Barone not Learning

Barone tells some tales to make himself feel better.

Prior to the election, Michael Barone predicted, based on hunches it would seem, that Romney would win in the electoral college 315-223.

Apparently, being let down by data-ignoring guesses hasn’t dissuaded him from continuing to deploy that methodology. In a new column he writes:  “Lukewarm. That’s the feeling I get from the election numbers.”

Feeling?  He is leading off his post-election analysis with feelings?  It makes one wonder:  is our pundits learning?*

It would seem not.

As I said the other day:  “The way people react to the failures therefore says a lot about themselves as analysts” and in Barone’s case it would appear that he is reaction with feelings and then with lousy analysis.

To wit, he continues:

Turnout was apparently down, at least as a percentage of eligible voters. The president was re-elected by a reduced margin. The challenger didn’t inspire the turnout surge he needed.

Every re-elected president since Andrew Jackson has won with an increased popular vote percentage. Barack Obama didn’t. He won 53 to 46 percent in 2008. His numbers as I write are 50 to 48 percent over Mitt Romney. That could go up to 51 to 48 percent when California finishes its count, which took five weeks in 2008.

Obama owes most of his electoral vote majority of 332 to negative campaigning. His strategists barraged the target states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia with attack ads on Romney for months.

These are all tales that the losing side tells itself to make themselves feel better.  To call them “tales,” by the way, is not to say that they are factually false per se, but rather to note that they are cherry-picked, context-free, and interpretative, and, further, are told not to inform as much as to assuage.

First, that turnout is down this year would be wholly expected.  The 2008 election had the highest turnout in 40 years.**  It was an historic election because Obama was the first African-American elected to the presidency and turnout was further fueled by the severe economic situation.  As such, turnout was almost certainly going to be lower in 2012.

Second, the fact that Obama won with less popular and electoral votes is, at least in part, because we are comparing a fairly unique electoral cycle in 2008 versus a more normal one in 2012.  It was the nature of the 2008 election, for example, that helped Obama win the states of Indiana and North Carolina in 2008, but fail to do so in 2012.  More importantly, perhaps, Obama was running for reelection in the context of a four-year term mired in first a severe economic crisis and then a sluggish recovery marked by high unemployment and anemic growth.  As such, the fundamentals would, by definition, suppress some support for the incumbent.  There was a reason why Republicans thought, at the beginning of this process, that they couldn’t lose.

Ultimately, this whole meme is pointless:  winning is winning.  Does it matter in any substantial way, that Obama won less vote in 2012 than he did in 2008?   Further, given the fundamentals, the fact that he won 332 electoral votes actually was a stronger showing than a lot of people (myself included) expected.

Third, the negativity hypotheses is almost funny.  For one thing, is there a losing side in any election ever that says “well, my opponent won by being relentlessly positive!”   Since elections are about, at least in part, contrasts, both sides are going to perceive the other as negative.   Beyond that:  is Barone going to say, with a straight face, that Romney was only positive?  This is ridiculous.

A final thought:  the attempt to make House mandate equal to a presidential mandate (in terms of what it says about the national electorate) strikes me yet another comforting tale:

The president claims a mandate because, as he said in 2009, “I won.” But House Speaker John Boehner has some basis for claiming a mandate too as the fiscal cliff negotiations begin.

On the one hand, the notion that winning a national election is the same as securing a majority in a chamber based on districts that have been gerrymandered to the majority party’s advantage (not to mention with only 51 competitive districts) strikes me as problematic, to be kind.  There is also the niggling fact that the House is only half of the legislative branch, so this is a weak “mandate”*** (if it is one), especially since the Senate is in Democratic hands (well, kinda).

On the other hand, however, control of one chamber means a clear ability to shape, if not block, any legislative action.  In that regard, and regardless of mandate arguments, this is one tale that actually should make Republicans feel a bit better.  Indeed, my main objection to the argument is not that it isn’t, ultimately, correct in terms of ramification, it is the basis of the notion of interpreting a set of fairly fixed outcomes in the House as indicative of national sentiment.  Unfortunately, our electoral system does not actually produce such a result for the House of Representatives.

