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Craig Frucht | Road to November

Math and other sins

Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 08:11

 

Our long national nightmare is over.

President Obama has been re-elected. Mitt Romney’s political career will now go the way of the VCR, mostly forgotten about but occasionally dusted off and admired as a nostalgic reminder of less enlightened times. We can all put a hideously long and tedious campaign season behind us.

On to an equally exhausting enterprise: governing.

Congress is still divided and will most likely remain so for the duration of Obama’s second term, so major reforms will only occur at the conclusion of an excruciating give-and-take process between Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Those reforms will likely be smaller in scope than most of us would like, but they’ll be staggering compared to the policy nightmare we just avoided. If Romney had become president, the only thing for the next four or eight years standing between Republicans and overturning Roe v. Wade years would have been the health of 79-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And the Affordable Care Act would have gone on life support if it didn’t die outright.

Those would have been costly defeats. They might not have been as bad, however, as the symbolic meaning of Romney defeating Obama in spite of the overwhelming mathematical evidence that Obama would win. When it comes to naming this year’s Election Day winners, the middle class, women, gays, the poor, immigrants and healthcare all earn a rightful place on the list, but arithmetic gets the top spot.

Just a few days after Romney officially conceded defeat, stories began to emerge that he was “shell-shocked” by the loss. In spite of the fact that almost every poll of every swing state showed him trailing and every data-driven analysis of his chances pegged them at miniscule, Romney’s campaign team really thought it had the race in the bag. They thought they’d not only win, but win handily, possibly taking states like Minnesota and Michigan that Romney eventually lost by nearly ten points.

And it wasn’t just the Romney team. Most conservative pundits, from Karl Rove to Dick Morris, predicted a solid victory for Romney. Anyone who watches FOX News tuned in on Nov. 6 expecting Romney to be declared the next president.

There was no data to back this up, not even internal Romney campaign data. Romney said, only hours before the networks declared him the loser, that he knew he was going to win. He was sure of it, but it wasn’t numbers that gave him his confidence. That was based on subjective measures like the enthusiasm of supporters at his rallies and blind faith that young people and minority voters wouldn’t turn out the way they did in 2008.

Romney did have internal polling, but what it showed was that if turnout plummeted among Democrats, then Romney would win. Without any actual data about what turnout would look like, that’s a pretty useless finding. In retrospect, the data-gathering wing of the Romney campaign seems stunningly inept, especially given that Romney himself made his fortune in the data-heavy finance industry.

The Obama campaign had reams of both internal and public data pointing to victory, along with the most sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation in the history of American politics. The Romney campaign had a gut feeling. Democrats couldn’t outnumber Republicans this year, they told themselves. They just couldn’t. It wouldn’t happen, and all the polls suggesting it would have to be skewed.

Math, like climate change, like evolution, like basic economic principles, like the truth about homosexuality, was just another dirty trick by secular progressives, an inconvenient truth to be swept aside in the pursuit of some elusive, higher-order reality.

So thank God math won. Thank God we didn’t give the right wing evidence that their gut feelings about how things work are more accurate than science.

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Craig Frucht is a senior majoring in political science and psychology. He can be reached at Craig.Frucht@tufts.edu.

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