John Sides has a great article in Salon, Romney Likely Loser, Even Without Famous Video. It puts some numbers behind what I’ve long been saying: the 47% video didn’t change the election. My argument is based upon how people think. If the video showed Romney sneaking out of his campaign bus to give cash out to the homeless, it wouldn’t have gone viral; no one really thought that Romney was the kind of guy to do that. The 47% video, on the other hand, was a big deal because it seemed to show Romney in an unguarded moment being exactly what everyone already thought he was: a plutocrat who thinks he is above everyone else.
Sides (along with his colleague Lynn Vavreck) look at this question from the standpoint of the polling data. What it shows it that for a short period of time, a number of Romney supporters (about 5 percentage points or 10% of his total support) became “undecided.” But as soon as the first debate was over, they came back to the fold.
This basic dynamic happened to Obama after the first debate. Some of Obama’s supporters started claiming they were undecided. They all came back after the second debate. And Romney’s gains after the first debate? They were just people who claimed to be undecided but were always going to vote for Romney. In the end, the main reason Obama won re-election was not his campaign; it was his get out the vote machine.
We make a big mistake when we overstate how important the minutia of campaigns are. Of course it’s exciting and fun for us political junkies. And given that the stakes really are high, it is easy to forget that it is mostly just a bunch of people like us who are even paying attention. But look back at the poll aggregators. Nate Silver, for example, never had Romney ahead once the general election had started. There were no wild swings. And the minor swings there were were based on supporters of one candidate getting mad and claiming to be undecided when they really weren’t.