Wednesday, 7 November 2012

A prophetess named Janet

It would be inhuman not to have a twinge of sympathy for Janet Daley. Yesterday, fearing she would be robbed of the priceless gift of being able to say "I told you so" to the massed ranks of journalistic sheep who took their cue from the opinion polls (which almost unanimously pointed to a narrow win for Obama) she went instead with her "hunch" and called it for Romney.


Time to stop being a wuss. I will take my chances and say it straight out: I think Romney is going to win – not just the popular vote but the electoral college as well.

Not that this was just a wild stab in the dark, you understand. And certainly not just "Republican wishful thinking". Most of the major polling organisations, she thought, were "over-sampling Democrats deliberately in states where they believe that this corresponds to actual voter numbers", but their assumptions were out-of-date and wrong. Worst of all, they didn't take into account the indefinable X-factor: enthusiasm. Romney supporters were fired up and determined to boot out the hated president, whereas disappointed Democrats were simply going through the motions.

It is something far more indefinable: something which those of us who have been engaged with politics for half a century or so are inclined to trust. As that brilliantly perceptive commentator Peggy Noonan has said, Obama’s campaign does not look or feel like it is winning – and Mitt Romney’s does. The turnouts and atmosphere at Obama events are rather pitiful by comparison to the tremendous, ecstatic receptions that are greeting Romney and they are notably pitiful by comparison to the thunderous Obama pre-victory march across the country in 2008.

The same could, of course, have been said about Clinton's re-election campaign in 1996, or indeed about most re-election campaigns with the possible exception of Reagan's. No incumbent can ever match the irrational promises of hope and change on which all first-time candidates base their pitch. That is especially true of Obama, who inevitably failed to live up to the hype of 2008. But incumbency remains a trump card. Americans, history shows, are inclined to give their presidents a second term unless they screw up really badly or their rival is insanely charismatic. Reagan beat Carter; Clinton beat George Bush senior. It's possible that Obama might have beaten Romney, but Romney always had an uphill task. He might just have done it if Obama had continued to perform as badly as he did in the first debate, though the demographics were always on his side.

Daley went on to compare enthusiasm for Obama with that short-lived British political phenomenon of Cleggmania: "That too depended on the noisy support of young voters who proclaimed their passionate commitment to their hero – and then didn’t bother to turn up and vote." Whereas Romney's "enormous crowds" were composed of "grown-ups." Does she include the Birthers and the Creationists in the category of grown-ups, I wonder? Or does the concept of "grown-up", in her mind, consist overwhelmingly of white people and disproportionately of men? I suspect that may in fact be the case, actually, which isn't to suggest that Daley is in any sense a racist or unenthusiastic about her own sex: it's just that power in the United States remains overwhelming in the hands of people who look like Mitt Romney, and that people who wield power are more likely to be

The polls were close enough to mean that a Romney victory wouldn't have been astonishing, at least not mathematically or psephologically astonishing. Yet Janet Daley was at least right to note that she was going against the grain in her prediction. As I pointed out before, whatever the polls said, most of the world was assuming an Obama walkover until very recently. A Romney victory would have seemed like a thunderbolt - although a few people at the Telegraph would have been pleased. It would have been especially tough for David Cameron having to pretend to be on the same page as a genuine conservative. That said, Tony Blair managed it with George W Bush, and Romney was a in most ways a more moderate proposition than Dubya.

Anyway, back to Daley, for whom at one point things seemed to be looking up. At one in the morning our time she noted the "massive crowds"; one of her friends had queued for two hours yesterday morning before giving up and going home. Given her earlier thoughts, this must have seemed an optimistic sign. A couple of hours later, it was "breathtakingly, unbelievably close", "so close that virtually all of the battleground states still defy prediction." By four o'clock she had more-or-less given up on a Romney victory, but still hoped to claim a moral victory at least:

Although Mitt Romney could possibly get the electoral college votes he needs – the crucial states of Ohio, Virginia and Florida are still too close to call – the maths are getting harder. But what he has got, at least at this moment, is a majority of the popular vote. So even if the final numbers show that more American voters want him to be president than Barack Obama, he could lose the election in the end. Which means that both camps were right – those of us who believed intuitively that there was a popular groundswell for Romney, and those who bored for the nation with endless reams of statistical data.

At least she didn't do a Donald Trump and demand a revolution.  When even that small crumb of comfort was snatched from her, Janet changed tack, seeing in Obama's victory "a warning for Labour", largely on the basis that voters still blamed George Bush (who was, after all, in power) for the financial crisis of 2008 and all that has ensued. Unfair, of course, given Obama's general uselessness with the economy.

But if this proves anything, it is that the parties which held power when their national economies tanked are going to take a very long timeto recover from that ignominy. People who have lost their jobs, seen the value of their homes collapse under them, and had their savings debauched will not forget who was in charge when the ship went down. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls beware: your fingerprints are indelibly printed on the scene of the crime.

It's a good thought. Shame it didn't occur to her yesterday. She has after all been engaged with politics for half a century or so.

More comfort for Janet Daley, though, might come from the fact that she wasn't alone. Steve Forbes told almost exactly the same story yesterday. After confidently predicting that Romney would "win big" he gazed into the crystal:

One of the big Wednesday morning stories will be why most of the polls didn’t have this right. The basic answer is their model. Incredibly, in the face of contrary evidence, a number of polls used the 2008 model for this election although there was little objective evidence that those turnouts would hold for this contest. This time – and early voting confirms this – the relative Democrat/Republican split is almost even. In 2008, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a good margin. Moreover Romney is well ahead among independents, which Obama carried four years before. That’s why his popular vote margin will be 3 points or more.

The enthusiasm factor can be seen in the crowds – Romney is attracting bigger ones than Obama and the upbeat mood at these GOP rallies is palpable. A few months ago a number of GOP voters were tepid towards Romney. They have since become fully committed.

Perhaps they were. But there were never enough of them.