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Hullabaloo


Friday, November 23, 2012

 
We don't really count as "people" to Peggy Noonan

by David Atkins

Peggy Noonan's now-famous column predicting a Romney win has been widely mocked as the musings of an ignoramus unwilling to admit obvious polling data--the dying gasp of a political crowd that trusts its gut "vibrations" over scientifically available evidence. All that is true.

But there's also a revolting cynicism at play about what constitutes the "American people" for pundits like Noonan. Consider this passage:

Among the wisest words spoken this cycle were by John Dickerson of CBS News and Slate, who said, in a conversation the night before the last presidential debate, that he thought maybe the American people were quietly cooking something up, something we don’t know about.

I think they are and I think it’s this: a Romney win.
One could interpret this as a belief that Romney's support was undercounted by the polls. But that doesn't make much sense: all the enthusiasm and likely turnout models were actually more favorable to Republicans than the eventual result. It's hard to believe that GOP pundits really thought that the polls were underestimating Romney's legitimate base support.

And in fact we know that's not the case. The reason that conservative pundits from Dick Morris to George Will to Peggy Noonan were predicting blowout wins for Romney was that Romney's own people were expecting that, too. But not because they believed the polls were undercounting Romney support. Instead, Romney's pollsters believed a Romney blowout would result from base Democrats simply not showing up to vote:

Romney and his campaign had gone into the evening confident they had a good path to victory, for emotional and intellectual reasons. The huge and enthusiastic crowds in swing state after swing state in recent weeks - not only for Romney but also for Paul Ryan - bolstered what they believed intellectually: that Obama would not get the kind of turnout he had in 2008...

They misread turnout. They expected it to be between 2004 and 2008 levels, with a plus-2 or plus-3 Democratic electorate, instead of plus-7 as it was in 2008. Their assumptions were wrong on both sides: The president's base turned out and Romney's did not. More African-Americans voted in Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida than in 2008.
This is actually overstating the case: as the votes continue to be counted, it's increasingly clear that Romney-Ryan received about the same level of Republican base support as did McCain-Palin. Understand clearly what this means: conservative pundits, doubtless reflecting information gleaned directly from Romney operatives, believed that base Democrats wouldn't show up to the voting booth, resulting in a lower Democratic turnout than had existed in 2008.

This is what Noonan really meant when she suggested that the "American people were cooking something up." Not that a silent majority of Americans would surprisingly turn out to vote for Romney, but that all those voters who clearly preferred Democrats would fail to materialize. It's an assessment based on apathy, division and subtraction rather than addition and inclusion.

Republicans spent four years attempting to delegitimize Obama's presidency, obstruct at every turn, disempower Democratic and progressive constituencies, and breed cynicism about government among those who had voted for hope and change. They assumed that those voters would be so turned off by the entire political process that they would simply give up and stop participating, allowing Romney to take a majority of the voters who showed up to the polls, even though he didn't have the support of a majority of the actual people in the nation regardless.

And having done this, Noonan and her ilk would have deigned to claim the mantle of support from an "American people" that had "cooked up" an unexpected result.

Because after all, to the Noonans and George Wills of the world, Democratic constituencies don't legitimately count as "people." If we stay home and don't vote it doesn't impact the legitimacy of the election, since our voices aren't really included in the American recipe.


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