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Election 2012: Sure Things and Safe Bets




Triumph of the Numbers

Signing off last night, Brian Williams on NBC said something about how the presidential election defied the very idea of prognostication. All night the result was characterized as a surprise, which makes sense given how often television analysts before the election described this race as a toss-up, or too close to call.

Last night was the first time I’d watched any television news since Obama’s 2008 win and it was a good reminder why. Tuesday morning I searched for election predictions, and came up with 11 sites that crunched the numbers and made predictions1. All 11 predicted an Obama victory. One of the 11 expected Obama to lose Colorado, and two expected him to lose Virginia, but the rest were up in the air only about Florida (which was genuinely too close to call).

There was, in the run-up, a fair bit of criticism of such predictions, focused mostly on Nate Silver, who runs the FiveThirtyEight blog, but in the end, the criticism came exclusively from the few people who really did predict a Romney victory—people like Karl Rove or Dick Morris, who weren’t making predictions, but were advocating.

Romney bizarrely waited an hour and a half to concede after every major news outlet had called the election, and on Fox News, Karl Rove made the case for waiting, arguing that Ohio was still in play. This election was over weeks ago, and any honest look at the polls—where day after day, Obama was ahead in virtually every poll in all the so-called “battleground” states—would tell us that. Florida, Virginia and Ohio could have been called as early as 7:30 p.m. PST, when I (and the number crunchers on TV) could plainly see the remaining uncounted votes were going to come in big for Obama.

That’s not to say the networks should have called the election earlier, or that anyone needed to say Romney couldn’t win two weeks ago (though it is striking that as of this writing CNN still hasn’t called Florida). It’s just to point out one of the most frustrating and effective things about Republican politics these days, which is that conservatives assert things over and over in concert, in hopes that given enough repetition, these assertions will become facts. They don’t, but unfortunately, in the name of “balance,” and with a startling lack of intellectual ability from our public political class, our news outlets often create, at a minimum, the idea that the truth is unknown. One of the good things about elections is, the answer is knowable, eventually. In most other cases, we never get such finality, or, in instances like with climate change (or WMDs in Iraq), when we finally do it may be too late.

Triumph of the Hotel Workers

In contrast to national elections, local races are much harder to predict. There’s virtually no polling and a race can be turned with a small number of votes. UNITE HERE Local 11 turned that into an advantage last night, putting resources into two key races and winning big in both.

In Long Beach hotel workers won Measure N, which creates a $13-an-hour living wage for hotel workers in that city. This is only the second such ballot measure to pass in the nation, and the first was in tiny Emeryville. For all the talk of the ground game nationally, this is the real ground game, as hundreds of people walked precincts and made calls. UNITE HERE has been one of the most critical unions in politics here in LA for the past 20 years, putting more people on the streets in most elections than anyone else, and it paid off huge.

Less noticed, perhaps, is the Santa Monica City Council race. Local 11 was a big player in Santa Monica a decade ago, but hadn’t been as involved until last year, when new hotels began to move forward through the council process, and Local 11 realized it didn’t have the support of the council to ensure workers at these hotels would have the right to organize. Last spring they won agreement at one hotel when they began to referendize an approved project, and this fall they invested money in mail and walkers for the first time in several election cycles. Local 11 endorsed four candidates, and walked with a message about a pending hotel project. All four candidates won, despite opposition from a local hotel and a business coalition.

Triumph in L.A.?

Local elections are happening in just a few months for many city council seats and the mayor’s race here in Los Angeles. The mayor and the council are labor supporters, generally, but in the past few years have tried to find ways to distance themselves from unions.

It’s worth mentioning that the County Federation of Labor’s ground game was pretty spectacular as well, and brought home huge victories for Proposition 30 and against Proposition 32 (though sadly, Measure J fell short of the two-thirds requirement it needed to pass).

One hopes the results in places like Santa Monica and Los Angeles, and on Props. 30 & 32, are a good reminder to candidates in the coming races that when labor puts boots on the ground, it can turn elections. I can predict with absolute certainly that Local 11 and the Fed will have quite a few boots come spring.

1  The sites: (Obama 303); (Obama 332); Princeton Election Consortium (Obama 303); Intrade (Obama 303); The Signal (Obama 303); Election Projection (Obama 303); Larry Sabato (Obama 290); Real Clear Politics (Obama 303); Votamatic (Obama 332); Frontloading HQ (Obama 332); Politics by the Numbers (Obama 281)

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