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Asymmetric Beliefs Can Lead to Bad Outcomes

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This may, believe it or not, be the scariest thing I’ve ever read about the modern GOP:

Romney advisers are telling CBS News that there wasn’t one person on the Romney campaign who saw the loss coming, and the GOP presidential candidate was “shellshocked” by the results. Here’s what they have to say:

  • “We went into the evening confident we had a good path to victory…I don’t think there was one person who saw this coming.”
  • “There’s nothing worse than when you think you’re going to win, and you don’t…It was like a sucker punch.”
  • Romney “was shellshocked.”

The CBS story indicates that the Romney team even bought into the “unskewed polls” theory, believing that the polls dramatically underestimated Republican turnout and overestimated Democratic enthusiasm.

This report comes after other indications that the Romney campaign was disregarding polling data.

It’s one thing for the rubes to believe that an election is in the bag when the actual chances of victory are south of 10%; indeed, a good campaign requires creating the conditions for suspension of disbelief. It’s entirely another when the braintrust of the campaign has determined to smoke its own product. When I wrote this post, I didn’t really think that the core strategists in the campaign had abandoned connection with reality; rather, I figured it was mostly #2 and #3. Asymmetric beliefs about the probabilities of success in conflict can produce bad outcomes. Another way of phrasing is that it would be remarkably more reassuring to learn that the campaign was simply lying about its chances (and, of course, they may still be); lying, at least, can be entirely rational. See also Ari Kohen on the difference between hope and delusion.

As it happens, Dan Nexon and I chatted about this just today:

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