Campaigning on Blind Faith

It’s been nearly two weeks since the election, and I’m still struck by the comparison between the campaigns run by “community organizer” Obama and “businessman” Romney.

One campaign was a data-driven juggernaut, executing on its get-out-the-vote strategy in a systematic and fluid manner. The other was a mess, plagued by IT problems, poor communication and high levels of insularity and confirmation bias.

It’s not terribly surprising that Obama ran an effective campaign. He has experienced staff, and incumbency confers significant monetary and organizational advantages. But what of the man who promised to bring his years of business experience to the problem of managing the country? Should we heave a sigh of relief that Mitt wasn’t given the chance to bungle running the country as badly as his campaign was mismanaged?

In fact, it’s not that big of a shock that things floundered so badly for team Romney on election night. Many businesses, are, in fact, poorly run – and when faced with decent competition, left lurching in the dust.

Somewhat more surprising was the insularity that left Romney so convinced he was going to win that he didn’t even write a concession speech. While some businesses persist in burying bad news and choosing to credit only that which they want to hear, the accessibility of business performance data and the growth of tools to analyze it have made such willful blindness less and less of an option.

One week before the election, all objective data pointed to the extreme likelihood of an Obama win. Everyone (led by Nate Silver) was predicting the same thing. And most importantly, European sports books – where real money was being wagered on the outcome – were seeing a big move toward longer and longer odds for the former governor. And this pattern only accelerated as the final days to the election ticked off. By the day before the election, betting odds on Romney were 4-1 – basically the same odds the Baylor University football team has of beating #1 rated Kansas State in tomorrow’s game.

Like a mismatched football game, Romney could have pulled out a monumental underdog victory. It happens. But unlike the Republicans, underdog football teams go into such games with no illusions about the likely outcome. The coaches will motivate, the players will compete with grit, but they all know what they are up against.

So many on the right were so committed to their thesis of victory that they blinded themselves to the avalanche of data pointing in the opposition direction. They squinted hard and focused only on the few thin reeds that, lined up correctly, could deliver the outcome they were looking for. And then they really believed it. That’s strange, and a little scary – especially coming from an outfit that sold hard on bringing their business prowess to government.

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