*This is a reference, not a grammatical error.

**And, it should be noted, that the 1968 election, and its turnout number of 60.84% was pre-expansion of the voting age to 18.   Once we did that, turnout numbers went down structurally, since young people tend not to vote relative to older persons.

***The general usefulness of the mandate concept itself is another discussion entirely.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Facebones says:

    The article is just a headline right now. But really, what else needs to be said?

  2. EMRVentures says:

    Concise and to the point, Steven.

  3. Hal 10000 says:

    I think Barone is actually factually incorrect. Didn’t FDR get less popular and electoral votes in 40′ and 44′?

  4. legion says:

    And yet he still collects a paycheck. One that I’d wager is at least an order of magnitude above the national average. And Dick Morris and George Will still get invited to Beltway cocktail parties and TV shows. I’m feeling a bit of rage at this…

  5. But House Speaker John Boehner has some basis for claiming a mandate too as the fiscal cliff negotiations begin.

    I should be noted that there were actually more total votes for Democrat house members than Republican house members:

    The Republicans maintain control of the house only due to widespread gerrymandering of congressional districts, not to an actual popular mandate. Of course, Republicans being Republicans, this means they will ignore their dwindling popularity until they suffer a disaster in the House as well.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    The idea that Republicans were going to learn and grow has always been fanciful. A party that shops for adult diapers at Costco is not going to be your swiftly adapting organism. Given the choice between “bullsh!t that conforms our prejudices,” and “let’s deconstruct,” I think we can guess where they’ll land.

    The GOP has taken exactly one (1) lesson from this: Mexicans! We have to 1) Find some, 2) Run them for office and 3) Problem solved! So go ask the gardener if he’s ever wanted to be president.

  7. I feel like everyone got the Bush reference notated at *.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    Hmmm. That should be either “conforms to” or “confirms.” Reader’s choice.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @Talmadge East:
    Steven’s used to undergraduates. Not sure some of them get references extending prior to Britney Spears.

  10. PJ says:

    Rasmussen doesn’t learn either, it has new polls out using its LV-screen.

    Likely voters for what election? 2014? Rasmussen already knows who will be voting in 2014? Or do they use a LV-screen for the election last week? If so, why?

  11. Latino_in_Boston says:

    This is not surprising in the least. If the Party does not change, they will lose, and so they have an immediate and tangible reason to try to adapt (whether they actually do that, it’s another matter).

    But pundits? Talk radio? They have zero reason to change because there will always be people that want an alternative reality to make them feel better. They need apologists, justifications, creators of talking points they can recite to others so as to make themselves feel superior, upstanding and pure. Do you think that Dick Morris is going to suffer from his horrendously wrong prediction? Sure, a bit. But if there was justice in the world, he would go crawl under a rock and never come out of it. Instead, he will keep making predictions and getting fat pay checks. Ditto for Rove.

  12. Geek, Esq. says:

    Good. I hope they GOP continues to lie to themelves and gets their rear end whupped for another 2-3 election cycles.

  13. Fiona says:

    Barone seems to be comforting himself with the latest set of memes floating around the conservative media complex. Obama won because his team used negative ads to successfully suppress the white vote; that is, too many white voters stayed home (estimates range between 3 to 16 million depending on thecCMC source). Because too many white voters didn’t bother to show up, Obama won the election by fewer votes than he did in 2008. Previous incumbents, who got more white votes, won re-election by greater margins than they initially won election. Obama, therefore, did not really “win” in any meaningful sense of the word “win,” which makes his so-called win less than legitimate.

    I don’t think there’s any danger of movement conservatives breaking out of their bubble anytime soon.

  14. Geek, Esq. says:


    Someone has to provide the narrative version of “math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better.”

