Wait, Campaigns Don’t Work? Political scientists are finding, it’s not usually to decide who wins the election.
It was not Mitt Romney’s best moment.
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” the former Massachusetts governor said at a private, $50,000-a-plate fund-raising dinner in May, as captured by a hidden video recording released to Mother Jones magazine and published online last week.
What he said next became a political flashpoint, as he went on to characterize the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay federal income tax as both deadbeats and Obama voters. (In fact, a sizeable chunk of that group is likely to vote for Romney.)
Still, that first simple assertion—he had already lost nearly half the voters in America—was shocking in its own right. Since when does a candidate for national office admit that he has no shot at the support of nearly half the country?
To political scientists, though Romney may have misidentified which 47 percent won’t vote for him, what he said wasn’t far off. As they estimate, somewhere around 43 percent of voters on each side are unbudgeable partisans, immune to even the wiliest charms of the opposing candidates.
And lurking behind this division is a surprising point that is becoming clearer to political scientists with every election: When it comes to choosing a president, campaigns matter far less than we think they do. The better political scientists get at forecasting election results, the more it appears that all this campaigning, these endless months of ads and gaffes and debates—it all accomplishes very little.