November 30, 2012
It’s no secret that the Romney campaign believed it was headed for victory on Election Day. A handful of outlets have reported that Team Romney’s internal polling showed North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia moving safely into his column and that it put him ahead in a few other swing states. When combined with Ohio, where the internal polling had him close, Romney was on track to secure all the electoral votes he needed to win the White House. The confidence in these numbers was such that Romney even passed on writing a concession speech, at least before the crotchety assignment-desk known as “reality” finally weighed in.
Less well-known, however, are the details of the polls that led Romney to believe he was so close to the presidency. Which other swing states did Romney believe he was leading in, and by how much? What did they tell him about where to spend his final hours of campaigning? Why was his team so sanguine about its own polling, even though it often parted company with the publicly available data? In an exclusive to The New Republic, a Romney aide has provided the campaign’s final internal polling numbers for six key states, along with additional breakdowns of the data, which the aide obtained from the campaign’s chief pollster, Neil Newhouse. Newhouse himself then discussed the numbers with TNR.
The numbers include internal polls conducted on Saturday, November 3, and Sunday, November 4, for Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, and New Hampshire. According to Newhouse, the campaign polled daily, then combined the results into two-day averages. The numbers for each day along with the averages are displayed in the chart below, followed by the actual result in each state:
The first thing you notice is that New Hampshire and Colorado are pretty far off the mark. In New Hampshire, the final internal polling average has Romney up 3.5 points, whereas he lost by 5.6. In Colorado, the final internal polling average has Romney up 2.5 points; he lost by 5.4. “I’m not sure what the answer is,” Newhouse told me, explaining that his polls were a lot more accurate in most of the other swing states. “The only ones we had that really seemed to be off were Colorado—a state that even Obama’s people tweeted they thought it was going to be one of their closest states—and the New Hampshire numbers, which seemed to bounce a lot during the campaign.”
This is mostly true, but not entirely. Set aside Florida and Virginia, for which I don’t have internal poll numbers, but which the campaign apparently believed it was poised to win. Among those I do have, the Iowa number is also questionable, showing the race tied even though Romney ended up losing by almost 6 points. If Romney’s internal polling number in Iowa was roughly accurate, it would imply that Obama won every single undecided voter in the state, something that’s highly unlikely. (Newhouse didn't respond when I emailed him a follow-up question about Iowa.)
Together, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Iowa go most of the way toward explaining why the Romney campaign believed it was so well-positioned. When combined with North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia—the trio of states the Romney campaign assumed were largely in the bag—Romney would bank 267 electoral votes, only three shy of the magic number. Furthermore, according to Newhouse, the campaign’s final internal polls had Romney down a mere two points in Ohio—a state that would have put him comfortably over the top—and Team Romney generally believed it had momentum in the final few days of the race.
[More, including Charts of the internal polls, at the link]: