Erick Erickson Demonstrates Why the GOP was Baffled By Romney’s Defeat

At Redstate, CNN commentator and major Republican party figure Erick Erickson is lecturing Republican donors on how, according to Erickson, they got ripped off by Republican consultants, and they should instead listen to him. He breaks down the numbers, with a dollop of arrogant condescension:

To understand Gravity, you rich donors need a basic primer. You may think you know this stuff, but I bet you really don’t. Let me break it down for you.

Of the 100% of Americans who exist, about 66% are eligible to vote. These are all rough estimates.

40% are actually registered to vote.

25% of the total American population will probably, actually go vote.

Therefore, a candidate needs 13% of the population to win.

But, and this is a big but, of the 25% of the population that can and does vote, 9% will vote straight Democrat usually and 8% will vote straight Republican.

That leaves 8% left.

2% of that 8% of people will be single issue voters. Of that 2%, most of the single issue voters will tilt slightly to the GOP on issues of guns or abortion, but there are also single issue pro-choice voters, single issue anti-gun voters, single issue gay rights voters, etc.

That all leaves 6% of the population. In other words, to win an election, a candidate must really get 4% of the population to support him because that is the majority of the undecided 6%. A Republican must get a bit more, but then can draw from single issue voters a bit more than Democrats.

Those percentages are the foundation of the data. But the data is more complicated than that. [Emphasis gleefully added]

There’s evidence that the GOP’s pollsters and targeting people were delusional and/or dumb. Looks like Erickson is even dumber. The US population is estimated to be 311 million. Look at his calculations:

Erickson’s Numbers Actual Results
Percentage of American Population to Vote 25% 40%
Total Vote, Erickson Figures vs Actual as of 11-26-2012 78 million 127 million
Percentage of Americans Whose Votes Are Needed to Win vs Obama’s Percentage for 3-4 point win 13% 21%
Winning vote, Erickson Figures vs Actual as of 11-26-2012 40 million 65 million

Erickson brought up voting eligible population and percentage of the VEP registered to vote. He’s pretty close in his estimate of the VEP. Could the subsequent estimates have been intended as percentages of the VEP and not total population? Sure, but that would make his estimates even more inaccurate, as the raw numbers would be calculated as a percentage of 220 million instead of 311 million.

The best part of this is Erickson telling donors “you may think you know this stuff, but I bet you really don’t.” I hope those conservative donors memorize his lessons.

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“Hello, 911, I’d Like to Report a Kid Canvassing My Neighborhood”

I’m catching up on some post-election reading, and today I came across this piece in Campaigns and Elections about the successes of SuperPAC’s that concentrated their resources and focused on state races or on a small number of downballot federal races. The article doesn’t oversell any conclusions. I think it’s a stretch to say that a conservative SuperPAC has much to do with Republicans in Republican districts–such as Kerry Bentivolio in MI-11–prevailing over Democrats who barely mounted campaigns. But it’s obvious that a few hundred thousand dollars in a $2-$3 million race where candidates are barely known, if at all, is usually a better investment than a hundred million ad campaign in a presidential race.

One of the problems for the top of the ticket races is that more TV spending in a media market leads to higher ad rates, and the less the buyer gets per dollar. Other types of spending aren’t as vulnerable to price spikes based on other campaigns. For instance, the USPS doesn’t raise rates in a state because there’s more political mail flowing in to mailboxes. But I see a problem with one part of this prediction:

If anything, Reiff says, Super PACs will refocus their efforts on the ground game in the future—funding canvassing, mailers, phone banks and other GOTV when TV becomes oversaturated.

I think Reiff is correct that SuperPAC’s will look for ways to influence elections other than TV. Mail is an obvious way, because all it requires is money and a few consultants. Phone banking can be effective, and is better targeted than TV anyway. But every election cycle, as more and more of the electorate uses land lines as nothing other than a voice mail that they never use to answer to a live call, phones become less effective. Reiff doesn’t mention online, but that’s another form of voter contact that requires little labor and no volunteers. That leaves canvassing.  While I don’t dismiss it entirely, I doubt the ability of conservative SuperPAC’s to effectively use paid canvassing operations to significantly influence Republican turnout.

