On Election Night, before serious returns started coming in, I spoke to a few Republicans at the South Dakota GOP victory party about their expectations nationwide. Most (but not all) were pretty confident in a Romney victory. I told one connected Republican my prediction was a narrow but clear Obama victory, based on the aggregation of the polls; they asked about whether those polls’ samples were skewed in favor of the Democrats, something they said they had heard from highly placed national GOP campaign officials.
As it turned out, the national polls were basically right, predicting Obama’s victory in almost every single detail.
But this incident is an example of a tendency — not limited to Republicans — of people these days to conflate what they think should happen and what they think they will happen.
Another example: a conversation with a Democrat who had worked with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2010. They told me that the people in the DCCC were the very last people in the country to see the 2010 Republican landslide coming, that in the last weeks and days before the election people in the DCCC still thought they were going to hold on to the House, long after the polls and political models showed a GOP wave.
There’s nothing wrong with being hopeful. If you’re running for office, or working hard to elect someone, you have to hope that you’ll be successful. But there’s a difference between hoping your candidate will succeed and really, really believing it.
With campaign professionals, it’s sometimes a case of believing your own spin. These are people who should know better, who see more data than just about everyone, but sometimes still drink the Kool-Aid. Maybe this is necessary to keep yourself sane and motivated when working on a losing campaign, I don’t know.
With ordinary voters, it may be a case of lack of information — people getting their news from people who share their viewpoint.
Whether it’s rejecting news you don’t like or never seeking that different point of view in the first place, the end result is the same: a disconnect from reality, and huge disappointment when that reality sets in.
It’s a natural human tendency, and one everyone has to combat. One of my personal mottos is designed to do just that: “never trust any information that reinforces something you already believe.”
That’s not to say information that backs up your beliefs is wrong. But we’re naturally inclined to believe it, so we should be suspicious of it and make sure we’re accepting that information because it’s right, and not just because we want it to be right.