By Mark Mellman - 01/18/12 04:45 PM EST
As a graduate student, I designed a research project that required me to watch hundreds of hours of network television news broadcasts from the 1960s and ’70s. Slogging through this excruciating task, I couldn’t help but notice two facts unrelated to my research: A lot of the news consisted of predictions about future trends or events, and many of those predictions never materialized.
That experience left me feeling obligated to account for the accuracy of my predictions here. For the most part, I am pleased to say, they were on target, though in some instances the jury is still out, and in others, well, I was wrong.
In March, I asserted that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) war against public employees and their unions would hurt him. It did. Walker’s negative job rating shot up 13 points afterward.
File my March prediction that women would flee the GOP under “not true yet.” While women remain more Democratic than men, mass defections from the GOP haven’t materialized.
Dissecting the Republican nominating process in May, I argued that winning requires victories “in one or the other of these ‘first’ states [Iowa or New Hampshire] before proceeding to potentially decisive showdowns in South Carolina, Nevada and perhaps Florida.” Several times during the year I noted that while Mitt Romney suffered from real weaknesses, he was likely to get the nomination and would be virtually unstoppable if he won Iowa. We haven’t reached the end of this road yet, but it still seems a good bet.
In October, I urged readers to “beware of caucus polling” because of volatility and methodology, “so while you breathlessly await the next set of Iowa poll results, feel free to breathe deeply and ignore them.” Sound advice. Those next polls put Herman Cain in front and Rick Santorum next to last.
Earlier, in June, when Cain was polling at about 5 percent, I maintained he had a real chance. Months later, when Cain shot up to No. 1 nationally and in Iowa, I felt vindicated, though honestly, one could have written the same about every minor Republican cast member, except Jon Huntsman, and been right.
I also prognosticated about Democrats. Before President Obama’s State of the Union Address, I reminded readers that while it would be well-received, such speeches typically have little impact on approval ratings. History proved a good guide. Though more than 80 percent of viewers approved of the proposals in the speech, and 60 percent credited the president with a clear plan to create jobs, his approval rating was at the same 50 percent after the speech as it was before.
By contrast, before the polls were in, history suggested killing Osama bin Laden would give the president a significant but short-lived bounce, mainly from Republicans and independents. Again, the past proved prologue, though frankly I expected something a bit bigger than the 7-point lift the president received.
In May, I argued that Democrats could win the debate over Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) Medicare plan decisively if we focused on GOP efforts to end Medicare by “cutting benefits and putting insurance-company bureaucrats in charge of seniors’ healthcare.” Today, most Republicans would concede we won that message battle.
Perhaps most importantly, I predicted Obama will win reelection. Of course, the jury is still out, but I’d double down on that assessment.
Occasionally, I cast an eye abroad, most significantly on Egypt as its revolution began. While many then held high hopes for a flowering of liberal democracy in that ancient country, I warned, based on polls, that “an Egypt truly representative of its citizens will be (1) resolutely anti-American, (2) nominally democratic and (3) intensely theocratic … [which] leaves plenty of political space for [the] radical Muslim Brotherhood to operate successfully.” By August, the State Department was complaining publicly about anti-Americanism, a concern that intensified as U.S. NGOs were raided in January. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood, together with the even more fundamentalist Salafist party, captured more than 70 percent of the parliament.
So, all in all, while reading this column might not have expanded your storehouse of knowledge, at least it wasn’t detrimental.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).