Romney leads 51% to 45% among the much larger group of voters who plan to vote on Election Day, Nov. 6.

Getting out the early vote was an important part of Obama's campaign strategy, but if Gallup is to be believed, it's not working out for him this year.  We're looking at the tip of the iceburg in the early voting results for Romney.  Keep in mind that they are actual votes not opinion poll answers.   Among those volunteering to get out the vote for Romney and those voting early to give him this lead are the 91% who aren't picking up the phone at night.

When the pollsters call and nobody answers, you can bet it's the Tea Party not answering.  Mark this one down as the 91% election, where the 91% who wouldn't answer Pew's phone calls showed up on election day.

Posted by Tom Bowler at 11:08 AM | Permalink

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