Being wrong intelligently

Quin Hillyer shows how it is done, after predicting that the GOP would hold the House and Senate:

Everybody really angry about Iraq or other GOP failings, I figured, already was showing up in the polls as being committed for the Democrats. Truly independent voters would, I assumed, do as they have almost always done in mid-term elections, especially elections in which negativity overwhelmingly outweighed any discernibly positive agenda: Wish a pox on both parties and ignore the voting booth altogether. It was obvious that truly centrist “swing voters” were leaning heavily against Republicans, but there seemed no good reason to expect them actually to go to the polls.

Late-deciding voters, therefore, would disproportionately come from among the former group, i.e. the disgruntled conservatives and the right-leaning independents. In the end, I thought, they would go with the safety of the “devil they knew” (as the expression goes) over the really, really scary devils on the left whose entire worldview differed from the voting bloc in question.

Especially after John Kerry belittled the troops, the unemployment rate dropped, and Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death, I expected late-deciders to favor Republicans by as many as 25 percentage points — still not enough for a winning election cycle, but enough to keep the number of losses manageable. The tightening “generic ballot” in four separate polls on the final weekend seemed to confirm that expectation.

But that’s not what happened. The Rove/Mehlman turnout machine worked fairly well, but not as well as had been hoped. (This is no slam on their organization, which really was terrific — but not even the best-organized get-out-the-vote effort can get out voters who flat-out refuse to vote.) But the turnout among independent voters surged. And it surged among just those groups I expected to stay home: the ones disgusted by the whole Washington scene. Republican pollster Ed Goeas reported that Republicans lost some 18 seats by just a few small percentage points — and that the surge in independent voting made the difference in most of them.

Younger voters in particular turned out in numbers unprecedented for any mid-term election in recent memory, and they voted heavily Democratic. And exit polls showed that among those late-deciders who made their choices only in the final three days, the Democrats won a 15-point edge. (That’s a whopping 40 points better for the Democrats than I had projected!)

In the end, and in the aggregate, the results weren’t close. Two-term senator Rick Santorum lost not by six or eight points, but by a devastating 17 percent. Maryland’s vaunted Michael Steele lost by 10 full points. In the perennial battleground states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Washington, the GOP’s losing margins in Senate races (all with impressive candidates) were 16, 20, and 19 points, respectively….

The obvious and incontrovertible conclusion is that conservatives must “move to the middle” in order to recapture the newly energized, and newly antagonized, independent voters.

It may be an indication of the blockheadedness of your correspondent that we do not agree necessarily with Mr. Hillyer’s “obvious and incontrovertible conclusion,” even with all the caveats he attaches to it in his piece. It is often very hard to know exactly what an election “means,” particularly this close to it. The lessons may more clearly emerge over time.

For example, it may be that the rejection of conservatism that Hillyer sees in the results was specifically a rejection of current Iraq policy (for reasons we have discussed), because the more conservative candidates were thought to be the most likely to continue a “stay the course” approach. It may be that independents’ voting Democratic was a particularly low risk way of showing displeasure with the current government without running any risk of having their taxes raised, given the likely veto of such legislation. It may be that the MSM was particularly effective in bamboozling many Americans with their relentlessly negative narrative. And of course it may be true that a majority of Americans is just fed up with conservatism and/or the Republican Party at this moment in time.

Mr. Hillyer was wrong about the election, but his explanation shows that he was wrong in an intelligent way. Time will tell if the same applies to his advice on what to do in the next election cycle.

UPDATE

John McIntyre discusses a number of the strands of election 2006 that we mentioned above, and makes a number of interesting points, including this: “Because 17 of the 29 seats Democrats won in the House were in districts Bush carried in 2004 by more than 5%, Republicans are not in as dire a situation as one might think based on recent news coverage.”

He also says this: “The immigration debate hurt Republicans both ways as frustration with the inability to secure the border added to a lack of faith in Republican government, and the loud and angry rhetoric over ‘amnesty’ turned off Hispanics and voters in the middle.” In our view, the country clearly needs “comprehensive” immigration reform. The problem with the word “comprehensive” is that it had become a code word for no-border-enforcement-whatsoever, which is what made the rhetoric “loud and angry”.

One Response to “Being wrong intelligently”

  1. gs Says:

    Younger voters in particular turned out in numbers unprecedented for any mid-term election in recent memory, and they voted heavily Democratic.

    So the younger generation has been imprinted with the Bush-DeLay-Rove-Cheney regime as the prototype of conservatism. That’s gonna leave a mark. Majority status may be far harder to recover than Trent Lott’s business-as-usual cronies believe, if indeed they care: they may prefer to be in charge of a minority party rather than change their ways or step aside for new leadership.

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