Well, that election sure was exciting, wasn't it?
First, let's start with John McCain.
Before the general election campaign started, the MainStream Media presented McCain as an ideal candidate: the kind of straight-shooting Scots-Irish war hero that Americans have voted for over and over since Andy Jackson's time. (Indeed, just about the only region in which the pugnacious McCain performed well last Tuesday was the Scots-Irish heartland from West Virginia to Oklahoma.)
Not surprisingly, McCain actually turned out to be a pretty awful candidate. That he still got 46 percent of the vote attests more to the value of the brand than to his performance.
McCain's was essentially a vanity candidacy, driven by little more than his assumption that his own personal awesomeness entitled him to be President.
As a candidate, he was fairly similar to Bob Dole in 1996: a partly-crippled war veteran 72-year-old Senator who was a regular guest on the Sunday morning talk shows. Not surprisingly, he ended up losing by about the same margin.
Until they deserted him for Obama, the press had liked McCain because he reacts emotionally to issues, and thus often disagrees with other Republicans. But, McCain's idiosyncratic positions don't point to some higher wisdom, just to McCain's inability to think systematically.
Thus, given almost nothing pressing to do from the Super Tuesday primaries on February 5 until the convention on Labor Day weekend, he could barely come up with any issues to run on in this election.
In contrast, Obama promised everything to everybody. Granted, Obama's enormous platform was a fraud (I sure hope you haven't already gone out and spent the tax cut Obama promised you), but, you have to admit, at least it was a methodical fraud.
Senator McCain has neither executive experience not inclination, and it showed in 2008. He outsourced the management of his campaign to a bunch of empty suits, who had him lurching about trying to one-up his opponent over each 24-hour news cycle on some trivial distraction. His handlers seemed more intent on furthering their own careers by impressing other Washington insiders than to get a coherent message out to the electorate.
Most disastrously, as the MainStream Media's favorite Republican, McCain played by the rules of political correctness and, inevitably, lost by them. As I document from Obama's own writings in my new book America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's "Story of Race and Inheritance," Obama was long devoted to the far left fringe of American politics. But McCain couldn't persuasively explain that to the public. Why not? Because Obama's leftism is inextricably intertangled with his "race and inheritance," his need to prove his "racial credentials" by being far enough left. Yet, McCain had ruled out of bounds any mention of the abundant evidence for this. For example, Senator Obama's donations of $53,770 to Reverend Jeremiah "White Folks' Greed Runs a World in Need" Wright in the years 2005-2007 was off limits. This left McCain with only the few and random-sounding examples of Obama's leftism that didn't have any apparent connection to race, such as Obama's vague connection with the white terrorist Bill Ayers.
The Republicans played by the rules of diversity sensitivity and forfeited the election. Are they going to do the same?
Second, let's look at who voted and for whom.
I've been covering elections since 2000. After every election, hundreds of autopilot articles are published attributing whatever happened to the tsunami of new Hispanic voters, which then is presumed to prove that the GOP's only salvation is to embrace Open Borders.
This conventional wisdom is unfalsifiable: If the GOP win, as in 2004, it's because its Presidential candidate is so enthusiastic about illegal aliens. If the GOP loses, it's because Republicans other than its Presidential candidate aren't enthusiastic enough about illegal aliens.
After each election, I then patiently debunk both the premise and the conclusion. No, while Hispanics voters are increasing in number, their growth isn't as fast as is widely assumed. And, Hispanic voters, who are, after all, citizens, don't care as much about illegal immigrants as their self-proclaimed leaders trumpet they do.
Moreover, by not taking a strong stand against illegal immigration, the GOP leaves more non-Hispanic votes on the table than it would lose from Hispanics. Think about it. What else other than immigration did the Republicans have to run on in 2008? The economy? Foreign policy?
Unfortunately, exit polling is becoming less reliable each election. Its history in this decade has been ignominious.
In the 2002 midterm elections, the exit polls weren't published because of a software foul-up. (In 2003, I purchased the raw data and crunched the 2002 numbers so they wouldn't be lost to history.)
In 2004, the exit polls predicted a narrow Kerry victory. In addition, they initially reported that Bush had garnered 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. After I pointed out how unlikely that was, the polling company announced later the number should have been about 40 percent. (And keep in mind that Bush only got to 40 percent via his Housing Bubble, which poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the pockets of Hispanic homebuyers and construction workers.)