Democrats have often used paid canvassing operations for GOTV in areas with high Democratic performance but low turnout. Canvassing isn’t a permanent job, it doesn’t pay all that well, and can’t be done for more than a handful of hours each weekday (thus making it harder to do as a second job, as the canvasser needs to be available in the afternoon and the evening). People who canvass mostly or entirely for financial reasons–in part because it demands more physically than do other forms of voter contact–tend to be twenty-somethings, minorities and people of modest financial means. These canvassers are sent in prime Democratic GOTV areas, which are disproportionately packed with the same kinds of people–twenty-somethings, minorities and people of modest financial means. In Democratic areas, canvassers generally look like the people they’re trying to drag out to vote.

Democrats who need cajoling to vote are generally OK answering door knocks from people who fit in to the neighborhood. Will the people Republicans need to drag out to vote respond to door knocks from people who look like the Democratic voting coalition, and thus often unlike the Republican neighborhoods? Republicans appeal to their voters in part by playing on their discomfort with people who aren’t socially conventional white heterosexual Christians. The black and Latino canvassers, the college students with tats and piercings walking up and down the block, I expect they would regularly be reported to the cops, because, you know, “what are they doing in our neighborhood? They must be up to no good.”

I think Republicans will have a hard time effectively utilizing canvassing. Much of their ideological base is motivated by a rabid hatred of Barack Obama and a whacked out anger about social, cultural and demographic changes in America. Many Republican volunteers can obviously temper their vehemence in the interest of winning. But I suspect filtering the off-putting fulminators from their volunteer canvassing operations makes it harder for Republicans to fill their canvassing slots. The Republican base is also not as well-suited to more physically demanding forms of voter contact. Republican volunteer operations may have less capacity than do Democrats’. These problems are compounded by the fact that Republicans also require more canvassers per voter than do Democrats. Democrats are more likely to be clustered in 70% or more Democratic areas with a high number of people per square mile. Republican GOTV targets are more likely to live in areas that are under 60% Republican–so they’ll have more doors to walk past than will Democratic canvassers–and suburban, exurban or rural. If they’re equal in speed and ability, the average Republican canvasser will contact fewer voters per hour than will the Democratic canvasser.

Conservatives can pay for a lot of voter persuasion and contact. But they can’t pay for volunteers, and there’s good reason to doubt their ability to pay for canvass operations that touch as many Republican voters in an effective way as do Democratic canvasses. Too often people want to believe pablum about “people power” and how if we have more people and more passion liberals can wipe out conservatives’ money advantages. That’s often not the case. But canvassing may be one form of political communication where conservative money will have a hard time matching the power of volunteer-driven Democratic canvasses.

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Conservative Entertainment Complex: Might be Better for Republicans if it Were a Cocoon

Jonathan Martin has a pretty good piece at Politico about the “GOP’s media cocoon.” The piece is worth reading–not least for his observation that Politico shares the blame in the great national tragedy that is Donald Trump’s political celebrity–but I think there are a few additional points about Republicans’ cognitive insularity.

Martin and the Republicans he quotes–campaign operatives and squishy DC/NYC-based writers–are generally right in their assessments of what for the last few years David Frum has been calling the “conservative entertainment complex.” But the problem Martin’s Republicans either don’t get or don’t want to face is that the conservative entertainment complex exists and thrives in part because the conservative base doesn’t like or trust squishes at the New York Times or consultants who caution against anything other than full frontal attacks against Democrats that use the incendiary language of conservative Joe Twelvepack yelling at his TV. The conservative entertainment complex isn’t trying to appeal to grass roots activists who want to be smart and win as much as activists who want their candidates to be tough and say what they really believe (provided they believe the same things).

