Why The Presidential Election May Not Be As Close As You Think

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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86 Responses

  1. Trumwill says:

    The 70/30 estimation sounds about right, if I were to spitball it.

    Even though it’s how elections are decided, I’m not particularly big on estimating based on the EC, though. The popular vote almost has to be rather close for it to make a difference. I prefer to look at the bigger picture. The undecideds are likely to swing one way or the other, and the swing states are likely to go whichever way they do. I’ll eat these words if we get another cross-result, but that’s a famously unusual result.

    Being relatively indifferent to who wins, a part of me does want a cross-result, if only to watch people squirm. It’s the unpatriotic part of me, because I am pretty sure it would not be good for the country.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Trumwill says:

      If we’re going for unpatriotic and squirmy, how about it going to the Supreme Court again and Roberts giving it to Romney in a decision that (if such a thing is possible) is even less defensible than Bush v. Gore, so the entire Right Wing Noise Machine can welcome him back into the fold of principled strict constructionists.Report

      • That would just be a re-run, for the most part. A cross-result where Obama loses the popular vote and wins the presidency would be humorous on a number of levels. A whole lot of Republicans would be struggling to be outraged at the EC while forgetting 2000. A whole lot of Democrats would be trying to call anger at the cross-result as racist.

        Good times.Report

        • Fnord in reply to Will Truman says:

          What about a Supreme Court decision throwing the election to Obama? That wouldn’t be a re-run, and would certainly involve a certain amount of cognitive dissonance on the part of various former commentators on Bush v. Gore.Report

          • Burt Likko in reply to Fnord says:

            Please please please no Bush v. Gore II.

            For the love of not-God let there be no Romney v. Obama lawsuit.Report

            • toto in reply to Burt Likko says:

              The precariousness of the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes is highlighted by the fact that a shift of a few thousand voters in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 13 presidential elections since World War II. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 6 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008). A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 million votes.

              The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

              Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of ‘battleground’ states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in more than 3/4ths of the states that now are just ‘spectators’ and ignored after the primaries.

              When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

              The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

              In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

              The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes – 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

              Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via NationalPopularVoteIncReport

              • DensityDuck in reply to toto says:

                National Popular Vote, aka “America now has four states: Los Angeles, New York City, Houston, and Everywhere Else.”Report

              • toto in reply to DensityDuck says:

                With National Popular Vote, big cities would not get all of candidates’ attention, much less control the outcome.
                The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 19% of the population of the United States. Suburbs and exurbs often vote Republican.

                If big cities controlled the outcome of elections, the governors and U.S. Senators would be Democratic in virtually every state with a significant city.

                A nationwide presidential campaign, with every vote equal, would be run the way presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods. The big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami do not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida.

                The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate knows. When and where every vote is equal, a campaign must be run everywhere.

                With National Popular Vote, when every vote is equal, everywhere, it makes sense for presidential candidates to try and elevate their votes where they are and aren’t so well liked. But, under the state-by-state winner-take-all laws, it makes no sense for a Democrat to try and do that in Vermont or Wyoming, or for a Republican to try it in Wyoming or Vermont.

                Even in California state-wide elections, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate don’t campaign just in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and those places don’t control the outcome (otherwise California wouldn’t have recently had Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger). A vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles. If Los Angeles cannot control statewide elections in California, it can hardly control a nationwide election.

                In fact, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland together cannot control a statewide election in California.

                Similarly, Republicans dominate Texas politics without carrying big cities such as Dallas and Houston.

                There are numerous other examples of Republicans who won races for governor and U.S. Senator in other states that have big cities (e.g., New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) without ever carrying the big cities of their respective states.

                Candidates would need to build a winning coalition across demographics. Candidates would have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as soccer mom voters in Ohio.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to toto says:

                Philly used to be a Republican stronghold. Main Line and all that.
                I have it in my head that Houston is pretty conservative too…Report

              • toto in reply to DensityDuck says:

                The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), ensures that the candidates, after the primaries, will not reach out to about 76% of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind.

                Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on only a handful of closely divided “battleground” states and their voters. There is no incentive for them to bother to care about the majority of states where they are hopelessly behind or safely ahead to win. 9 of the original 13 states are considered “fly-over” now. In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives agree, that, at most, only 12 states and their voters will matter. They will decide the election. None of the 10 most rural states will matter, as usual. About 76% of the country will be ignored –including 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and 17 medium and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. This will be more obscene than the 2008 campaign, when candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their campaign events and ad money in just 6 states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just 4 states (OH, FL, PA, and VA). In 2004, candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their money and campaign visits in 5 states; over 80% in 9 states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states.

                More than 2/3rds of the states and people have been merely spectators to presidential elections. They have no influence. That’s more than 85 million voters, 200 million Americans, ignored. When and where voters are ignored, then so are the issues they care about most.

