In the final months before the 2012 election, voter demographics and polls strongly suggested Mitt Romney was toast. But the Romney team—and, infamously, Karl Rove—believed until the bitter end that he would defeat President Obama. And the Romney campaign was so out-matched technologically that it could not conceive of how out-matched it was, a sort of an Election Singularity. Tonight the Iowa caucuses are a rematch of Gut vs. Math.
Politicians have always said whatever people want to hear. But how do they figure out what people want to hear? For Donald Trump, it seems to be pure instinct. For Ted Cruz, it’s very expensive science. Trump told The New York Times editorial board of his stump speeches, “You know, if it gets a little boring, if I see people starting to sort of, maybe thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, ‘We will build the wall!’ and they go nuts.” But Trump has been behind his rivals in building an infrastructure to get his supporters to the caucuses. His campaign seems to hope to overcome this with excitement.
Cruz, meanwhile, has to pay researchers to help him understand what Trump seems to know intuitively: how to give the people what they want. In the last three months of 2015, Cruz’s campaign paid Cambridge Analytica $3 million (and owes $633,000 more) to generate profiles of voters using consumer information and psychological analysis. Even while stumping for him, Glenn Beck mocked Cruz’s social skills, saying at a rally, “Dude, you are boring.”
Tonight’s contest is between the guy who shouts “Wall!” and the guy who pays millions of dollars for psychographic data to tell him to talk about a wall.