How? Simple -- I paid attention to the polls, I did my own anecdotal weighting of those polls based on how I thought the demographics would break down (e.g. I thought the polling was under-weighted with respect to likely actual Latino turnout, especially in Florida and Nevada), and I took a cue from what the campaigns were concentrating on over the last few weeks (Obama spent the final month in hardcore "get the voters I already have in pocket to the polls" mode, while Romney got bogged down in "try to get those last few undecided voters to decide on me" mode).
That's pretty much all there was to the handicapping. No rocket science, no crystal balls, no tarot cards, and most of all, no inclusion of any personal preferences in my calculations (it helped that I didn't really have any personal preferences).
As to how we arrived at the situation leading into the result, a few thoughts:
- Romney did not lose because he was "not libertarian enough" and certainly not because he was "too libertarian." Nor did he lose because he was "too conservative" or "not conservative enough." Ideology had very little to do with the result. The ideologues knew for whom they would be voting for months ago.
- The conventional wisdom is that late undecideds tend to break for the challenger rather than for the incumbent, and for the centrist rather than for the more extreme choice. The real truth is that late undecideds tend to break for the candidate who has a story and sticks to that story. That break usually favors the challenger, who can frame a devastating critique of the incumbent and hammer that critique home without much variation while the incumbent has to be all over the map defending each and every screw-up of the previous four years. This year that break favored the incumbent. Obama stuck resolutely to his story, while Romney got caught up in a constantly shifting pander-bear routine.
- Which takes me back to January, when I asserted that Newt Gingrich was the only candidate who had both a shot at the GOP nomination and a chance of beating Obama. Gingrich will piss down your back and tell you it's raining -- and if you turn around and catch him with his pecker still out and dripping, he'll get huffy and ask you if you believe him or your own lying eyes. The only time Romney showed that kind of backbone was with his "Jeep is getting ready to move to China" play, which failed not so much because it was a bald-faced lie as because it was a bald-faced lie aimed precisely at the only constituency in America who knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, that it was a bald-faced lie (voters in Ohio's auto manufacturing areas).