"We can't be precise, because for the third election in a row the exit polls were trash. The raw numbers forecast an 18-point Obama win, news organizations who underwrote the poll arbitrarily dialed it down to a 10-point Obama edge, and the actual margin was six. [Actually, closer to seven than to six, it looks now.]"[How the President-Elect Did It , by Karl Rove, WSJ, November 6, 2008]
Why are exit polls so bad in this decade?
One problem is that there is more early voting and mail-in voting each election. In 2008, there was also likely to be a large Bradley Effect in which Republican voters offer politically correct answers to the young, Democratic-looking pollsters who accost them after voting.
Nevertheless, the most fundamental problem is one that's common in the marketing research industry, where I worked for many years: it has become a monopoly.
There's an old saying in the marketing research business that in any viable industry segment, there's only room for 1.5 firms. You'll notice, for example, that Nielsen doesn't have any competition for TV ratings and Arbitron doesn't have any competition for radio ratings. They could enter each other's field, but then they'd both lose money in both fields. Why ruin nice little monopolies? In contrast, in the supermarket sales data field, there have long been two competitors, with rapid technological advancements resulting. That little industry has been notorious among investors for generating terrible profit margins.
Back in 2000, there were three national exit polls, one sponsored by a group of media outlets (which I'll call the CNN poll for the convenience of its website), one by the New York Times, and one by the Los Angeles Times. They came up with different figures for the GOP share of the Hispanic vote: 31 percent according to the NYT, 35 percent according to CNN and its colleagues, and 38 percent according to the LAT.
This fuzzy math had the dual benefits of keeping you from being too stridently confident about the results ("Well, all we can say is the real number was likely somewhere in the 30s") while letting you triple-check your numbers ("Yes, although we can't be sure, 35 percent sounds like a reasonable estimate.")
Over the course of the decade, unfortunately, the individual newspapers dropped out of the business. The cartel's poll has wound up as a monopoly, with the usual results in terms of quality and reliability. Without competition to spur them on, they usually do a bad job.
It's particularly important to understand that exit polls are not a very good way to determine an ethnic group's share of the vote. There are all sorts of articles exulting over the huge turnout of Hispanics last Tuesday, but they all seem to reference the exit poll rather than real world results. A huge chunk of Hispanic voters are in California and Texas, both states in which there was little campaigning, advertising, or canvassing because they were all wrapped up.
The CNN exit poll has a long history of exaggerating the Hispanic share of the vote in contrast to the gold standard Census Bureau phone survey of 50,000 households that is conducted immediately after each election but not released until the following year:
|Year||CNN Exit Poll||Census Phone Survey|
|2008||9%||NA until 2009|
I'm guessing, based on trends going back to the 1970s, that the Census Bureau will eventually report the 2008 Hispanic fraction as a little under 7.0 percent. For your edification, here are Census Bureau figures for midterm elections. Both minority groups' shares of the vote have been growing, but not exceptionally fast.
It's worth noting that this year's much-publicized 9 percent figure for Hispanic's share of the vote is from the exit poll's smaller "national sample." The blogger Audacious Epigone toted up the figures from the exit poll's much larger "state sample" and came up with 7.54 percent, which sounds more plausible.
In general, exit polls aren't very good at figuring out turnout shares. If you stop and think about what's involved in running a national exit poll, you can grasp why.
Only a tiny fraction of all the polling places in the country are covered, so the polling company has to decide ahead of time where to send their pollsters. That isn't a big problem for calculating, say, the female share of the vote, because males and females generally live in the same neighborhoods. However, racial groups frequently don't live in the same neighborhoods. The polling firm has to choose carefully which neighborhoods to survey.
Therefore, first, long before the election, the polling company must come up with an estimate of each group's expected share in order to decide which polling stations to cover. This prediction tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The firm's thinking may go something like this: "Okay, we said the Hispanic share last time was 8 percent, and everybody knows they are growing, so we'd better report Hispanics as 9 percent this time, or we'll look bad. So, let's figure out which neighborhoods to send pollsters to in order that 9 percent of the voters they interview are Hispanic."
The monopoly exit poll is asserting that the black share in 2008 (goosed upward by Obama's presence on the ballot) was 13 percent, the Hispanic share was 9 percent, and the white share 74 percent. My guesstimate is that the definitive Census Bureau numbers will be more like 12 percent black, 7 percent Hispanic, and 77 percent white. But the white share could be as low as 75 percent white because McCain did so little to motivate whites to turn out.
Overall, the white share seems to be falling a couple of points per four-year election cycle, which means, among other things, that white voters are hardly powerless in the near-term.
Demographic change is combining with political change, however.
