Sunday, December 2, 2012

When Ideology Met Reality

In previous posts I have discussed how the Republican Party and the Romney Presidential campaign adopted positions on a range of issues - such as health care, reproductive rights, civil rights including the right to marry, gun control, climate change and even economic issues - that were based on religion and ideology and not on scientific evidence.  In the end these positions alienated so many constituencies – women, minorities, younger voters, civil libertarians, thinking people – that the Republicans were left with only irrational angry old white men as their political base.   As a result, the Republican campaign failed to defeat a vulnerable incumbent.  Right wing ideologues such as Dr. Charles Krauthammer still fail to recognize that the problem is with the issues that the Republicans advanced and not just with the messaging.  The Republicans actually became the party of big intrusive government attempting to deny women the right to control their own internal organs and forbidding consenting adults from being allowed to marry.  I have recommended that the Republicans remake themselves in a more libertarian mode promoting government non-interference in citizen’s private decisions and promoting governmental policies based on scientific evidence and hypothesis testing.

The Republicans adherence to doctrine rather than empirical evidence resulted not only in a deeply flawed political platform, it also hampered the mechanics of their own campaign. 

The Democratic Party and Obama Campaign developed sophisticated algorithmic strategies, based on experimental studies, for targeting voters, persuading them to support President Obama and then convincing these individuals to actually vote. 

The Democrats took Narwhal – the digital system they used to track voters and volunteers – extremely seriously and subjected it, in advance of the election, to war games type testing.  They simulated various disasters such as loss of servers, loss of databases, loss of infrastructure due to natural disasters, etc. to see if the system could quickly recover.  On election day, Narwhal and the entire Obama digital strategy functioned extremely well.

In contrast, the Romney campaign did not employ the Democrats’ sophisticated voter targeting and turn-out-the-vote strategy.  Their digital platform Orca was not similarly stress tested and it indeed did crash on Election Day – leaving the Romney volunteers roaming aimlessly without marching orders.  Romney, who was supposed to epitomize management skills and business efficiency, failed to put in place the most basic technology needed to manage a modern campaign.

The Romney polling operation was similarly flawed with a very heavy “house” bias.  The New York Times’ Nate Silver, using publicly available polls, was able to predict the outcome of the election with near perfection by applying unbiased numerical techniques.  In contrast, the Romney campaign’s internal polls through Election Day predicted a Romney win with ever increasing Romney momentum.  The Romney polling somehow incorporated the biases of the Republican campaign belief system into its data analysis.  In the end, ideology met reality and ideology lost. 

The Republicans spent a lot of time talking to each other and convinced themselves that most Americans accepted their ideological divisive positions.  The same ideological biases that pervaded their positions on issues also pervaded the mechanics of their campaign and resulted in a machine that clunked and clattered its way to ignominious defeat.  One can live in a dream world for only so long; eventually one wakes up and there is reality staring right at you.

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