Changing the Abramowitz Presidential Forecast Model: Is It Science?

Beginning today I’ll be posting on a weekly basis (or more frequently) over at the Economist‘s Democracy In America blog site.  My first post, addressing Alan Abramowitz’s recent changes to his presidential forecast model, is up there now (here).  Although I can’t cross-post anything I write for the Economist here, I will be sure to put up a link whenever I post there, and I encourage you to take peek.

As you might expect, given the Economist’s audience, I may have to be just a bit less irreverent and insouciant (you aren’t likely to see an entire “conversation”” with Sarah Palin written in palindromes, or political allegories involving Kim Kardashian for example), but otherwise I plan on addressing the same issues, from the same non-partisan perspective, as you’ve come to expect here at the Presidential Power site.  And I will continue posting here as well – we’ve built up a pretty good readership over four years and I enjoy the bipartisan and thoughtful nature of the comments and the intellectual exchange.  You don’t  get that at very many political blogs.

So, go take a peek at my inaugural post at the Economist, but remember to check back here for my regular postings.  As always, if you prefer to be put on the distribution list for postings here, drop me an email at dickinso@middlebury.edu.  Your email address remains private.

4 comments

  1. Ah, Matt, don’t you think the Economist could use a tad more irreverence? And they do do cheeky…so you’ll just have to modify the style a bit.

    Leave is great over here in Europe, by the way. I’m only getting overwhelmed by the heavy hand of government when it comes to immigration/residence law. But then again, I guess we aren’t that different, after all…but gas prices are $9/gallon. Glad I don’t need a car with the fine public transportation. ;-)

  2. Jeff,

    Cheeky is a British thing, isn’t it? I take it that Mitt’s recent performance has bolstered your stature as an American abroad?

    $9 a gallon? Drill, baby, Drill! (And in the meantime buy a scooter!)

  3. Retrofitting seems to be in vogue these days. It would seem to be difficult for political scientists to make accurate predictions based on variables as volatile as the weather. Does it matter that today’s number could be revised dramatically upward or downward a year from now as recent history suggests? Another potential problem for the Abromowitz model from my admitted lay perspective is his reliance on Gallup alone for approval variable. Gallup’s sample changed in the month of June to include a greater representation of non-white voters. Perhaps the change makes Gallup’s numbers more accurate, but it would seem to show a greater increase in approval than what might be expected had the sample been more accurate to begin with.

    I don’t think changing a model very close to an election builds confidence either. I don’t completely think the electorate is as polarized as Prof Abromowitz suggests. I am fairly partisan but I voted for Clinton in 96. He didn’t seem to be much further left than Dole in all honesty and the economy was humming along. President Obama, however, is generally viewed to be further left from some polling data I have seen. It is my opinion that President lost the confidence of independents rather early and doesn’t seem very likely to recover that confidence prior to the election. Clinton had time to show pragmatism in governing. Obama also had time but has not really convinced people he was the pragmatic problem solver he claimed in 08. I am sure there are plenty of readers here who lean to the left who will disagree with that assessment but the polls tend to back my opinion.

    Abromowitz could have easily named the variable ideological fit or perceived vocal ability for that matter. His model wasn’t all that accurate to begin with but probably good enough when an election wasn’t tight to pick the winner. I would think even if his correction proves closer this time it doesn’t prove polarization was indeed the factor. For the record though, as someone with a masters in psych, I am rooting for “soft sciences” anyway. I am somewhat optimistic as reliable forecasting model might in fact lessen polarization if that makes any sense.

  4. Mary Sue – Great post. Lots of stuff I could respond to, but let me focus on the polarization issue. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. There’s real debate among political scientists regarding just how polarized the public is (there’s much less debate re: how polarized political elites, such as members of Congress are). Abramowitz falls on the side of an increasingly polarized public, hence his inclusion of the polarization variable starting in 1996. But not everyone would agree. See, for instance, the research by Mo Fiorina and his co-researchers, published in his books Culture Wars? The Myth of a Polarized America, and his more recent Disconnect. Both provide evidence suggesting Americans may not be as polarized as many thinks. Of course, this affects Abramowitz’ forecast model. Your second point – that Gallup changed its sampling procedures in June – conceivably may have increased the spread between Obama’s approval and disapproval (Abramowitz measures the net difference between presidential approval and disapproval for his June variable). But that would only affect his forecast model at the margins (likely less than 1/2% of his predicted vote share for Obama). Finally, you are right that some elections are easier to forecast – this year it is very likely that even the best forecast models are not going to be able to project a winner. The race is simply too close to call.

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