Category Archives: Polling

Midday Election Observations

My teaching/advising duties are stretching me thin today, so I’m a bit slower with this post than I expected.  As I noted in last night’s post, however, the state-based forecast models are all showing an Obama victory in the Electoral College, with very high probabilities. (Keep in mind that the probability of victory is not the same as the predicted margin of victory!)  So Drew Linzer is holding steady with Obama winning 332-206, while Sam Wang has Obama up 312-226, although his website promises an update.   Simon Jackman’s model is also leaning toward 332 votes for Obama, although that is based on Florida going for the President.  That race is still too close call, however, as you can see by this chart.

Meanwhile, as I have suggested would happen, it appears that the national polls have moved slightly in Obama’s favor in the last week, bringing them closer in line with the state-level polling.  Here’s a chart from Mark Blumenthal’s Pollster.com site showing the latest national polls:

Pollster.com now has Obama up 48.1-46.7% in the national polls.  RealClearPolitics has the national race tighter, with Obama up 48.7-48.1%.  So both the national and state-level polls now have Obama ahead.

What might happen to upset these predictions?  It would have to be systematic error in the state-level polls. I have said before that the final state poll averages have proved accurate in the past but it is possible that they are underestimating Romney’s support – or overestimating Obama’s.  In short, there would have to be a turnout differential that the likely voter screens are systematically missing for Romney to win this race.  Certainly the Republicans are more enthusiastic relative to Democrats than was the case four years ago, and Romney’s organization is not facing a resource disparity vis a vis Obama’s either.   I could see the case for why that might boost his final support a bit higher relative to Obama’s than the polls are indicating.  But how much higher?   Let us assume the polls are understating Romney’s support relative to Obama’s by 2%.  If we reduce the gap by that much, that would clinch Florida for Romney and bring Colorado and Virginia into virtual ties.  But even if we give all three states to Romney – and assume he wins North Carolina – he still falls short with 257 electoral votes. If we inch up his support a hair more, he might squeak by in Iowa – still not enough.  At this point I don’t see Obama losing Ohio.  So even the most optimistic assessment of the polls from Romney’s perspective still has this race an uphill climb.

A couple of other thoughts.  First, I don’t agree that Romney’s decision to run television ads in Pennsylvania was a bluff, or a diversion.  I think it made sense. He and Obama have hammered away at each other in Ohio for months, and the state hasn’t budged.  In Pennsylvania, however, Obama has much less of a presence, so Romney‘s strategists likely viewed it as a soft target more amenable to stealing.   Right now, however, the polls still have Obama up by 5% there, so it is going to take a huge closing surge for Romney to win.

Second point to remember: if the first wave of exit polls is released  late afternoon – pay them no heed! They haven’t been adjusted yet to take into account turnout figures.

Everyone and their cousin has advice on how to read tonight’s returns.  To me it comes down to Florida for Romney and Ohio for Obama. If the night starts out with Romney losing Florida, the race is over.  If Obama loses Ohio, it’s game on.

A reminder – I’ll be live blogging while doing commentary tonight at the Karl Rove Crossroads Cafe.  Hope to see you there (if you are local) or online.

More later.

When in Danger, When In Doubt, Run In Circles, Scream and Shout!

I’m home after another long, long day of teaching and then another election talk, but I wanted to comment briefly on today’s Pew poll which has driven many Obama supporters to despair.  That poll has Mitt Romney up by 4%, 49%-45%, over Barack Obama among likely voters, and tied at 46% among registered voters.  This is a sharp turnaround from the last Pew poll in the field Sept. 12-16, which had Romney trailing Obama by 8%, 51%-43%.   The latest poll represents a 12% gain by Romney in less than a month – a turnaround that just rubs salt in the wound for Democrats already reeling from polls suggesting that Romney cleaned Obama’s clock in the most heavily watched first presidential debate since 1980, when incumbent Jimmy Carter squared off against Ronald Reagan in their only debate. (The figures for the Romney-Obama debate do not include those who viewed it on social media.)

Consistent with other polls, Pew found that Romney was viewed as doing a better job in the debate by 72-20%.  This included 78% of independents and even 45% of Democrats who thought Romney bested Obama.* As debate polls go, this is a rather significant drubbing; rarely do we see such a lop-sided verdict, particularly among the “loser’s” own partisan supporters.  If the polls are to be believed, Romney’s debate “victory” has led to a significant tightening of the race, both nationally and in the critical swing states.  For example, Gallup’s pre- and post-debate polls indicate that Romney has moved from a 5% deficit into a tie with Obama among registered voters.

In the RealClearPolitics composite poll, we see a similar result, with Obama’s 3.1% lead on the day before the debate dwindling to .5% tonight.

We see a similar effect in state-level polling in battleground states. In Michigan, the latest poll has Romney within 3% in a state considered out of reach just a week ago.   Colorado, Florida and Virginia are now essentially dead heats, and Romney has moved within 3% of Obama in the critical state of Ohio, a state in which he trailed by nearly 6% before the debate.

