Two Confident Campaigns: Who Is Telling the Truth?

October 24, 2012

Yesterday, the NBC news political blog “First Read” reported on the dueling shows of buoyancy by the two presidential campaigns. On a conference call with reporters, senior Obama strategists expressed a quiet confidence about the President’s position in the states they need to win the election. The same blog, writing about the third debate, noted that the Romney campaign believes their candidate could afford to be cautious because they believe he is well-positioned for victory. So which campaign truly knows they are going to win on Election Day? Neither.

I don’t doubt the confidence each side is expressing. Each sees their strategy coming together, and can see a clear path to victory. In a race this close it only takes a dash of home cooking to get the analysis to come out in your favor. Romney’s camp believes that a president polling at 47% two weeks before an election will lose, as dissatisfied undecided voters settle on the challenger. The Obama campaign would say that, theories aside, they are actually leading in enough states to win – and Get-Out-The-Vote efforts and under-counted Latinos will add to their take. But it raises a larger point: What do the insiders know that we don’t? The answer is, a lot…and nothing.

They certainly have access to a huge amount of inside information that the rest of us don’t. They know where they are sending the candidate and buying ads in the last two weeks, they know if they have any surprise announcements, they can match highly-detailed polling against the vote totals they project needing to win key states, and lots of other tactical information that’s kept secret. But they don’t know anything fundamental about the outcome of the race that’s not available to the rest of us. There is something mysterious about “private polling” done by campaigns, but it is no more accurate than the good polling done for media firms. Obama advisor David Axelrod and Romney strategist Stuart Stevens are not staring at secret numbers every morning, then putting on a game face for the public. Their polls may have messaging information and specific demographic breakdowns that help them understand the race and devise strategies, but it’s not as if they both secretly know the public polls are wrong.

Their confident analysis to the press is about maintaining or gaining momentum in the race. If the race were not close, one of them would be spinning – pretending to know something confidential that will change the race – but in 2012 there is room for both views. So next time you hear an insider confidently predict victory, remember that John Kerry strategist Bob Shrum reportedly said to his candidate, on the night of the election, “Let me be the first to call you Mr. President.”

Tomorrow: What it’s like inside a campaign when you know you’re going to lose.

Check here for regular observations on the 2012 presidential campaign and political history, as well as new clips from The Bigger Hammer. Follow @TheBiggerHammer on Twitter to find out when new excerpts are released and where you’ll be able to see the whole film.


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