Rove, Republicans shocked after failure to use data

BY CONNOR BURNS ’13
Senior Staff Writer

Tuesday night went badly for Karl Rove. FOX News called Ohio, and the entire election, for Barack Obama. Rove insisted FOX had made the call too early and went on the air to tell the network it was wrong, insisting too many votes were still uncounted. Rove, the head of the leading conservative Super PAC, American Crossroads, could not accept a Romney defeat.

Rove had spent the last several months on conference calls, telling donors the $300 million they had given to his Super PAC was being well spent and all the polling data indicating a Romney defeat was wrong. He has been on FOX since, but he has not acknowledged the already infamous incident. Instead, Rove has claimed Obama won by suppressing voters that would normally vote for Romney by painting an unflattering picture of Romney.

Perhaps Rove confused Obama’s 2012 campaign with the one he ran for George W. Bush in 2000, when many votes in Florida were not counted, giving him the election. Many liberals feared the new voter ID laws would hamper turnout rates and deprive them of a victory rightfully won. In this election, both sides of the aisle feared another Florida 2000, with months of litigation that would ultimately detract from the entire legitimacy of the election. Both sides were wrong.

Democrats are now better at employing Rove’s political strategies than Rove is. Bush won in 2004 with a revolutionary ground game strategy that mobilized the base and got Republican-leaning voters to the polls in record numbers. The Democrats accomplished the same thing in 2008, but the GOP assumed they couldn’t do it again in 2012.

Instead, the Democrats turned out even more of their people this year. More Latinos, young people, and African Americans voted this year. White people make up less and less of the electorate as the GOP’s older base begins to die out. Although demographics are a large part of Obama’s victory there is more to Tuesday’s massive turnout than that. The GOP declared war on data and the Democrats became its best stewards. Rove was not the only person in the GOP to challenge straightforward numbers this election year.

Throughout the election season, Republicans openly challenged any unfavorable polling data, calling pollsters (including our very own Terry Madonna) Democratic hacks when they described results unfavorable to the GOP. The polls were almost perfect predictors of Tuesday’s outcome.

When a good jobs report came out for Obama shortly before the election, many conservatives claimed the numbers had been cooked. The American people had been deceived by numbers, which appeared, they say, to have a consistent liberal bias.

Data wonks in Chicago, meanwhile, were able to accurately micro target Democrat-leaning voters to get them to the polls on Tuesday. The scale and success of this logistical effort are only beginning to come to light and will be studied for decades to come.

Minorities and young people feel more politically empowered than they ever have before and this story deserves the attention it is getting. But we should also remember who embraced and used information well this campaign and who did not. If Republicans did not pay attention to data in running their campaigns can we expect they would have used it to rule a nation?

Questions? Email Connor at cburns@fandm.edu.

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