I'm not sure how trustworthy the exit polls are, but here are the GOP Presidential candidate's share of the vote in the last two elections:
The interesting thing is how consistently large the non-white defections to the Democrats were in 2008. Amusingly, the GOP lost fewer percentage points among blacks than among the other three minorities listed. (Of course, that's mostly just an example of diminishing marginal returns in action.)
To win the popular vote, McCain needed either 59 to 60 percent of the white vote, or to expand the number of white voters by raising issues of interest to the unmotivated, such as, say, immigration.
So, what's the future going to look like?
A crucial question is which party will recruit the best political talent.
Consider the Los Angeles shopping mall developer Rick Caruso, age 49, whose superbly detailed mega-malls, The Grove (a faux-Italian hilltop city) and The Americana (a loving tribute to the prosperous small American cities of the early 20th Century), have been wildly successful with the public, making him the most popular Republican in Los Angeles.
When I heard that Caruso might run for mayor of Los Angeles against Antonio Villaraigosa, I immediately thought to myself, "I have no idea what his politics are, but I'd vote for him because he gets big things done, and with a level of quality that's rare in Southern California these days."
But, two days after McCain's loss, Caruso announced he wasn't going to challenge Mayor Villaraigosa.
To understand the prospects for the two parties in recruiting younger talent, think about the question of which party to join from the point of view of a next-generation Rick Caruso:
Say, you're a 32-year-old white guy who has made a bundle putting up shopping malls. You're good looking, a charismatic speaker, you like shaking hands and remembering people's names, and, as the popularity of your malls attests, you've got a knack for understanding what the average person likes. In other words, you're a natural political talent. And, unlike a lot of politicians (such as, say, John McCain), you're a proven manager.
You figure the real estate business is going to be slow for awhile, so maybe it's time to go into politics like you always said you would. You've donated to and schmoozed with most of the politicians in your state, Republican and Democrat, in your battles for land use permits. You know you're better than most of them. They know it, too. Both parties have been recruiting you to run for office.
You've got a little timetable in your head: county supervisor, state senator, state treasurer, governor, and finally President in the 2032 election, when you'll be 56. Maybe it's crazy, but maybe it's not.
You just don't know which party to commit to. You've kept your politics vague while you've made your fortune.
Maybe you should run as a Democrat. They've got the demographic trends on their side.
The state Democratic chairman keeps telling you that you're the next Bill Clinton. But, you watched Obama deftly play the race card on the Clintons. Soon, half the Democrats in the country were denouncing Bill Clinton as a racist.
Who needs that?
Is there all that much of a longrange future in the Democratic Party for a white guy like you? Are you going to just end up losing primary after primary to minority candidates who get a free pass on their backgrounds the way Obama did? Mrs. Clinton couldn't publicly make an issue out of Obama's Rev. Wright because her party has so many blacks and so many politically correct whites. Therefore, she lost.
Why risk a lifetime of frustration in the Democratic Party?
The Republicans definitely need some young blood. The road to winning primaries looks more open to a white guy in the Republican Party. So, precisely because the GOP is down now, it's more attractive to new talent like you looking to move up in a hurry.
But, are you just going to lose general elections to minority Democrats because they'll be untouchable due to their race the way Obama was? Will you be expected to take a dive like McCain did?
Who needs that?
That's the key question: Are you going to have to play by the McCain Rules because the GOP will disown you if you go to the mat against the Democrats and do what it takes to win, the way George H.W. Bush did in 1988? Will the Republicans have your back if you play to win? Or are you going to be expected to be good loser like John McCain in 2008—and still get smeared as a racist by the media in the bargain?
If the GOP doesn't want candidates who play to win, well, then, you've already got a career, a family, and charitable interests, a rich life without politics.
The GOP needs you more than you need them. So, forget going into politics.
The MainStream Media are telling the GOP that even though they ran a candidate of obsessive political correctness and he still got killed among minorities, the Republicans' only hope are to become even more politically correct. And the only way they can prove their devotion to diversity, to remove the suspicion of racism, is by opening the borders even wider to invite in more nonwhites.
Maybe that will work. Maybe not.
The logical alternative for Republicans is to stop playing by the rules of political correctness, the McCain Rule, which, after all, were constructed by your political opponents for their own advantage.
Instead, play by the Sailer Rule: tell the truth.
As the Democrats become ever more the party of minorities, the Republicans would naturally become the party that welcomes the chance to defend the interests of what will remain the majority of the electorate well into the second half of the century.
But the glittering prizes are only available to those with more courage than the old jet pilot showed in 2008.
[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]