November 11, 2012 in Opinion

Dark times for secrecy, spin

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The nickel tour of the most expensive election in U.S. history:

Many Happy returns. It was a bad night for campaign secrecy. The Sunlight Foundation says, “Overall, of the $1.07 billion spent on the general election by some 629 outside groups, just 32 percent yielded the desired results.” Crossroads GPS, Republican strategist Karl Rove’s “dark money” group, squandered 87 percent of its spending on losing causes.

In his role as a Fox News analyst, Rove was comically stubborn about conceding Ohio’s electoral votes to Barack Obama, which put the president over the top. Rove also runs American Crossroads, a super PAC that poured millions of dollars into presidential and congressional contests.

You wouldn’t think a news outfit would employ someone with a direct interest in protecting investments, but this is Fox News and his dissection of the results was revealing – just not in the way he intended.

Looks like citizens united against Citizens United.

Boomerang. I took great pleasure in the victory by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who was subjected to a relentless onslaught of TV ads underwritten by dark-money groups. One was named Americans Are Not Stupid.

Prophetic.

Skewed. Quantitative poll analysts nailed election outcomes with pinpoint precision. Hats off to Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight Blog), Sam Wang (Princeton Election Consortium), Drew Linzer (Votamatic) and Simon Jackman (Pollster). While journalists were calling the race a tossup, three of these “quants” correctly predicted that President Barack Obama would win 332 electoral votes. Wang was torn on Florida, saying it was a true toss-up, and gave it to Mitt Romney. But he was perfect on the 10 closest Senate races.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen Polls, a Fox News favorite, whiffed on six of eight swing states in the presidential race. Venerable conservative pundits Michael Barone and Charles Krauthammer applied the “polls are skewed” balm and predicted Romney would win well over 300 electoral votes. They either cherry-picked favorable polls or pondered such squishy benchmarks as “intensity” and “enthusiasm” to fuel their motivated reasoning.

Even more embarrassing was the usually hinged Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy “Good Vibrations” Noonan, who was hooked on a feeling that Romney would triumph. She started her prediction column with “nobody knows anything,” ventured into an examination of candidate body language, and then unleashed this jaw-dropping assessment:

“Is it possible this whole thing is playing out before our eyes and we’re not really noticing because we’re too busy looking at data on paper instead of what’s in front of us? Maybe that’s the real distortion of the polls this year: They left us discounting the world around us.”

Is it any wonder so many people were stunned by the outcome when revered oracles were chopping down the trees to see the forest?

If there must be horse-race analysis, TV news outfits should hire statisticians to conduct it. Then pundits would be freed up to drill down deeper on the issues, rather than reveal themselves as bad at math.

Sheltered. Hurricane Sandy didn’t blow away Mitt Romney’s chances. By mid-October, the Romney surge after the first debate had dissipated, and Barack Obama was still a heavy favorite to win, according to poll aggregators. Exit polls reveal many causes for the defeat, so blaming it on an act of God merely masks hard truths. Plus, it puts the religious right in an awkward position.

Affordable act? Have to wonder whether Attorney General Rob McKenna would’ve squeaked by in the gubernatorial race if he hadn’t joined the multistate legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The case was going to be litigated regardless, so why stir the nest?

He said at the time, “I expect significant pushback from the state Democrats.” Perhaps push came to shove.

Win-Win. Remember that “war on religion” sparked by the Obama administration mandating contraception coverage in health care plans, even for Catholic-affiliated institutions such as hospitals?

The president won the Catholic vote and was backed by two-thirds of single women.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5026. Twitter: @GaryCrooks.


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