Peggy Noonan is going with her gut on this

Last night was the annual Cardinal Bernardin lecture over at USC, and on my way in to hear Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta speak, Florence attorney and longtime USC Trustee Mark Buyck asked me what was going to happen in the presidential race. I told him what I said in this post, that it looked like Obama, at least in the Electoral College.

He said I should go read what Peggy Noonan had posted on her blog.

So I did. And in what Business Insider called “The Most Anti-Nate Silver Column Imaginable,” she basically argued that we should ignore the numbers and go with our gut. And her gut was telling her that Mitt Romney is going to win:

But to the election. Who knows what to make of the weighting of the polls and the assumptions as to who will vote? Who knows the depth and breadth of each party’s turnout efforts? 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.

Romney’s crowds are building—28,000 in Morrisville, Pa., last night; 30,000 in West Chester, Ohio, Friday It isn’t only a triumph of advance planning: People came, they got through security and waited for hours in the cold. His rallies look like rallies now, not enactments. In some new way he’s caught his stride. He looks happy and grateful. His closing speech has been positive, future-looking, sweetly patriotic. His closing ads are sharp—the one about what’s going on at the rallies is moving.

All the vibrations are right. A person who is helping him who is not a longtime Romneyite told me, yesterday: “I joined because I was anti Obama—I’m a patriot, I’ll join up But now I am pro-Romney.” Why? “I’ve spent time with him and I care about him and admire him. He’s a genuinely good man.” Looking at the crowds on TV, hearing them chant “Three more days” and “Two more days”—it feels like a lot of Republicans have gone from anti-Obama to pro-Romney.

Something old is roaring back. One of the Romney campaign’s surrogates, who appeared at a rally with him the other night, spoke of the intensity and joy of the crowd “I worked the rope line, people wouldn’t let go of my hand.” It startled him. A former political figure who’s been in Ohio told me this morning something is moving with evangelicals, other church-going Protestants and religious Catholics. He said what’s happening with them is quiet, unreported and spreading: They really want Romney now, they’ll go out and vote, the election has taken on a new importance to them.

There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not. Independents are breaking for Romney. And there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same.

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…

Now, on a certain level I have to sympathize with Peggy on this. After all, I’m the intuitive type, and have no great love of numbers. And more often than not, my own gut has been right when it comes to knowing who will win an election. It’s been right ever since the first statewide race I covered in Tennessee, the gubernatorial contest between Lamar Alexander and Jake Butcher in 1978. All the top political writers at the big papers were saying it was a dead heat, too close to call.

But I had accomplanied each of both candidates, practically 24/7 (we used to really cover campaigns in those days), for a week each late in the race, and Alexander acted like a winner, and crowds reacted to him that way. And Jake Butcher was pathetic. I remember Speaker Ned Ray McWherter walking him around his district to introduce him to constituents, and he looked like a lost child.

I was right. And I was right that day Sarah Palin campaigned with Nikki Haley, and I saw how Nikki had hit her stride at just the right moment, and was convinced she had the nomination.

I have also been very wrong. In the primaries early in that same gubernatorial campaign, I traveled with Roger Murray, a Democrat who was getting tremendous positive reactions everywhere he went. Voters kept telling him he had done the best job in the multi-candidate debate just before this tour, and I believed that meant he was going to win. He wasn’t even in the top two.

But I was just a kid then — even months later, in the general, I had gained a lot of savvy I lacked during the primaries — and it was a valuable lesson, learning to discount the effect of being in the bubble. I haven’t been that spectacularly wrong since.

All that said, while I may not love numbers, I respect them, while Peggy Noonan seems to be wishing them away. “The vibrations are right.” Really? We’ll see, very soon.

24 thoughts on “Peggy Noonan is going with her gut on this

  1. bud

    Ok Mr. Intuitive man here’s what I think of Ms. Noonan – She’s practicing the art of wishful thinking. Obama’s crowds are big too. Obama’s folks are enthusiastic too. All this voter suppression stuff has Obama’s supporters energized. My gut tells me that the polls are using models of likely voters that skew too far to the GOP. My gut tells me people are starting to understand that Mitt Romney is only concerned for the rich. And I see plenty of yard signs and bumper stickers for Obama. And that’s here in South Carolina.

    At the end of the day if Romney wins, and I don’t dismiss the possibility, it will be because the polls were wrong. Or that the GOP found a way to successfully disenfranchise enough voters to make the difference. As for Peggy Noonan’s gut, that’s nothing more than a bit too much spicy food. Take some Mylanta and things will feel better in the morning.

  2. Steven Davis II

    @bud – Where are you seeing Obama yard signs? I haven’t seen one, have only seen about 3-4 Romney yard signs and have seen about a thousand Jake signs… all located along Hwy 1.

    Anyone notice last night how the mainstream media folks were awful edgy and easy to start with the excuses? Do they know something we don’t… like their polls were nothing more than BS and today was the day they’d get caught in their lie?

  3. bud

    I’m headed to the polls. I guess it’s just an irresistable ritual for an old political junkie like me.