All this is a reminder of two points I have made repeatedly: first, national tides raise all of Romney’s state-based boats.  Too often pundits view states as having their own unique constituencies.  But the reality is that both candidates are fighting over the same type of undecided voters across all states, and if one candidate is able to win over these undecideds, it will boost his support across all the battleground states.  We see precisely this effect occurring after the debate.

Second – and in what some may view as a contradiction of my first point – we should not overestimate the impact of the first debate.   I have been arguing for some time now that the state-level battleground polls will gradually align with the national tracking polls.  At the same time, I have claimed that the economic fundamentals indicate that this will be a very close race (the mean prediction of the dozen or so political science forecast models has Obama winning slightly more than 50% of the two-party vote.)  If the mean forecast model is correct, Obama will win by a far smaller margin than what the national tracking polls were saying for most of September.  And if we factor in the uncertainty surrounding those forecasts, many political scientists believe this election is a dead heat. For that reason I was reasonably confident that the September polls indicating that Obama was running away with this race were overstating his support due, in part I believe, to how pollsters were constructing their likely voter screens.  What Wednesday’s debate did, I suspect, is to impact Pew’s likely voter screen in ways that increased the number of Republican respondents they included in their final poll relative to Democrats.  In other words, the debate didn’t switch votes so much as it increased Republicans’ enthusiasm for their candidate enough so that it affected Pew’s likely voter screen.

As evidence, consider the gender gap. One of the more surprising findings from the Pew poll is that Romney has apparently drawn even with Obama among women. Last month, for reasons that I discussed in a recent Economist post, Obama led Romney among women by 18 points, 56%-38%.  If the latest Pew poll is to be believed, Romney has now drawn even with the President with women, at 47%.  Did he really erase Obama’s lead among women in less than a month?  I suspect not.  Instead, I think this is probably a function of how Pew constructed their sample after Wednesday’s debate.

My bottom line is that Wednesday’s debate focused enough attention on the fundamentals to erase Obama’s polling lead which was largely based on his relative advantage in framing this race in a way that played to his strengths.  But we shouldn’t overreact and buy into Pew’s results which indicate that Romney has now established a substantial lead.  Instead, my read of the composite polls indicates that the race, as of today, stands almost exactly where I have been arguing it has stood for the last two months.  Obama is ahead, but by the slimmest of margins.

Game on!

*An earlier version of this post had those numbers slightly off – I’ve corrected them here.

Early Voting, National Polls, Bachmann, Biden and…er….Hard Wood

Here’s what’s happening in the presidential race:

First, within the next two days, half of all states will see residents begin casting their presidential ballot, through some combination of either early or absentee voting provisions. In 32 states and the District of Columbia, any qualified voter may cast a ballot in person during a designated period prior to Election Day. All states offer some form of absentee ballots, with 27 of them, along with D.C., permitting any qualified voter to request an absentee ballot with no explanation needed. In 21 states, an excuse is needed.  Approximately 46 million people, or a bit more than 1/3 of voters, are expected to take advantage of these provisions in this election cycle – up from the 30% who did so in 2008.  Typically, non-Hispanic whites make up a greater proportion of the early vote than they do the election-day turnout (this was the case in the 2010 midterms), so it is crucial that Romney – who is likely to draw more heavily on this voting bloc – already have his get-out-the-vote (GOTV) organization in place.  Note, however, that in 2008, minorities were a greater proportion of the early vote than they were on Election Day – a testament to both the historic nature of Obama’s candidacy and his superior GOTV organization. I expect the Romney camp to do better with the early vote than did McCain four years ago. But it is a reminder that the campaign season is actually shorter than the election calendar indicates, which builds on a point Stuart made in his comments on my last post: among a sizeable chunk of voters, the time for Romney to close the gap is shorter than you might realize

Speaking of gaps – or a lack thereof – Obama campaign manager Jim Messina is downplaying daily tracking polls by Gallup and by Rasmussen that show Obama and Romney in a dead heat.   Messina argues that we should focus instead on the battleground states, most of which see Obama leading in the polls.  Because of Obama’s lead in these key states, Messina believes, “[T]he national polls aren’t relevant to this campaign.”

I would make two points here. First, while it is true that both the Gallup and the Rasmussen national daily tracking polls are showing, as of this morning, that Obama and Romney are tied, most other national polls are still showing Obama leading this race.  As a result, in the RealClearPolitics aggregate poll, Obama still leads by 3.3%, 48.1-44.8%.  In my view, that national number is more telling than the statewide polls in battleground states, mainly because  – as I’ve said several times before – Obama is unlikely to win the Electoral College while losing the national vote. Yes, it can happen – but I wouldn’t want to count on it.  So, national polls matter – if Romney gains nationally, he’s likely to pull closer in the battleground states as well.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann continues to raise more campaign dough than anyone else in the House aside from Speaker Boehner himself, and she does it largely through small contributions. I note this because journalists often cite small donors as better representing middle America, as opposed to wealthy fat cat donors who contribute big checks in order to buy political access.  The reality, however, as my colleague Bert Johnson has talked about, is that these small donors are typically drawn not from moderate voters, but instead from the two parties’ extreme partisan wings.  That’s why Bachmann, one of the Republican Party’s more conservative members, does so well raising money in small bills.  Similarly, Obama’s advantage over Romney among small donors – 30% of his contributions last month were in donations of $200 or less last month – probably should not be read as a sign that he is drawing better among moderate voters, or is somehow tapping into “middle” America. Instead, these are the party activists who are representative of the very group that make it so difficult for elected officials to bring change “from the inside”.

