Political operatives live and die by polling data. The last thing they want is to be surprised on election day, and polls, when done right, are a timely indication of what’s working in the campaign’s messaging and what isn’t. But the 2012 election was remarkable because the mostly black-and-white world of political statistics became a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Instead of using what the polls told them to alter and improve their campaigns, candidates and campaign staffs insisted the data was wrong and embraced their own version of reality. Even while weekly polls and then daily tracking polls showed trouble brewing for Mitt Romney and the GOP ticket, Republicans claimed the numbers were skewed. The polls oversampled Democrats, critics said, or were massively optimistic about how many blacks, Latinos, women and young people would actually vote.
Unskewedpolls.com became the rallying point for such believers. It didn’t help things that statistical wizard Nate Silver, creator of the political blog FiveThirtyEight, which averaged data from every major poll around the country, consistently had Obama leading by a fairly comfortable margin. Democrats and Republicans went back and forth in the media for months arguing over the validity of his numbers. But in the end, Silver was proven right. He predicted that Obama would win with 313 electoral votes to Romney’s 225 (the tally was 332 for Obama and 206 for Romney), making Silver just about the most accurate pundit this year.