The victory of President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney should prompt some intense soul searching by Republicans. What the Republicans need most of all is a reality check. The pundits will all say the right wing should reconsider its hostility toward women, minorities, unions, and lower-income people. That’s all true, but it sidesteps the larger issue: the party’s complete divorce from reality.
Nowhere was the disconnect from reality more tangible than the disconnect over public opinion polling. In the final days before the election, the battle over polling data nearly eclipsed the presidential race itself. One set of polls showed Obama winning the election, while other polls showed his challenger ahead. Even veteran political pros were confused by the data.
Obama maintained a slight lead in nearly all the polls until the first debate on October 3. As long as Obama was conclusively ahead, Fox News insisted that the polling was skewed. Once Romney pulled in front by a narrow range, Fox began to give credence to polling data. After that initial bump faded, the different surveys began to splinter. At one point, Rasmussen and Gallup showed Romney leading the president by up to 5 percentage points. From then on, Fox News showed only the polls that favored Romney.
All the Foxiest commentators – Sean Hannity, Karl Rove, Charles Krauthamer, Dick Morris and the vile Ann Coulter among them – declared that Romney would carry the lion’s share of swing states. Most of their projections showed Romney wins in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, all of which landed in the Obama column early on election night, as well as all the swing states of Ohio, Iowa, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado. They all pointed to the polls showing what they wanted to see as if contrary polls did not exist. Is there something in the Kool-Aid that makes everybody delusional at Fox News?
Viewers of real news outlets, such as PBS, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN or MSNBC, saw a totally different picture. They chewed on the conflicting polls, the ones with Romney clearly in front, as well as other ones that gave the lead to the president. Those networks also quoted Real Clear Politics, which averages all the reputable polls, which often showed a tie. Nate Silver wrote spot-on columns which crunched polling data with amazing accuracy for the second consecutive race. For his prescience, he was mocked and attacked by the right wing.
I don’t object to incorrect prognostications. I’ve been dead wrong on many predictions. All of us have been. Most shameful is the blatant use of suspect data, especially when a more complete panorama of surveys was widely available.
If Fox was truly a news organization rather than a partisan political propaganda machine, it would have informed its viewers about all the polls.
Polling data is not the only reason we should question the Republican grasp of reality. Look at the major gaffes by Republican candidates. Senate candidate Todd Akin insisted that women can’t get pregnant from a rape. How many obstetricians would confirm that? Fellow candidate Richard Mourdock believes pregnancy resulting from rape is divinely inspired. Nobody can prove or disprove God’s will, so that one is off the table. Romney says corporations are people. OK, Mitt. Show us any common reference material that substantiates such a contention.
These notions don’t exist in a vacuum. Obama was characterized as being born in Kenya, a practitioner of Islam, a communist, a fascist and described in horrific racial terms. Those absurd assertions all got aired on Fox as if they were serious ideas.
My question is when the news about Obama’s victory finally sinks in, how are conservatives who get all their news and world view from Fox News going to react? Will they continue to believe these fairy tales and propaganda pills dressed up as news, or at least question what they are spoon-fed by Fox? I wish I could say no, but after researching the Obama haters since 2008, I highly doubt it.
John Wright is the author of The Obama Haters: Behind the Right-Wing Campaign of Lies, Innuendo and Racism.
Image by Kate Hiscock under a Creative Commons license on flickr.