The Republican base isn’t about winning, if that requires subsuming some of their more inflammatory beliefs. No, it’s about sticking it to the man and “saying what needs to be said.” Much of the GOP base thinks being tough and unafraid to speak the “truth” is how you win elections. But being tough and speaking freely (or, actually inanely and insanely) was the appeal of many of the GOP’s biggest debacles of the last 4 years, such as Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell & Richard Mourdock, or the Hermnewt Santrumpmann primary surges.

But another part of the appeal of those candidates was they were also sticking it to the party elders, the “wise men” who want to keep anger stoked but not have it flame up to incitement. But the cynics who’ve been exploiting what they almost surely think are “the rubes” have lost control of their party, or, in the case of the NYC/DC “ideas” people, they’ve lost any real connection to the decision-makers of the GOP. In fact, it’s resentment toward these people–the more sober, reality-based ideas people who get bored with diffuse outrage, and the pragmatists who want to win more than they want to maintain fealty toward some narrow ideology–that has helped fuel the Tea Party. Rand Paul didn’t win his 2010 Kentucky Senate primary over Martin-quoted Trey Grayson just on whacked-out ideas and being Ron Paul’s son. It was also because Grayson’s supposed great appeal in a Republican primary–his support from the Republican establishment, beginning with Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell–was a liability with conservative entertainment complex-influenced primary voters.

Martin’s piece focuses a lot on what’s coming in to the grass roots from media and social networking.

Facebook and Twitter feeds along with email in-boxes have taken the place of the old newspaper front page, except that the consumer is now entirely in charge of what he or she sees each day and can largely shut out dissenting voices. It’s the great irony of the Internet era: People have more access than ever to an array of viewpoints, but also the technological ability to screen out anything that doesn’t reinforce their views.

“The Internet amplifies talk radio and cable news, and provides distribution for other sources like Newsmax,” said Trey Grayson, 40, the former Kentucky secretary of state and the current head of Harvard’s Institute of Politics. “Then your friends, who usually agree with you, disseminate the same stories on Facebook and Twitter. And you assume that everyone agrees with you!”


“Social media has made it easier to self-select,” added 45-year-old GOP strategist Bruce Haynes. “Who do you follow on Twitter, who do you friend on Facebook? Do they all look the same and say the same things? If so, you’ve created a universe for yourself that is wedded to its own self-fulfilling prophecies.”

But just as social media has allowed some conservatives to retreat in to a cocoon, it has also empowered conservatives to annoy the shit out of the rational people in their lives.

We’ve all experienced it. Maybe it’s on a plane, maybe its in some long line, maybe it’s at a christening or family picnic. But there’s “that guy,” the over fifty white guy who talks loud, thinks he’s funny, is just “telling the truth,” and is also a socially unaware moron, an uncensored free associator of the conservative id(iocy). That guy was a pain in the ass twenty years ago.

Now, beginning with emails forwarded to his aol account, then with Fox news, and now through online infotainment sources, he has more material, but he also sounds more and more like those another annoying guys. A few weeks ago all he talked about was Benghazi. Then the week before the election he talked about how Nate Silver was a tool of the liberal media keeping conservatives from voting. This week he may be intimating the vote totals seem fishy. Next week it will be something about Michelle Obama forcing raw broccoli down our throats or Eric Holder arming the New Black Panthers and providing them black helicopters for air cover. And he’ll be saying the same thing as all the rest of the people who’ve tethered their brains to Fox, World Net Daily and fevered email forwards.

That guy irritates a lot of people who don’t care all that much about politics. They may roll their eyes a tiny bit when they look at Facebook and see a liberal friend has posted the latest Colbert masterpiece. But those people standing askance of day-to-day politics would probably prefer getting stuck on an elevator with a Colbert lover than standing, drink in hand, at a wedding listening to an uncle, or crazy older brother or guy from work, who thinks Rush Limbaugh’s “jokes” are funny.

Prior to the Obama candidacy in 2008, every two years the RNC or some other Republican group would make a big deal about how they were supposedly reaching out to African Americans and trying to earn their votes. It was bullshit, of course. But it had an important purpose–it was intended to portray the GOP as not beholden to and benefitting from racism. The hoped-for result wasn’t picking up black voters. Rather, it was to assuage the concerns of moderate swing voters who would be apprehensive about being associated with a party that would leave on them a faint whiff of racism.

