CONFIDENCE INTERVAL

Posted in Election 2012 on September 19th, 2012 by Ed

Over the years I have been and continue to be averse to making predictions. There simply are too many variables in play to accurately predict the outcome of close races (the uncompetitive ones are another story, obviously). We're unsure of turnout, the accuracy of polls, and the motivations of what few voters remain undecided in an election like the current presidential race. As a point of ego, I'm also hesitant about making predictions that will turn out to be wrong and make me look foolish. That said, every election I end up taking a stab at it. With or against my better judgment.

On the heels of the Mitt Romney Realtalk secret video hitting the news cycle on Monday evening, it is time to ask the obvious question: Is there any way that Mitt Romney can win this election? His ineptness as a candidate is almost difficult to believe, and every week he says or does something to prove that he is exactly what his critics say he is – a wildly out of touch multimillionaire pandering to whatever audience is put before him. He is a real-life Richie Rich, a guileless man of great privilege with zero charisma and to whom non-wealthy Americans (and a lot of the wealthy ones, for that matter) cannot relate in the slightest.

When the McCain campaign threw in the towel on Election Night 2008, I clearly recall their spokesperson telling reporters that the campaign was looking at the electoral map and "could no longer see a path to victory." I am beginning to feel the same way about Romney. There are scenarios in which he wins, of course, but they are looking more and more like they lie outside of the 95% confidence interval. We have a campaign that, in all honesty, has probably been a good bet to lose for the last few months and the only thing they are accomplishing as time passes is to make more mistakes and fall farther behind. If Romney was looking like toast last week, what's he going to look like after the latest "Whoops!" in his comedy of errors?

The winning scenarios for Romney at this point rely on leaps of faith and downright implausible conditions. To conclude that he's in good shape or primed to win requires assuming that:

1. The polls are flat out wrong, even though in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010 the pre-election polls were damn near perfect.
2. Some improbable turnout event will take place, i.e. that millions of Democrats will suddenly decide not to vote for some reason.
3. Romney will make up substantial ground in the debates, which very few people even watch and which research shows quite conclusively rarely change any viewers' minds unless one of the candidates has a colossal meltdown.
4. Obama is far more unpopular than the data suggest. Certainly his approval rating is not high, but neither is it in the 20% range like a certain former president's was during the 2008 race.
5. Romney has enough charisma and political skills to win over any potential voters beyond the people who categorically loathe Obama and would vote for literally anyone who the GOP nominated to oppose him.

When coming up with victory scenarios for a candidate requires this kind of magical thinking and this many "I mean, I suppose it could happen!" moments, we've gone beyond playing devil's advocate; we're working overtime trying to convince ourselves that the election is competitive. Yes, there are six weeks remaining and something could happen to tilt the race in Romney's favor. But for his sake it better happen soon and it better be Earth-shattering.

Basically this is the long way of saying: Under any set of reasonable, normal assumptions about voter turnout and other moving parts in the election, it looks extremely unlikely at this point that Mitt Romney can cobble together 270 Electoral Votes. Right now your odds at a slot machine are better than his odds of winning. I want to be conservative but I just don't see it. Whatever hope he may have had earlier this year appears to have been dashed under the sheer weight of his campaign's ineptitude.