Republicans in 2012 made a pretty bad error denouncing polls they did not believe. Turns out most of the polls the Republicans relied on showing what they hoped — a Romney win — were wrong. The polls they vigorously denounced were right.
Democrats, though, made a mistake too that only now is visible. Democrats believed the polls that showed Barack Obama would win. But in the dust up over all the polling that showed him losing, in the dust up over Romney suddenly seemingly having an edge after the first debate, and in the staggering victory the President had, Democrats convinced themselves too much that it was Organizing for Action's ground game that saved them.
When the President turned Organizing for America into Organizing for Action, then let it trade data with the Democratic National Committee, Democrats rejoiced and Republicans shook with fear. When Terry McAuliffe beat Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia, many Democrats thought the turn out model and OFA action plan were solid.
But there was vastly more to it and it is vastly less than it is.
Turns out the Democrats' winning coalition is and was Barack Obama's coalition. The coalition votes in election years for Barack Obama and others get to ride his coat tails. Virginia was not all about the Democrats' national strategy. There were many other factors to it.
Democrats are starting to realize it too. After all the work and headway made in Florida, Alex Sink lost in Florida 13. Despite pouring ample national resources into Texas, Wendy Davis is floundering. More and more outside objective projections suggest the Republicans will not only keep the House, but will gain the Senate and hold a lot of state legislative and executive seats too.
Certainly, in close races operations, targeting, and get out the vote operations (GOTV) matter a great deal. But if it ain't close, it doesn't matter as much. And it turns out that the single thing that outweighs Organizing for Action, GOTV models, and micro targeting is the candidate. If voters don't like him, they won't vote for him.
The voters in the coalition the Democrats built turned out for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. In 2010, despite begging the young, women, and minorities to turn out to keep hope and change going, the disaffected turned out even more. In 2012, Barack Obama's coalition turned out again and his press operation turned his data analysis and voter targeting guys into media legends. They believed their own press and made bigger headlines when they bragged about spinning off their operation into a private enterprise Barack Obama's team would run.
It looks like it is becoming Karl Rove's permanent Republican majority all over again. Gone are the hagiographic press clippings comparing Rove to Mark Hanna. Now, it's Jim Messina's turn to be compared to James Carville.
Ultimately, however, it is about the man and the policies. Voters are turning against Barack Obama and have never even turned in favor of his core initiative — the Affordable Care Act. The Democrats are forced to use shrill attacks on the Koch Brothers to keep their base energized. But energizing a base on hate does not last.
What the Democrats will do to offset their turnout operation is voter suppression efforts. They will use every story possible to embarrass Republicans. Attacks on the Republican base; mischaracterization of statements; taking remarks out of context; highlighting unknown Republicans at the local, county, and state level who've said something that can be spun — you name it, the Democrats will do it to suppress and depress Republican turnout and commitment.
Democrats will abandon the case for themselves and instead try to keep Republicans at home or embarrass them into voting for a Democrat. You will see the full media bias as national news networks, newspapers, and web sites focus on random local Republican politicians demanding to know if candidates X, Y, and Z support that person's remarks.
2014 looks to be a terrible year for Democrats, made worse because they now realize their coalition was never their’s to begin with. It was, is, and always will be Barack Obama's. But even he is largely powerless to summon it for others when he is not on the ballot. This will make 2016 even more exciting to watch too.