Message discipline by candidates, officials and talking heads was crucial in keeping the GOP from being seen as a bunch of deranged nutballs obsessed about race, women who work out of the house, or anyone who wasn’t white. And the crazy uncle could only bug you at family gatherings. But now, to that niece who accepted his friend request, he’s on her Facebook feed. He’s spewing stupid garbage. He’s more politically engaged when his party is out of power, because he feeds on, and spreads, outrage. And for a lot of people who don’t breath politics, that guy is the face of the Republican party.

Republicans who want to win probably wish that guy was in a cocoon.

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For the Want of a Nail, But Romney Campaign Sent Hammers

One of the more enjoyable Republican kerfuffles to watch is the fight over Orca, which was the Romney campaign’s…uh…um…

That’s the problem, I can’t figure out what the hell it for, or at least how they thought it could be effectively used for a clear objective.

The best I can figure is the Romney campaign tried to form up a kind of national posse intended to do two things: report who had voted, so the GOTV calls could drop them from the call universe and focus only on those who hadn’t yet voted, and secondly, to be a tool that polling site vigilantes would use to report voter fraud.

I started doing campaigns just before the explosion in technology that was available to volunteers and field staff. Cell phones, palm pilots for collecting and nightly reporting of canvass data, emails, web sites, online sign-ups, cyber-phone banks, social networking tools; smart phones, websites optimized for smart phones, remote access to voter file data, all have been widely adopted by campaigns over just the last 10-12 years. These technologies have revolutionized voter contact like nothing before.

But as the technology has spread, so have the tech guys and gals, and many of them have never sat in a phone bank before the age of predictive dialing and online dashboards. They don’t have an intuitive feel for how the tool will be experienced by the volunteer on the other side of the internet connection. As a result, they often push tools that create an activity, but don’t assist in achieving a goal.

The Romney campaign’s Orca project, according to the few (scathing) things I’ve read about it, failed massively at being user friendly. But it also seems Orca was, at least in part, a tool that wasn’t matched to a need. The Romney campaign didn’t need poll watchers reporting back who’d voted at any random polling sites around the country. They needed to identify the sites that were most important, and get people to those sites. Orca was passive, and surely, even if it worked, would have been an inefficient use of volunteer resources.

Again, I’m not fully informed about this program, so maybe it wasn’t as poorly planned as it appears. But as presented in what I’ve read, it seems like the equivalent of offering people hammers and saws and shovels, and sending them out willy nilly, instead of starting with a blueprint, picking a specific location, and sending the tools and people you need to that site, not based on their willingness to swing a hammer, but on your need to have nails driven.

And Mitt Romney was supposedly an expert manager.

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My Gosh, Maybe They WERE That Stupid! Romney GOTV an Extension of GOP Politics

Last weekend Politico posted a piece by Maggie Haberman titled Enthusiasm is Key in Ohio Ground Game. Of course, the title shows that the article is in essence dead wrong, that it wasn’t analysis, it was a story, political coverage as theater criticism, because  enthusiasm is not the key to any ground game. Enthusiasm makes it a heck of a lot easier to implement your ground game, but you can often make up for low enthusiasm with more money; you just pay for your ground game entirely rather than implement it with volunteers.  What’s most important for a ground game is sufficient resources and a sound plan led by skilled staff. That’s why this line stunned me:

The Romney campaign says it’s exceeded its weekly door-knocking goals, and bases its turnout model on people who have voted in every election, as well as those who registered to vote in the primaries…

I tweeted that line, and several experienced field people who follow me on Twitter had the same incredulous reaction: No. Way. that could be the Romney strategy. The consensus that emerged between us was that the article had to be wrong, that there was no way the Romney campaign’s plan was to focus on turning out people who if the campaign did nothing would still turn out on their own. Any rational GOTV program focuses on people who you have good reason to think will vote for your side, but who, if you don’t push them to vote, may not make it to the polls or get their absentee ballot mailed in and counted.

