Tag Archives: 2012 presidential election

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.

Who Is Really Winning This Race?

Because I have been giving election talks with more frequency of late, I haven’t been able to post nearly as often as I would like.  In giving those talks, however, I am reminded (and I remind my audiences!) that, once again, looked at in the aggregate, the structural-based political science forecast models issued by Labor Day (or earlier) have proved remarkably  accurate.  For those new to this blog, the median forecast of the 11 political science forecast models that I reviewed in previous posts gave Obama 50.6% of the two-party vote.  The average forecast from those 11 models gave Obama 50.3% of the two-party vote.  Remember, this was before the debates, the tax returns, the “gaffes”, and all the other events cited by various pundits as potential game changers.  As of today, that aggregate median forecast (those who attend my talks will remember that the aggregate median forecast provides the basis of my election prediction) from two months ago looks like it will come very close to hitting the final Obama popular vote share squarely on the head if the national tracking polls are to be believed. This is no mean feat, in my book, and it is a reminder that political scientists have developed a decent understanding of the factors that drive presidential election outcomes.  It is reassuring that this election cycle has proved remarkably unsurprising in terms of its likely outcome.

Of course, while those structural models may be correct in predicting this race would essentially be a dead heat, they don’t tell us who is going to win, which is what most people want to know.  At this point, five days before the election, you are better off looking at the polls – state and national – which are probably going to be more accurate than structural models devised several months ago in predicting the winner (even if they are going to be far less useful in understanding why Obama, or Romney, won).  Several political scientists (and others) have developed Electoral College forecast models based on state-level polls, in contrast to the structural models which ignore polls entirely.  I present four of these state-based projections here. (Readers will remember that if I can’t see what goes into a prediction model, I don’t bother following its projections.  That’s a basic tenet among academics, and it explains why I ignore some of the more highly publicized state-based forecast models. )

As you can see, all four of these forecasts show, as of today, that Obama is likely to win the Electoral College vote, based on state-level polls.  This has led pundits at some sites, like this one at Mother Jones, to suggest that if all these prognosticators are predicting an Obama victory, it must be so.  But it would be a mistake to treat these forecasts as independent assessments.  In fact, all rely on the same set of state-level polls, and if the polls are wrong for some reason, all of the projections will be off as well.  Moreover, as several commentators have noted, the national tracking polls tell a slightly different story.  Consistent with the structural forecast models, they indicate that this race is actually a dead heat.   Indeed, some pundits, like Pollster.com’s Steve Lombardo, are convinced that the national tracking polls indicate that Romney is poised to win the national popular vote.  Lombardo writes,” Our current estimate (which we will update next Tuesday morning) suggests that Romney will capture 51 percent of the popular vote to Obama’s 48.5 percent. The trend line-based on 26 national polls conducted over the last 30 days –is both unmistakable and virtually unassailable.”

If Lombardo is right, there is virtually no chance that Obama will win the Electoral College vote.  The problem with this projection is that Lombardo assumes the trajectory of the trend line will continue unabated through Election Day. My read of the latest national tracking polls, however, suggests that Romney’s “momentum” has dissipated, and that the race has settled into a rather stable equilibrium, with neither candidate showing an advantage.   As evidence, consider the latest RCP composite poll, which shows the race essentially tied.

I have said all along that the state-level polls and the national polls will gradually converge.  But in whose favor?  In my next post, I’ll address evidence suggesting that Romney may benefit from an “enthusiasm” advantage among Republican voters. In the meantime, however, it is worth remembering that, once again, the “composite” political science forecast reveals that presidential elections are rather predictable affairs and that contrary to what some pundits have suggested, this election has – to date – contained few surprises.

So, who is really winning this race?  As of today, it is political scientists.

Rumors of Mitt’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

I know. I know. “Where have you been?!”   I appreciate the email inquiries.  The short answer is I’ve been trapped in my office, fending off an onslaught of students.  Such is the life of a departmental chair at a nationally-ranked liberal arts college.   There’s been other distractions as well associated with the start of the semester (teaching a new election class!), and with giving election-year talks.   So that’s my excuse for the scarcity of posts.  I’ll try to do better now as academic-related activities begin to slow.

