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Michael Barone: Wrong, but Still Smart

Last week, Michael Barone, Washington Examiner’s senior political columnist and a noted scholar of American politics, broke with the conventional wisdom, predicting a big win for Romney in the electoral college. Now that the smoke has cleared (although Florida has yet to be decided), it’s clear that this was way off: It was Obama, and not Romney, who cracked 300 electoral votes.

But to his credit, Barone is not trying to bury his mistakes: In a follow-up column for the Examiner, he offers a mea culpa and analyzes what went wrong with his Romney win prediction:

I was wrong because the outcome of the election was not determined, as I thought it would be, by fundamentals. Some fundamentals, I thought, favored Obama. Americans like to think well of their presidents (and Obama’s approval ratings rose, slightly, over the fall) and many, perhaps most, Americans believe it would be a bad thing for Americans to be seen as rejecting the first black president.

On the other hand, most voters opposed Obama’s major policies and found unsatisfactory the sluggish economic recovery that seems to them to be the result—negative factors that seem to have been confirmed by responses to exit poll questions as they were by responses to poll questions for many months now. It is true that Obama won a second term by a reduced percentage and electoral vote margin, making him the first president to do so since Woodrow Wilson in 1916, nearly a century ago. This is not, I think, a grand triumph for his ideas or ideology. It is a triumph for his campaign strategists.

What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics.

For our part, Via Meadia went with the consensus that Obama would win a narrow victory, but we thought Barone made the strongest case against it.

This is the simple reality of punditry: No pundit is ever going to be right all the time, especially when it comes to predictions. The most we can hope for is to be interesting, to say something illuminating about the present and past even as we shine the flickering and imperfect light of our intellects into the mysterious future. Michael Barone is consistently illuminating on the subject of American politics—and his analysis of what went wrong with his prediction is a model of the insight, humility and good sense that all of us in this crazy business should try to achieve.

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