The Danger Of The Republican Denial Of Reality

With the conservative movement now firmly under the control of ideological fanatics, the most significant difference between liberals and conservatives is basing opinions (and ultimately public policy) on facts versus ideological wishes. The conservative denial of facts has been seen in many areas, such as false belief of threat of WMD in Iraq justifying war to their mischaracterization of the Affordable Care Act as a government takeover of health care. The recent election highlighted this difference when liberal predictions of the election based upon objective information proved to be far more accurate that conservative predictions which ignored facts. Besides ignoring actual polling data, Romney also showed he was out of touch with reality with his view on the 47 percent and his post-election claim that Democrats voted based upon wanting to get things.

While liberals typically saw the odds as being well in Obama’s favor, we also realized that Romney could have won provided that he out-performed the polls in several swing states.  In contrast, many conservatives acted confident of a Romney landslide, with Romney being so confident of victory that he had prepared a victory speech but no concession speech. Noam Scheiber obtained Romney’s internal polls which led to this over confidence. Objective observers felt odds were in Obama’s favor because he had many routes to victory even should he lose some of the states which were close. Romney’s belief in victory was based upon an unrealistic belief he was leading in six of the close states (with Obama winning five), but this still would have placed place Romney three votes short of winning. To actually win, he would also have had to win in Ohio where his polls underestimated his deficit but still had Romney behind:

Together, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Iowa go most of the way toward explaining why the Romney campaign believed it was so well-positioned. When combined with North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia—the trio of states the Romney campaign assumed were largely in the bag—Romney would bank 267 electoral votes, only three shy of the magic number. Furthermore, according to Newhouse, the campaign’s final internal polls had Romney down a mere two points in Ohio—a state that would have put him comfortably over the top—and Team Romney generally believed it had momentum in the final few days of the race. (You see hints of this momentum when you compare the Saturday numbers in each state with the Sunday numbers. Romney gains in five out of the six states, though Newhouse cautions not to make too much of this since the numbers can bounce around wildly on any given day.) While none of this should have been grounds for the sublime optimism that leads you to eschew a concession speech—two points is still a ton to make up in a state like Ohio in 48 hours—you see how the campaign might conclude that the pieces were falling into place.

I could see Romney using such an argument before the election to motivate his voters, who might not have turned out if they realized how unlikely it was for Romney to win. I could see this providing some optimism. It is a different matter for Romney to actually believe he would win based upon these polls which were out of line with more objective data. Nate Silver found that internal polls have typically favored the candidate commissioning the polls by six percent over more objective polls. Even the Nate Silver haters on the right should understand the idea that pollsters might be biased towards whoever was signing their paychecks, or do they have a fantasy of a perfect market in polls? Perhaps they believe that Adam Smith’s invisible hand will intervene to correct any errors by those hired to conduct internal polls.

Steve M points out the danger of extending this mind set to government decisions:

… this is the kind of hubris that leads to Iraq-style quagmires: you believe everything that confirms your worldview and disbelieve everything that doesn’t; you get pleasing data stovepiped to yourself, draw conclusions you like, then bump those conclusions even more in your own deluded head.

Can you imagine Romney and his crew in a situation that affected us rather than themselves? What would they have done to America, given the chance, with this kind of power-of-positive-thinking nonsense driving their decision-making?

Romney was supposed to be the data-driven business genius — but maybe the business in which he made his fortune is so rigged in favor of the dealmakers that you don’t have to be particularly good at it to get stinking rich. Maybe he’s just not that bright, even in the area that’s supposedly his strength.