"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Getting facts or drinking kool-aid?

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Now that Nate Silver has achieved the title of “Most Accurate Pollster To Ever Poll A Poll,” I’d guess he’s deeply involved in negotiating a new, well-earned deal at The New York Times for considerably higher wages. Wonkish to the top of his little bifocals, he called 49 out of 50 state congressional races and gave the Obama administration reason to sleep well during the late stages of the presidential run.

With campaigning over for awhile, young Nate should be taking time off to peddle his book or teach advanced statistics at Columbia. But, NO, not the Prince of Polls. He’s writing his almost-daily column and still digging around in discarded reams of other people’s polls on the campaign floor. His findings are interesting.

Mitt and many of his former gang are in various stages of seclusion. A few – at the top of what has to be the least informed and least effective presidential campaign staff in history – are speaking out about their hammering. Some are proving conclusively – on Faux News and CNN and in various op-eds- that they were bad at their jobs. Likewise, the GOP is searching blindly to see what it all means. So far, it’s clear they don’t know. All of ‘em should be talking to Silver. He knows exactly.

It’s important to remember Nate doesn’t do polling. He carefully selects data from those who do. Not all of it fits his needs. Sort of like scoring at the Olympics – throw out the top and bottom – take your numbers from the middle. Plus some mumbo-jumbo only Nate understands while adding his own “secret ingredients.” As he has said, “avoid the passion and stick with the numbers.”

While Mitt was contributing almost daily to his own electoral demise, Neal Newhouse and his other polling elves were blindly assisting. They were living in a data “cone of silence” exclusive of outside information. When that happens, and you have even one error, it becomes a part of the base data and is perpetuated in everything that comes after. Simple as that. Like getting ALL your news only from Fox. Or MSNBC. Any one source.

Also, consider this from Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman, testifying under oath at last year’s federal trial of his former boss, John Edwards. Hickman on his own interior campaign polls: “I didn’t much care if they were accurate. I didn’t necessarily take these as for – as you would say – the truth of the matter. I took them more as propaganda for the campaign.” That from a political numbers guy who’s been around for years. How?

Campaigns – aside from being susceptible to bad information – can also fool themselves, according to Silver. “Our self-perceptions are very often more optimistic than reality. For instance, 80% of people think they are above-average drivers.” Perception versus reality.
Silver adds, “Honest self-assessment for business is one reason outside management consultants are engaged – at considerable expense – to provide corporations more objective data.” Romney, Ryan and their own people admitted they disregarded outside polling in favor of their own “internals.”

Silver also blames “group-think.” Pollsters in campaigns face many perverse incentives competing with their ability to produce accurate results. They may worry about hurting the morale of a candidate – worry about telling the candidate bad news – may be worried that bad news could end their services if the candidate feels the race is hopeless.

A political campaign shielded from reality – accepting only its own data and operating without independent information – is doomed from day one. The Romney campaign believed all the outside “independent” polling showing Obama in the lead was flawed because its own internal numbers were so different. So strong. So consistent. Political hubris and ignorance were significant contributors to the campaign’s downfall.

I’ve posited for a long time those on the right – true conservatives all the way out to the funny hat crowd – who get their news ONLY from Fox, Limbaugh, Beck, Larson, Medved et al – are oblivious to reality. Particularly political news. For those of you whose feelings I’ve just hurt, throw in MSNBC or CNN or any other single source you perceive to be left of your position. Same thing. Any omission of fact – deliberate or not – any misstatement of fact – deliberate or not – then becomes part of the “truth” – the “true facts” for the “true believers.” It’s self-perpetuating. Guaranteed!

Without checks and balances of other facts – other realities that may make you uncomfortable – you’re operating in the same “cone of silence” as the Romney campaign. In the end, the value of your thinking will be just as faulty as Mitt’s polls.

Trusted professional political friends on the national scene tell me they’re doing a complete “autopsy” of Obama’s team and tools. Already they’re in awe of the depth of data, the expanse of information acquired about supporters and voters-at-large, the motivating tools used to keep volunteers in their base interested and involved, locations of their grassroots workers network and how all of this was compiled into such an excellent, useable product. In “real time.”

What the professionals are discovering is that our just-completed campaign has broken all the old molds and set a standard for any politician who wants to be successful from now on. Data. Hard data. Reliable data. “Real time” data. Useable data.

So, believing their own “facts,” were Mitt and his minions staying in touch with reality? Or were they simply drinking the Kool-Aid of their single source “experts” while feeling completely informed of their own “reality?”

Which begs the question – “When you turn off Faux News, are you in touch with things the way they really are? Or are you simply – well, you know – drinking that stuff? What’s in your reality “glass?”

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