Faulty Polls and Self-Offsetting Tax Cuts

After a Twitter exchange with Tod today, I decided to finally pull the trigger on a post I’ve been considering for a few days. Read on!


As nigh-on every denizen of the political blogosphere now knows, agenda-free stats heads like Nate Silver understand demographic and electoral reality far better than their conservative critics. This is killing frustrated Republicans. Just killing them. Indeed, when I pointed this out in a recent post—a post cautioning the Left about overestimating the election’s message, no less—conservative commenters complained that I was far too proud to have my side’s version of reality proven true.

That’s the rub, then. Conservatives are so raw that Dick Morris, et al, miscalled the election that they can’t (won’t?) face the factual bankruptcy notes piling up at their doorstep. Point out that their pre-election grandstanding was so much dross, and they’re suddenly gung-ho to focus on the issues and collaborate to solve the nation’s problems and etc.

(So am I, by the way. So is everyone. No one serious is arguing that we shouldn’t address our problems. C’mon. Get real.)

Their sensitivity is a bad sign. Now should be a time for right-wing grassroots concern. Scores of conservative media stateswomen and men (see Tod’s list here) confidently predicted a conclusive win for Candidate Romney. Surely it’s important to hold them to account. Surely it’s worth investigating why so many of them were so resoundingly wrong. This is less important for lefty-type academics like me than it is for the Republicans’ base. Check the comment thread on this RedState post. These conservatives, by contrast, are pretty ticked off—and they’re blaming FOX News. Seriously.

Because…what if FOX cooked the poll numbers for ratings? What if they knew that Romney was toast, but obscured it? Worse still, what if FOX didn’t know? What if conservative elites were just as deluded as their base? What if—as reports suggest—the epistemic closure problem went all the way up to Romney himself? This last bit seems to be the emerging story. The Right was, well, wrong from top-to-bottom. 

But if FOX and RedState—and Beck, and Rush, and various other conservative media outlets—were badly deluded about the polling data, it’s certainly plausible to wonder whether they’re wrong on other major stories, isn’t it? As cozy as partisan media bubbles can be, election results (usually) are beyond their insulating power. No amount of spin will put Paul Ryan one heartbeat away from the presidency this time around. For the first time in a long time, then, conservative media consumers are wondering if they’ve been duped.

That’s where it gets really interesting. What else has FOX been spinning? Perhaps tax cuts don’t increase federal revenue. Perhaps the Islamophobia FOX peddles isn’t grounded in any honest facts. Perhaps their smears against climate science will wane. Perhaps their periodic racism against Latinos will stop entirely. Perhaps their insistence on writing the Left out of the American tradition will finally cease. Perhaps they’ll finally be bothered by Media Matters’ routine dismantling of their most embarrassingly fact-free claims. Perhaps the Right’s many weird and varied conspiracy theories are finally spinning through their final news cycles.

Perhaps their conservative viewers have enough ammunition to start doubting.

One closing clarification: this isn’t a crisp logical argument. FOX’s polls were misleading, but this doesn’t conclusively prove that they’ve invented or distorted everything they’ve ever reported. For an easy example, take the National Enquirer. While their report on Jon Edwards was accurate, this doesn’t mean that they usually report the truth. Discrete instances of past lying are not indicative of future mendacity.

Of course, FOX’s discrediting need not be logically comprehensive or obvious. Media outlets trade in credibility, and they’ve put theirs at severe risk. That’s why my argument can suitably rest upon questions of character. Is the Right’s polling fiasco evidence of steady, persistent manipulation of information? I think so. There’s plenty of evidence that FOX, et al have been engaged in a campaign to routinely mislead. They aren’t usually reliable media sources that were wrong once. They’re systematic liars—and last week’s election might simply be the first of a great many dominoes.

(By the way, I’ve argued (over and over and over and over and etc) various versions of this thesis before.)


Conor P. Williams’ only remaining post on the election is a joke. It involves Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice,” and may never actually be published. For more analysis, find him on Facebook or Twitter. Here’s his email. Here are his credentials.

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29 thoughts on “Faulty Polls and Self-Offsetting Tax Cuts

  1. “Perhaps their insistence on writing the Left out of the American tradition will finally cease.”

    If someone believes this (and I am not saying that you do), I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I would like to sell them.

    The tradition of wirting the Left out of the American tradition goes back way before Fox News, way before Goldwater, and Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style/Anti-Intellectualism.