Finally, there’s this latest Joe Biden story – another reminder of why part of me secretly hopes Obama wins reelection and we get four more years of Joe on the national stage.  Last week the Vice President made an unscheduled stop at a high school in Newport, New Hampshire – a key battleground state – where he gave a shout-out to the various sports teams – football, soccer, lacrosse, etc.  – dressed in their uniforms.  Joe then asked if any other teams were represented:

“Cheerleaders,’’ a group of girls shouted.

“Guess what, the cheerleaders in college are the best athletes in college.’’ VPOTUS told them. “You think, I’m joking, they’re almost all gymnasts, the stuff they do on hard wood, it blows my mind.’’

“Anyway it’s so great to see you guys.’’

To avoid any trouble, I think I’ll simply stop here, and let Joe have the last word.

Scratch that last line.  Let’s let Jill Biden have the last word (video link courtesy of Kate Hamilton):

The GDP Numbers Are In – Do They Say Obama Will Win?

The much awaited second quarter GDP growth figure came out yesterday and, while it wasn’t a disaster, neither was it particularly good sign for the economy – or for President Obama’s reelection chances.  The government’s first estimate (they often revise the figure as new data comes in) is that GDP grew at an anemic 1.5% – a .5% drop from first quarter growth, and only half of the growth rate experienced during the last quarter of 2011.   This downward trend line is not what an incumbent president wants to see heading into an election.

As you know from reading my previous posts, GDP growth is one way of measuring one of the key “fundamentals” – the state of the economy – that I have been arguing is far more important to the election outcome than the Bain controversy or Obama’s verbal “gaffes”.  But it isn’t the only factor influencing the election, and so we shouldn’t overstate its significance either.  Peter Cahill has gathered data on second quarter GDP growth in every election year dating back to 1948, and correlated it with the actual share of the major-party vote won by the incumbent presidential party’s candidate.

Think of the trend line as the “real” linear relationship between GDP growth and vote share. If we plug 1.5% into the equation defining that line, it predicts that Obama will get about 50.3% of the two-party vote come November based on 2nd quarter GDP growth alone.  However, as you can see from the graph, while higher GDP growth generally correlates with a greater vote share, the relationship is not perfect; GDP growth only explains about 36% of the variation in vote share.  So a lot of other factors are going to come into play.  What are they?  As I discussed in yesterday’s post for the Economist’s DIA blog, Emory political scientist Alan Abramowitz’ “Time for A Change” forecast model adds three additional variables to second quarter GDP growth: the incumbent’s net approval (approval minus disapproval) in the Gallup poll at the end of June, how long the incumbent’s party has held the presidency and – in a recent innovation – a “polarization” term that takes into account the increased polarization of the electorate since 1996.  With yesterday’s GDP release, all the figures are in place for Abramowitz to predict Obama’s share of the major party vote come November.

Drum roll please!

By plugging the relevant numbers into the Abramowitz forecast equation, it spits out Obama’s predicted share of the major party vote come November as 50.5% – not much different from our estimate based only on second-quarter GDP growth. Based on the confidence interval around this prediction, Abramowitz estimates that if history holds Obama has about a two-thirds probability of winning the election.

This is an estimate, mind you, based on data from a small number (16!) of previous presidential elections.  But I would argue that it is better than a guess – Abramowitz’s model has performed generally quite well in out-of-sample forecasts, coming within 1.5% of the actual vote about three-quarters of the time. On the other hand, I  wouldn’t bet my kid’s tuition, based on this one model, that Obama will be victorious.  In short, it is telling us what pretty much every other  indicator suggests: that this is going to be a very, very close election but that Obama can be considered a very slight  favorite.

So, does this mean the outcome is already in the bag, and that what happens from here on out doesn’t matter.  Not at all.  Campaigns do matter – see my previous posts here and here.  And in terms of consequences, in such a close election,  they arguably matter even more this time around.

Abramowitz’s model, of course, is only one of several constructed by political scientists and, as I discussed in my Economist post, his recent change to his model is not sitting well with everyone. (I’ll discuss this in a separate post.) By my count, there were more than a dozen econometric-based forecast models in 2008.  Although they were all, save one, able to predict Obama’s victory, they weren’t equally reliable in forecasting the actual popular vote (although they did pretty well in the aggregate). And, of course, as we get closer to the actual election,  none of them will be as reliable as simply aggregating the public opinion polls, which is what Sam Wang, Nate Silver and others will end up doing.  So why discuss them at all?  Because the best ones remind us that there is a context to this election which largely determines how it will turn out.  And right now that context is saying that this election may be too close to call.

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.