For a political scientist, last night’s outcomes were very, very satisfying. To begin, viewed in the aggregate, the structural-based forecast models issued by last September hit the two-party popular vote share almost exactly on the head, as of this moment. (As long time readers know, because there are so many different structural models, I take their average and median forecasts as my best estimate of what is going to happen.) To refresh your memory, those models indicated that Obama would win 50.3% of the two-party vote, on average, with a median forecast of 50.6%. Right now, Obama’s share of the two party vote is about 51%. Not bad.
Meanwhile, the state-based polling aggregators also performed as expected, with Sam Wang and Drew Linzer and Simon Jackman (I apologize to the others out there who also got it right) – pending the Florida outcome – also hitting their Electoral College projections exactly on the mark. Yes, these models don’t tell us why the election turned out as it did, but they demonstrated once again that the best way to predict an election is to ask a sample of voters the day before how they are likely to vote.
So yesterday was a huge victory for political scientists. But we can’t, as a profession, let down our guard. There are pundits out there, still roaming the political landscape, spreading their punditry to the unsuspecting masses. As I drove home last night, I heard on the NPR the first discussion of the “M-word” – (pssst – “mandate”). Let’s be clear, no matter how much pundits say otherwise, Obama did not win a mandate last night, either prospectively or retrospectively. What he won was a seat at the governing table for another four years – a seat from which he will find his reach growing gradually shorter as his term progresses. All this seat provides is an opportunity to do what most presidents are allowed to do: suggest an agenda, and then draw on one’s formal powers and whatever residual influence one might have by virtue of public support and reputation to bargain with the opposing party to implement that agenda. In this case, Republicans are going to point out that the election essentially was a vote for the status quo – not for change in Democrat’s direction. Let the bargaining begin, starting with that fiscal cliff.
I’ll be on with a more extensive post-election analysis, but I leave you with a final warning: now that the election is over, pundits can go back to pundicating without fear that results might prove them wrong.
Meanwhile, I leave you with this visual image (pardon my French):