Believing Your Own Hype

I share Josh Marshall’s astonishment at this news from Israel:

Much like with Mitt Romney, it seems that Benjamin Netanyahu had no idea of the electoral drubbing headed his way, despite the fact that independent pollsters very much did see it coming. Yes, you guessed it: Netanyahu’s pollsters were apparently skewing his poll data.

From Haaretz

“Throughout the election campaign Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was fed erroneous, unreliable, unprofessional survey results. This is the clear conclusion emerging from Tuesday’s election results.

“On Sunday Netanyahu was still convinced his party would obtain 36-37 Knesset seats. While most of the experienced pollsters like Camil Fuchs, Dr. Mina Tzemach and Rafi Smith discerned Likud-Beiteinu’s slide toward 30 seats, Netanyahu and his partner Avigdor Lieberman were intoxicated by groundless figures with at best a flimsy connection to reality.”

There are two peculiar political phenomena embedded in this story. The first is the belief that the purpose of public opinion research in campaigns is to supply a propaganda weapon to convince one’s supporters that victory is nigh. The pre-2012-election hysteria in the American conservative chattering classes over any evidence that Mitt Romney wasn’t winning was a pretty good reflection of how deeply this notion had been absorbed, at least in one segment of one country’s congnoscenti.

If there is any actual evidence that self-confidence about victory (as opposed to the belief that a given contest is competitive and all votes count) gets anyone to the polls, I have yet to see it.

But far worse than the idea of public opinion research as sheer hype is when those peddling the hype start to believe it themselves. That seems to have happened in the U.S. in 2012, and more recently in Israel. Perhaps it is merely a coincidence that this habit of self-delusion was shared by the very close friends Mitt Romney and Bibi Netanyahu, but something tells me it was no coincidence at all.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.