Well, as the last few days have shown, there’s actually good reason to think the Romney campaign actually was deluded about the composition of the electorate, and they may–I’m still having a hard time accepting they were this estranged from realty–they may have thought there was little they needed to do, that there were so many people who hadn’t voted in 2008 that now so hated Obama that Romney’s turnout would take care of itself, and–and here’s their bigger error–there were more people who shared their view of Obama than there were who believed it was worth sticking with the president for another four years.

As a matter of empiricism, this was obviously a staggering failure. But it’s not something that was caused by, or can be fixed by, technique and technology. This failure is an extension of the problem at the heart of today’s Republican party: It’s a bunch of white people, many more men than women, who are angry about change and who refuse to adapt to the America that is more cosmopolitan, culturally and racially diverse than the America of their nostalgic fantasies, where white male privilege was the unquestioned norm.

Back when David Souter announced his retirement, Barack Obama mentioned that one of the qualities he wanted in his nominee was empathy. The Republicans went crazy. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick wondered “when the simple act of recognizing that you are not the only one in the room [had] become confused with lawlessness, activism, and social engineering?” It was a rhetorical question, but there actually is an important answer: it was in the 1950’s and 1960’s and the years since, when the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, and–these two are the most neglected but most important foundations of the culture wars–the feminist movement and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965–profoundly changed America. White men, and culturally conservative white women, were not denied a place in the room that now included brown and gay and foreign-born and non-Christian Americans. But rather than agreeing to “share the room” with people different from then, too many white Americans viewed any room not belonging exclusively to them as run wild with, as well as created by, lawlessness, activism and social engineering. They did not want to legitimize the fact that they were not the only one in the room.

The Republican party’s politics of exclusion, wedge issues, race-baiting and culture wars are based on appealing to the shrinking share of Americans who don’t want to share the room. Now it looks like their polling and field organizing are also based on the assumption that they’re the only ones in the room.

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Labor Day

Invariably on Labor Day there is a lot of reflection on the violence that’s been directed at American workers acting collectively as a labor union. Every American schoolchild learns about The Boston Massacre, not about scores or hundreds of massacres of American colonists, because there weren’t scores of massacres of colonists at the hands of the British. But the history of unions and collective actions by workers in the U.S. includes scores of major massacres.

Luckily such massacres are rare today (although that’s in part because barely 10% of the workforce is unionized, compared to roughly a third in the mid-1950’s). But don’t assume violence against workers is a thing of the distant past. As I saw Labor Day weekend in 1995, there are still employers who will beat and possibly even kill workers who stand together and demand fair, equitable compensation and respect and a voice in the workplace.

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Ryan’s Personal Worst

Paul Ryan said he ran a marathon under three hours. Runners World magazine showed that he did not, that he has run one marathon, in 1990, and his time was 4:01:25. One reaction to Ryan being caught saying something that wasn’t true is that it’s nothing that voters will care about, that it’s not a substantive like the substantive lies in his speech at the Republican convention. I think that is horribly wrong, and not only because his statement had another lie that I haven’t seen anyone else catch. This lie about marathoning–and a closer looks makes it difficult to see it as anything other than a deliberate lie– may turn out to be the best way for voters to see him for what he is: a person and a policy maker concerned with marketing over accomplishment. It is also a lie that exemplifies the Randian arrogance and self-delusion at the core of Paul Ryan’s public image.

The New Yorker’s Nicholas Thompson says Ryan’s time, for a twenty year old, was “entirely average; in fact, for the race that Ryan ran, it was below average.” That’s not really true. To finish a marathon, at any age, is not average. It takes preparation, at a bare minimum three or four months of disciplined fitness work, as well as focus and an ability to push yourself to finish the race. A 4:01 marathon is an achievement of which anyone should be proud.