Meanwhile, in my blogging absence, the presidential campaign has, apparently, all but ended, with Romney suffering an ignominious defeat.  Or so the pundits tell me.  Evidently, Mitt’s political “death” was precipitated by several causes.  First there was the disastrous Republican convention, lowlighted by Clint Eastwood talking to a chair.   That was followed by the brilliantly orchestrated Democratic Convention, highlighted by the Big Dog’s mesmerizing recitation of his…er….Obama’s accomplishments.  Then Romney dug himself a deeper hole by seeming to politicize Libyan Ambassador Chris Steven’s death through some ill-timed remarks.   Romney dumped the final shovelful on his own political grave by accusing 47% of voters – many of them presumably his own supporters – of suffering from  an “entitlement ethos” that makes them overly dependent on government programs.

That last “devastating” gaffe was enough to convince several pundits  (see here and here) that  Romney had “lost the election.”   Forgive me if I’m not persuaded, and why I think you should not be either.   Not surprisingly, of course, the pundits who are certifying that the campaign is over are all Obama supporters.  More importantly, however, is that the polling data, while indicating that Obama may have gained a couple of percentage points over Romney compared to the pre-convention polls, still show this as a tight race.  The latest Pollster.com aggregate poll has Obama up by 3%, at 48.1%-45.1.%.  On the day before the Republican convention, Obama led by 1.4% in their composite poll.  At RealClearPolitics, Obama leads by 3.9%, 48.6%-44.7%.  He was up by 1.4% there before the conventions.  So there is evidence that the cumulative polling impact of the “devastating” period (for Romney) has cost him about 1.6%-2.5% in the polls.  That’s not insignificant, particularly in a tight race, but I don’t see this as proof of Romney’s demise either.

In assessing the claims that we have just witnessed a turning point in the campaign, I suggest keeping several factors in mind.  First, neither candidate got a huge convention boost as measured  by historical standards although my read of the polls is that the net polling advantage in convention bumps went to Obama.  Already, however, we see signs that some of that initial Democratic convention bump has dissipated.

Second , as John Sides argues, the shelf-life of presidential candidates’ rhetorical gaffes is surprisingly short.   Here’s John’s chart showing just how little previous rhetorical gaffes, such as Obama’s “You didn’t build that” remark, have actually moved the polling needle.  Romney may have gained a percentage point or two due to Obama’s statements, but it’s hard to say that permanently changed the race, particularly since Romney’s support dipped down again shortly after.

As I’ve discussed previously, these remarks tend not to have much impact largely because they are filtered through voters’ preexisting ideological beliefs. For this reason, I doubt Mitt’s 47% comment is the game changer that partisan pundits predict/hope it will be.  Remember, campaigns tend not to change votes so much as they activate latent predispositions among voters.  Yes, it’s possible this time will be different, and that Mitt’s remarks really are a turning point. But in the absence of evidence indicating why this time should be different, forgive me if I don’t take the partisan pundits’ words for it.

Already, the talking heads are debating just how bad a candidate Mitt is.  But, while he may not be the most well-liked guy, it is not clear to me that he is underperforming the economic fundamentals by all that much, if at all, based on current polls.  Much depends, of course, on which forecast model you believe.   As I’ve discussed in several previous posts, more than one forecast model has Obama winning this race by a very close margin.  Taken as a whole, as I’ll discuss in a future post, the forecast models see this race as a toss-up.  And that’s not far from where the aggregate polling has it right now. Remember, whenever a candidate appears to be losing, media pundits invariably point to failures in candidate strategy and/or in the candidates’ perceived personal shortcomings.   But that doesn’t mean that assessment is right.  And I don’t think it is right this time either.

Are Republicans Racially Biased Against Obama?

For several reasons I haven’t said much about the role of race in the current presidential election.  The primary reason is that it is a difficult issue to address empirically, and in contrast to many blogs, my intent at this site isn’t to inculcate or reinforce a particular world view.   If I can’t find at least some data on a topic, I typically don’t have much to say about it. A second reason is that I find that most discussions about race quickly degenerate into ad hominem attacks that begin with “Your mother” and include a reference to “Hitler” somewhere.

But because “Miscweant” raised the race issue in his comment to my last post, and because race received renewed prominence, particularly in the liberal blogosphere, in response to Mitt Romney’s comment during a recent campaign stop in Michigan that “No one ever asked to see my birth certificate”, I wanted to say a few words about race in this post.  I have no illusions that I’m going to change anyone’s views regarding whether and to what degree issues of race are influencing evaluations of Obama and the election.  But perhaps we can move the conversation away from unsubstantiated claims and counterclaims and more toward a fact-based discussion of this important issue.

