Mitt Romney says he is a numbers guy, but in the end he got the numbers wrong. His campaign was adamant that public polls in the swing states were mistaken. They claimed the pollsters were over-estimating the number of Democrats who would turn out on Election Day. Romney’s campaign was certain that minorities would not show up for Obama in 2012 the way they did in 2008. “It just defied logic,” said a top aide of the idea that Obama could match, let alone exceed, his performance with minorities from the last election. When anyone raised the idea that public polls were showing a close race, the campaign’s pollster said the poll modeling was flawed and everyone moved on. Internally, the campaign’s own polling—tweaked to represent their view of the electorate, with fewer Democrats—showed a steady uptick for Romney since the first debate. Even on the morning of the election, Romney’s senior advisers weren’t close to hedging. They said he was going to win “decisively.” It seemed like spin, but the Boston Globe reports that a fireworks display was already ordered for the victory. Romney and Ryan thought they were going to win, say aides. “We were optimistic. More than just cautiously optimistic,” says one campaign staffer. When Romney lost, “it was like a death in the family.”
How did the Romney team get it so wrong? According to those involved, it was a mix of believing anecdotes about party enthusiasm and an underestimation of their opponents’ talents. The Romney campaign thought Obama’s base had lost its affection for its candidate. They believed Obama would win only if he won over independent voters. So Romney focused on independents and the economy, which was their key issue. The Republican ground game was focused on winning those voters. “We thought the only way to win was doing well with independents and we were kicking ass with independents,” says a top aide. One senior adviser bet me that if Obama won Ohio, he would donate $1,000 per point to my favorite charity. (That would be a $10,000 hit since Romney lost Ohio but won independents by 10 points). In the end, Romney won independents nationally by five points—and it didn’t matter one bit.