But the difference between a 4:01 marathon and a sub-three hour marathon isn’t a quibble over a workout time. It’s a difference between what someone did, and who someone is. For most men, breaking three hours in the marathon requires at least two or three years of serious training. It’s not simply getting in to shape, it’s training: probably 40 to 80 miles a week for most of the year, regular 12 to 15 mile runs, attention to diet, rigorous adherence to a schedule, consistent and sufficient rest and sacrificing some indulgences that give people pleasure. A man with a time of 4:01.25 is someone who has run a marathon. A man with a marathon time better than 3:00:00 is a marathoner.


For someone who doesn’t run, the difference between a four-hour marathon and a two-fifty-something may seem inconsequential, and easy to confuse. But for someone who does run seriously, it’s immense. To make an analogy to an activity that Ryan is unquestionably good at, it’s like the difference between doing twenty-five pushups (not bad!) and a hundred (holy smokes!)

That’s an OK analogy, but it’s comparing things one is capable of doing. A marathon is a performance, and your time is the level of your achievement. What Ryan did was akin to someone with a bachelor’s degree, who thus knows the magnitude of the difference, saying she has a PhD. Or, like someone elected to the Wisconsin House of Representatives telling someone who wouldn’t be likely to catch the lie that he was a member of the United States House of Representatives.

And for those who might still believe that Ryan’s tongue simply slipped, look again at what he said:

H. H.: Are you still running?
P. R.: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or [less].
H. H.: But you did run marathons at some point?
P. R.: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.
H. H.: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?
P. R.: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.
H. H.: Holy smokes. All right, now you go down to Miami University…
P. R.: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.

Note that Ryan didn’t say he couldn’t run another marathon, but that he doesn’t run marathons anymore, that he “had a” personal best, which conveys the meaning that it wasn’t a single event, but a period of time where he ran marathons, plural. How would the term “personal best” have meaning if you did that thing only once? How could he run only one marathon but mistakenly remember it as more than one? Why didn’t he say that time is also his personal worst?

Paul Krugman points out the obvious: Ryan lies about policy, so it shouldn’t be a surprise he lied about his marathoning. But Krugman makes another important point, about how his image has helped Ryan get away with lying:

[T]he response from the Beltway [that Ryan's budget did not add up] was that it can’t be true, because he comes across as such an honest, sincere fellow. So little things indicating that this character judgment was all wrong do matter.

I don’t know why the usual suspects continue to have such faith in their ability to sense character, although I can guess: it privileges those who can actually have one-on-one conversations over those who just, um, actually analyze policy proposals. I mean, any old blogger can analyze policy.

Ryan gets away with policy lies because the bloviators and very serious people of Washington ignore what he does, and focus on who they believe he is. They annointed Ryan as the “serious” Republican, so they can’t fathom that he might be perpetrating a fraud. They overlook him putting out a “budget” with no numbers, and when pressed on it blithely said it was just a “marketing document.” They overlook him being forced to admit the Romney-Ryan campaign hadn’t run the numbers of their budget proposal. “He’s a numbers guy, a wonk,” they think. “He wouldn’t be that brazenly dishonest.”

Ryan has cultivated an image of a serious intellectual, someone conversant in philosophy, a man of ideas. But is there any foundation for this belief? He did not graduate from college with any distinctions, and never did post-graduate work. He has no significant writings. His only think tank work was as a speechwriter/publicist. He presents himself as a serious and devout Catholic, but when he invoked Catholic social teachings to defend his budget, Catholic social teachers showed he is clueless about Catholic social teachings. And he presents himself as a player in Congress–and in terms of messaging he is–but in over twelve years in Congress he has had only two piece of legislation become law.

When Al Gore got in trouble for seemingly stretching the truth while on the stump, it was invariably a case of Gore trying too hard to connect with a voter, to demonstrate to them “I understand you, and I’m actually more like you than you may realize, I’m one of you.” In contrast, the image Ryan cultivates, and that the DC bloviators suck up, is straight out of Ayn Rand: “I come from the same place as you, but I work really hard, I’ve accomplished more than you, I’m better than you.”

Now he wants us to believe he’s faster than us too.


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