    It seems to me that the right-wing has always dismissed the American Left as being part of the other even though we have been around since the Colonial Era. I consider Roger Williams, William Penn, and Anne Hathaway to the originators of the American Left in their own ways. Same with many of the Founders.

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  2. Every political commentator predicts victory for their side. It’s not surprising when conservatives do that, and it’s not surprising that Fox’s main election analyst would be a conservative. It’s maybe surprising that they went beyond the usual “I’m going to cheer for my side and at worst look dumb for a day when they lose” guy to an “I talked people into giving me $300 million dollars to buy this election so my side damned well better win” guy, It’s not at all surprising that he melted down on-air because he couldn’t face the unpleasant fact that his side was losing. [1] Will they learn from this? Now that would be surprising.

    1. Did it strike anybody else as odd when Fox said, on-air, “We’re getting messages from the Romney campaign saying we shouldn’t have called these states”? Don’t they pretend to be an independent news-gathering organization? Or does election coverage count as the editorial side?

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    • I’m not sure this is right. Compare the different post-debate reactions this cycle. After Debate 1, left-wing pundit reactions ranged from “Hey! No Fair!” to “Obama lost the election tonight.” After the other debates, right-wing reactions ranged from “If it was a loss for Romney/Ryan, it doesn’t much matter.” to “He flayed that empty suit.”

      In other words, the distorting factor isn’t the same on both sides.

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    • The part that I found interesting isn’t that the Romney campaign complained about Fox calling Ohio too early, but that Karl Rove was out front of it making an argument that had no basis in fact. I do give Fox News and Megyn (can’t remember her last name) for challenging Rove on that and then actually going back to the stats room so that the viewers could hear first hand why Rove was talking out of his ass. I felt like that little reality check for Fox viewers was a useful public service. It might disabuse some of their viewers of the idea that a claim is true simply because a conservative said it.

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  3. I’m not holding my breath here. If the right-wing media is a hedgehog, then understanding them requires understanding their one big idea.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with governing; I think it’s distracting the masses — voters — from the process of governing so that wealthy and powerful people can amass more wealth and more power. The responsibility here is the responsibility to make sure things keep flowing up. Learning to recognize the distractions for what they are is key to peering at the men behind the curtain, pulling the leavers of power. (Hint: this morning, it’s General Patreaus.)

    I’d certainly welcome other notions of what that one big idea might be, but my guess is they’re all synonyms of my definition.

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    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedgehog's_dilemma

      The real point here is, the Right Wing have done their best over the past X years (take your pick – 2008 since the Tea movement took off? 2006 since the Democrats took the House and Senate?) to engage in a philosophical pogrom. The Great RINO Hunt, as it’s sometimes referred to.

      Essentially, the goal was to “purge” the party of anyone who did not believe in lock-step with each of the interest groups that now controlled the Party.

      Not an absolute deficit hawk? Sorry, you had to go.
      Believe that women should be able to make their own medical choices? Sorry, you had to go.
      Gay? Sorry you REALLY had to go.
      Believed the US shouldn’t be engaging in military adventurism? Bush ran on it, but then 9/11/2001 happened and by 2004, if you weren’t gung-ho on invading other countries, by god you weren’t a real amurrikkan.
      Latino or Black? Better have a real thick skin for all the jokes they’re going to crack about people who look like you.
      Believe that maybe, just maybe, the scientists might be right about the whole global climate change thing, as if creating giant urban heat islands and massive ecological shifts might just have an effect on the earth? Whoops, away from the party you go. Global climate change is a lib’rul media scam, a big religion-of-science talking point only, don’tchaknow.

      The Republicans did this to themselves. They kicked anyone who wasn’t a raving lunatic out of the tent, and now they’re surprised that those remaining inside the tent are being exposed as raving lunatics.

      http://www.ericgarland.co/2012/11/09/letter-to-a-future-republican-strategist-regarding-white-people/

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  4. I began this election by assuming that the candidates always had a realistic read on how the election was going. They have a lot of paid experts and pollsters working for them. Now I’m starting to think that, at least at the top, election consultants don’t have much of an interest in letting their guy know the bad news. It’s in their best interest for both their candidate and the wealthy donors they’re fleecing to believe 100% that everything is going great. As long as the money keeps flowing and the candidacy keeps pushing forward, they get keep getting their piece of it, win or lose.

    The question is how many millionaires will forget the con and open their wallets again in four years.

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    • Written in May 2004 — right after the primary, not after months and months of polls — and not days before election day.

      Can you not tell the difference? Or are you just hoping no one would notice the giant date on top?

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