Let’s Lie To Ourselves!

One of the most interesting phenomena of the presidential contest, particularly at this late date, is the absolute incredulity with which many conservatives are facing the possibility of defeat. I mean, they just can’t grasp it. Here’s one illustrative example among hundreds, from Peter Kirsanow at National Review, with the plaintive title: “Why Isn’t Romney Up By Ten Points?”

[C]onservatives exhibiting less hysteria do remain puzzled by the polls. After all, the Obama presidency has been a trainwreck of Carter-esque magnitude. Almost every historical predictor shows that Romney should have a sizeable lead: Unemployment is high, consumer confidence is low, two-thirds of voters think the country is on the wrong track, more believe we’re worse off now than we were four years ago, household income has plummeted, gas prices are hovering near record highs, and most voters perceive America to be in decline.

There are really only three ways to deal with all the evidence that Obama is ahead with time beginning to run out: (1) blame it on a bad Romney campaign; (2) argue some 1980-style “big shift” to Romney is inevitable and perhaps already baked into the cake; or (3) just deny it all on grounds most of the pollsters are wrong, biased or both.

Unsurprisingly, this last approach is wildly popular at the moment (Kirsanow mentions it as a possibility). It even has its own Prophet, a man named Dean Chambers who spends his time recalculating everybody’s horse-race polls and approval/disapproval numbers based on what they’d look like if they used Rasmussen’s Party ID weighting.

In other words: if you don’t like what the current electorate seems poised to do, create yourselves another one more to your suiting that’s older, whiter and more conservative just by putting your thumb on the scale (which is exactly what “Party ID weighting” amounts to, with varying degrees of semi-justification).

Aside from the technical arguments over “party ID weighting,” the demands of conservatives for more favorable polls reflects the very strangest of all the phenomena of Campaign 2012, from my perspective: the pathological need of many Republicans to predict victory with a fanatical degree of certainty–yea, with angry hysteria aimed at anyone friend or foe who doubts for a single moment that Republican will win. I’ve yet to entirely figure out whether this is a product of a general POV intolerant to doubt about anything (this is the party, after all, in which it is entirely acceptable to refer to your mundane political activism as “spiritual warfare” aimed at “Satan”); or is based on a mysterious conviction that a lot of votes turn on who voters think is winning; or is just habitual spin by people who see no particular reason to spend any time conceding they could be wrong about anything.

From a practical point of view, the new mania for “reweighting” polls on the Right effectively removes those conservatives who indulge in it from any meaningful dialogue with the rest of us. But I suspect they are too busy lying to themselves to worry about that. I shudder to think how the conservative punditocracy will react to an adverse result on November 6, but it would be wise to have a lot of decompression chambers handy.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.