As a result, most reporters did not anticipate the extent of the 49-state landslide in which Nixon racked up 61 percent of the vote. Liberal columnist Mary McGrory, who was always an indefatigable reporter, was gulled by a leaked late October McGovern canvass sheet showing the South Dakota senator supposedly fending off Nixon in the blue-collar Detroit suburb of Hamtramck. New York Times reporter Adam Clymer theorized from his own door-knocking in Ohio that voters were embarrassed to admit they were secretly backing McGovern. Smart reporters on the McGovern plane thought that Nixon might win by 5 percentage points, and not, as it turned out, by 23 points.

This is what happens when—devoid of reliable polling—political reporting is governed by instinct, hunch and whispered campaign plane conversations. Maybe there is romance in resisting the gimlet-eyed clarity of regression analyses of the state surveys. But given a choice of a campaign shaped by polls or one in which reporters try to divine the sentiments of the voters through the size and enthusiasm of crowds, please sign me for Politics 2012.


Walter Shapiro just chronicled his ninth presidential campaign. He writes the “Character Sketch” political column for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter @WalterShapiroPD.