If you missed the comments section, “Miscweant” writes, in the context of criticizing the “birthers” and others focusing on Obama’s failure to disclose his academic transcripts, etc.: “And if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s plain old all-American racism at the root of it all: a ‘colored person’ couldn’t possibly be smart enough to achieve Obama’s accomplishments – it has to be affirmative action opening doors for an unqualified person.” Miscweant’s comments pick up on a relatively common theme expressed by pundits on the Left, namely, that racism undeniably plays an important role in presidential politics today in ways that undermine electoral support for Obama, and make his presidency more difficult.  Moreover, as Chris Hayes opined recently on NBC, there is a strong belief among many liberals that racism is predominantly a Republican trait.

Are those who propound this view right?  The difficulty in evaluating such comments is that people generally don’t openly profess racist views.  Indeed, they often go to great lengths to hide them – hence, the theoretical basis of the so-called “Bradley effect” (which, as it turns out, has not been empirically demonstrated to exist).  When I give election talks, and am asked about the race issue, I always ask those in the audience to raise their hands if they are racist.  Needless to say, no hands go up.  This means discussion of race often take place in an empirical vacuum, which in turns allows the most strident voices to dominate the discourse.  After all, who can refute their claims?

To get around this, we might ask people questions that we believe tap into underlying race-based sentiments.  When we do so, what do we find?  Both Alex Tabarrok and John Sides look at some survey questions from the General Social Survey and the National Election Studies designed to assess respondents’ racial views.  Tabarrok finds almost no difference between Democrats and Republicans on their views toward interracial marriage, or whether they would vote for a black president. Sides finds slight differences between Republicans and Democrats on responses to questions asking about intelligence and work ethics, as this table indicates:

Sides concludes: “Overall, Republicans are slightly more likely to assess blacks unfavorably on these dimensions.  For example, 39% of Republicans place blacks on the “lazy” side of the scale, while 31% of Democrats do.  But by and large … both parties include substantial fractions willing to stereotype blacks unfavorably.”  Moreover, when he tries to separate respondents by party based on their views toward blacks’ intelligence and work ethic, he finds that “identification with the Democratic Party tends to decline, and identification with the Republican Party tends to increase, as attitudes towards blacks become less favorable—at least when attitudes are measured with two different racial stereotypes.  However, the relationship is far from deterministic: substantial minorities of those with unfavorable attitudes toward blacks identify as Democrats.”

This is by no means the final word on the subject – indeed, it barely scratches the surface of what is a very complicated topic.  I urge you to read both posts in full.  You may find that you read the data differently, and that there are alternative explanations dealing with class or other factors that may explain some of these results.  You might also take a glass half full perspective, with substantial majorities of both Democrats and Republicans with positive racial views. But at least the two authors cite data.  To be sure, as I said above, I have no illusions that survey data like this is going to sway very many people from their beliefs  regarding the relationship between race and partisan identification.   And these questions don’t necessarily do a very good job at measuring what many of us think of as racism. Nor do they address other facets of what is a multifaceted issue, such as racial conflict among non-whites.

So, does racism play a big part in presidential politics?  In part my answer depends on what you mean by “big”.   Based on the admittedly circumstantial evidence cited above, and on the success of forecast models in predicting Obama’s victory in 2008 without referencing race, I believe the answer is no.  Fundamentals associated with the economy are going to be far more determinative come November. And too often I think critics begin with race as their first explanation for Obama’s difficulties in office, when other factors are likely more important.  But this is different from saying race plays no part.  If Obama loses this election, I don’t doubt for a New York minute that at least some of his supporters will blame racism, and that no amount of argument to the contrary will persuade them otherwise.  And, in a very close contest, they may be right – race could conceivably swing enough votes to cost Obama the election.  But that does not mean that race will be the primary explanation for the vote against – or for – Obama.

Of Course The Electorate Is Highly Polarized! (Not)

I’m posting at the Economist’s Democracy in America site today, with an article examining the evidence for whether the American electorate is, as Kevin Drum and other pundits would have us believe, extremely polarized along partisan lines. The short answer, as you’ve heard me state before, is that they are not.

Meanwhile, I hope to  have something up  here tomorrow on the VP sweepstakes.

Stay tuned.