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A year later, I’m still gloating over election predictions by conservative pundits

Gloat

As I look back on the presidential election of a year ago today, I’m still amazed at the extent to which voters defied the predictions made by so many presumably respectable conservative commentators. The pundits to which I refer weren’t just wrong. They were waaay wrong.

Their problem, I think, was that they allowed their hearts to overrule their heads. That’s something I try to avoid in making political predictions. As a disciple of polling analysts Nate Silver, Sam Wang and Drew Linzer, I was confident on election eve that Barack Obama would win a second term by a fairly comfortable margin. And he did. Obama bested Republican challenger Mitt Romney by 5 million popular votes and by a 332-206 margin in the Electoral College.

So, why did certain prominent pundits get it so wrong? Probably because they downplayed the pre-election polls and allowed their gut feelings to prevail. Here are some of the consequences:

–Dick Morris of Fox News SAID Romney would win in a landslide.

“It will be the biggest surprise in recent American political history,” Morris said. “It will rekindle the whole question on why the media played this race as a nailbiter where in fact Romney’s going to win by quite a bit.”

–Larry Kudlow of CNBC PREDICTED that Romney would “sweep the Midwest” and win with 330 electoral votes — 124 more than he actually got.

–Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner SAID his reading of the political “fundamentals” indicated that Romney would win 315 electoral votes. But, of course, he wasn’t even close.

–Of all the mistaken predictions made last year, my favorite came from Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, who SAID “the vibrations are right” for a Romney victory.

What vibrations were those? Noonan explained:

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.

And there is Obama, out there seeming tired and wan, showing up through sheer self discipline. A few weeks ago I saw the president and the governor at the Al Smith dinner, and both were beautiful specimens in their white ties and tails, and both worked the dais. But sitting there listening to the jokes and speeches, the archbishop of New York sitting between them, Obama looked like a young challenger—flinty, not so comfortable. He was distracted, and his smiles seemed forced. He looked like a man who’d just seen some bad internal polling. Romney? Expansive, hilarious, self-spoofing, with a few jokes of finely calibrated meanness that were just perfect for the crowd. He looked like a president. He looked like someone who’d just seen good internals.

To me, that pile of gibberish will forever mark Peggy Noonan as one of the worst political analysts to ever come down the pike. That’s why I truly love her.

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