  15. C. Clavin says:

    Mitt Romney lost because he was, and Republicans are, on the wrong side of nearly every single issue.
    Rich people are going to have to pay more in taxes because they reap more economic benefit.
    Immigrants are no going to self-deport.
    Gays will get equal rights.
    We need to stop burning so much fossil fuel.
    We cannot afford a war of choice (especially if it is Israel making the choice) against Iran.
    Old white guys have no place in the decision a woman makes about her health.
    The emergncy room is not the place to recieve primary care.
    Barone can assuage his guilt over lying to Republicans about Romney’s chances all he wants.
    Until the Republicans begin to confront the future and get on the “right” side of these issues they are doomed to failure.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    As I observed elsewhere wrt/ McConnell. Boehner is entitled to feel the Republicans have a mandate. I expect that they did receive a landslide majority of lobbying money.

  17. jukeboxgrad says:

    Lukewarm. That’s the feeling I get from the election numbers.

    There is good reason to describe Obama’s result as both “a landslide” and “a mandate.” Link, link.

  18. legion says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Rich people are going to have to pay more in taxes because they reap more economic benefit.

    Bingo. It all comes down to Class Mobility. Working to boost yourself, or at least your children, into a better life. There aren’t many more traditional American-Conservative principles than this. Republican businessmen just love to tell stories about people “pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps”, starting their own companies & building them into Fortune 500 joints or starting out in the Mail Room and working their way up to CEO. Unfortunately, the exact economic policies those same Republican Businessmen want to put into place make those stories impossible. They make class mobility impossible. Because those Republican Businessmen look at a strong American middle class, and all they see is: competition. That’s why they want to destroy the middle class. That’s why they want a Feudal America. Because they don’t want any competition forcing them to actually work, produce, or even be competent. They’re rich, we’re not, and we should just accept that as the Way Of Things.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    Have you looked around? Barone isn’t the only delusional conservative trying to downplay the results of the election…I keep seeing how the President supposedly “won ugly”…I notice that the people who are pushing this message didn’t say that Bush “won ugly” in 2004…but apart from the hypocrisy, the Republicans only have themselves to blame in so many ways…if you demonize a whole ethnic group, do you really expect members of that group to vote for you? When you have a leading Republican in Pennsylvania talking about new voter ID laws ensuring the election of Mitt Romney, the truth is known that these laws have nothing to do with “voting integrity” and everything to do with helping the GOP…and as Michael mentioned upthread, tokenism will not help Republicans…that they think that Hispanics and blacks are that shallow and that foolish tells you everything you need to know about how Republicans feel about those groups…

  20. C. Clavin says:

    “…A party that shops for adult diapers at Costco is not going to be your swiftly adapting organism…”

    Reynolds wins, Reynolds wins…

  21. Tylerh says:

    MIchael Barone fails the numbers again:


    Boehner only gest to be Speaker of the House due to the magic of Gerrymandering.

  22. Brummagem Joe says:

    The explanation is simple. Barone is a shill or propagandist who is paid handsomely by Anschutz and others to express these opinions. They have no relation to reality and apart from satisfying a certain primal urge to step on the fellow’s face they are really hardly worth bothering with.

  23. Argon says:

    Umm… My favorite meme from the election:

    Keep f***king that chicken, Mike.

  24. jukeboxgrad says:

    Because those Republican Businessmen look at a strong American middle class, and all they see is: competition. That’s why they want to destroy the middle class. That’s why they want a Feudal America.

    They see competition but they also see uppity, empowered employees. Staffing my corporation is much easier when the population is struggling and desperate for work.

    They should have the attitude of Henry Ford, which is that a strong middle class means people who can afford to buy my products, but they don’t look at that way. They figure it’s easy enough to find customers outside the US.

  25. al-Ameda says:

    Barone used to be a respectable analyst of presidential and congressional elections. Somewhere along the way he decided that THAT was not a good thing (or maybe he started to make a lot more money by selling out.)