  4. Brad

    Steven, how can a poll be a “lie?” A poll shows what it shows. People respond the way they respond. It’s a snapshot in time, of the way that sample reacted.

    True, respondents tend to overreport some things — like whether they are registered, or they intention to vote. There’s also supposedly a tendency for white voters to claim they’ll vote for a black candidate in larger numbers than they will on Election Day. But how is that a “lie” on the media’s part? I’m not following you. With a poll, you just report what the numbers give you…

  5. Doug Ross

    A poll COULD be consider a lie if the parameters are skewed in a certain way. For example, using 2008 turnout models in 2012 would be a bad idea unless you wanted a poll to show Obama ahead.

  6. susanincola

    We had four Obama/Biden signs stolen in my neighborhood last week (near Forest Acres). They were defaced first, and then stolen the next day.

  7. Brad

    Doug, but why would you want to do that? I mean, really. If you’re in the tank for Obama, overestimating his support could be a way of causing his supporters to be complacent and stay home, and motivate Romney voters.

    Of course there the Bandwagon Effect (which I’ll never understand; I just can’t imagine voting for someone because I thought everyone else was — but I know it’s real).

    But how would you know which way to skew it? Either way could backfire on your guy. And news people wouldn’t be inclined to blunder into something like that with their eyes shut. They know the score.

    Most of the conspiracy theories that people concoct about news media fails to adequately answer the question of motive. Most crazy things people imagine news people are doing are things they’d never have any motivation to do.

    If news people were to lie in their reporting of polls, here’s what they would do: Try to make the polls predict the actual outcome dead-on. The temptation would be to fiddle with a poll result that they believed made an inaccurate prediction. Because news people’s desire to be RIGHT, to be seen as knowing more than anyone else, is much more powerful than outsiders can possibly imagine. News people care far more about scooping the world than they do about who is going to win an election.

  8. Brad

    Peggy Noonan, by the way, is not a news person. She’s a partisan. A very thoughtful, talented one, but a partisan. And she made a lot of partisans on her side feel good with that blog post.

  9. Steven Davis II

    Brad, if you wanted to create a poll which revealed that SC was voting 90% democratic, you could do so within 20 minutes of phone calling or door knocking. The mainstream media has been panicking because they know the likelihood of their scientific polls being false could be revealed by this evening.

    Brad, in reference to your question to Doug. It also can work in the opposite direction. One reason would be to try and discourage Republicans from coming out to vote. If your polls states that Obama is ahead by 20 point in SC, why bother with my one vote which I believe won’t make a difference so I’ll just stay home.

  10. Phillip

    GOP partisans have gotten so accustomed to substituting cheerleading and opinion for actual news (see Fox), that they have forgotten it’s actually possible for a nerdy fact-based statistician to live for the sole purpose of cutting through such distorting lenses as “opinion,” “intuition,” “confirmation bias,” etc. If Silver were showing Romney with an 80% chance of winning, I’d also feel pretty sure that was what was going to happen.

    Noonan is also completely ignoring the math of the electoral college. It just seems that too many state-by-state polling indications have to be wrong for Romney to pull it out.

    Wow, though…”sweetly patriotic.” Is that what you call contempt for nearly half of the population of the country you aspire to lead? Not the first phrase that would have popped into my mind, but hey…

  11. Kathryn Fenner

    Phillip, I don’t have to remind you that Peggy Noonan is a wizard with words. Truth, not so much. She coined the Thousand Points of Light, kinder and gentler, and read my lips, no new taxes…..we know how those turned out.

  12. Steven Davis II

    In recent news, it’s being reported that Chicago and in the state of New Jersey voting has reached a record 135% of all registered voters.

  13. Scout

    “Brad, if you wanted to create a poll which revealed that SC was voting 90% democratic, you could do so within 20 minutes of phone calling or door knocking. The mainstream media has been panicking because they know the likelihood of their scientific polls being false could be revealed by this evening. ”

    Steven, any poll you “created” through such methods would not be “scientific”.

  14. Doug Ross

    I hope (but am doubtful) that if Romney pulls out a longshot win that we don’t hear the election was bought meme. Please… Once both candidates got to a billion dollars of spending, what difference does it make? And if Romney loses, then it proves elections cannot be bought, doesn’t it?

  15. Steven Davis II

    @Scout – Exactly. My point is if you want certain results, you can do it fairly easily. How do you get a true poll, do you call home phone lines (how many under the age of 30 have those). Do you stand outside a shopping mall (people like me haven’t been to a mall in the last 5 years and that was just to go to Sears), Do you stand outside a bus stop (that eliminates people who don’t take the bus). If variables start to sway one direction, you just poll more people in the other locations.

  16. Burl Burlingame

    Husted’s secret application of unauthorized software “patches” in Ohio’s vote-counting machines is monstrously stupid. Even if his action was completely benign, it creates legal ground for a losing party — or either side — to sue the state election commission, and they’d be right to do so. Lawsuits have already been filed over this. If there’s a serious investigation, Husted might do jail time. Amazingly dumb behavior.

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