                The number and population of battleground states is shrinking as the U.S. population grows.
                As of March 10th, some pundits think there will be only Six States That Will Likely Decide The 2012 Election

              • Fnord in reply to toto says:

                You don’t need National Popular Vote in order to remove some of the significant problems with the current implementation of presidential elections.

                If electors were awarded according to a proportional representation scheme within each state, instead of all of a state’s electors going to whichever candidate wins the bare majority of that states vote, you do away with the “1000 voters swinging the election” problem and the “only battleground states matter” problem, without changing how representation is weighted between the states.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Fnord says:

                Proportional representation is subject to rounding errors; districting to gerrymander. The complaining would continue, in fact it might get worse, litigated vote by vote, inch by mile. Imagine Florida 2000 times a hundred or two.Report

              • Fnord in reply to Fnord says:

                The current system is subject to rounding error, since it amounts to simply rounding 50%+1 to 100%.

                There might be more litigation, but it would be lower stakes, since there’d be no more than a single electoral vote in play.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Fnord says:

                Could be, Fnord, but I see cheating and hassling far beyond the Dino Rossi scale in every corner of the republic.

                People will go a lot farther for an Obama than they will for some lousy wardheeler. It’s not politics, it’s religion.Report

              • Fnord in reply to Fnord says:

                “People will go a lot farther for an Obama than they will for some lousy wardheeler.”
                If that’s the case, then a hypothetical Obama v. Romney would likewise be that much more nasty than Bush v. Gore was, too.Report

              • toto in reply to Fnord says:

                Any state that enacts the proportional approach on its own would reduce its own influence. This was the most telling argument that caused Colorado voters to agree with Republican Governor Owens and to reject this proposal in November 2004 by a two-to-one margin.

                If the proportional approach were implemented by a state, on its own, it would have to allocate its electoral votes in whole numbers. If a current battleground state were to change its winner-take-all statute to a proportional method for awarding electoral votes, presidential candidates would pay less attention to that state because only one electoral vote would probably be at stake in the state.

                The proportional method also could result in third party candidates winning electoral votes that would deny either major party candidate the necessary majority vote of electors and throw the process into Congress to decide.

                If the whole-number proportional approach had been in use throughout the country in the nation’s closest recent presidential election (2000), it would not have awarded the most electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes nationwide. Instead, the result would have been a tie of 269–269 in the electoral vote, even though Al Gore led by 537,179 popular votes across the nation. The presidential election would have been thrown into Congress to decide and resulted in the election of the second-place candidate in terms of the national popular vote.

                A system in which electoral votes are divided proportionally by state would not accurately reflect the nationwide popular vote and would not make every vote equal.

                It would penalize states, such as Montana, that have only one U.S. Representative even though it has almost three times more population than other small states with one congressman. It would penalize fast-growing states that do not receive any increase in their number of electoral votes until after the next federal census. It would penalize states with high voter turnout (e.g., Utah, Oregon).

                Moreover, the fractional proportional allocation approach does not assure election of the winner of the nationwide popular vote. In 2000, for example, it would have resulted in the election of the second-place candidate.

                A national popular vote is the way to make every person’s vote equal and matter to their candidate because it guarantees that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states and DC becomes President.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

              If I were you Burt I’d brace for something rivaling the intensity of Florida, 2000 in Pennsylvania this fall. Not that you don’t have license to just ignore it if you want to and find yourself capable of it.Report

  2. Peter says:

    Yesterday’s employment report offered something for Obama (a healthy 163K new jobs created) and something for Romney (unemployment up a notch to 8.2%). Two more monthly reports will come out between now and Election Day. Given that unemployment is really the only issue in this election, these two reports are going to be *extremely* important in determining the outcome.
    Of course, if they offer something for both sides, like yesterday’s report, predicting the election won’t be easy.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Peter says:

      Let’s also note that the private sector has gained jobs under Obama (about 300K) while the public/government sector has lost (about 600K). While the numbers could be better, Obama has hardly killed the private sector. And we all know which party at least claims to want to shrink government.

      And show me a single voter who can tell you what the President did or didn’t do to help/hurt employment and what Romney will/won’t do to help/hurt employment… I’ll have some more to say on this when we get closer to the election.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Peter says:

      I don’t take it as a given that unemployment is really the only issue in this election.

      It is an important issue along with the rest of the economy but there is never a single issue.

      A lot of liberals like me do not want to see President Romney appoint someone who will make Justice Thomas look like William Brennan. A lot of conservatives do not want to see President Obama replace another Supreme Court justice.

      And this is always one example.

      I think culture war issues have and always will be a permanent part of the American political landscape. I am currently reading a history book on the United States in 1857. There is a lot of truth in the cliche that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” A lot of the same type of rhetoric was coming from the same people on the same issues.

      I don’t know whether this is uplifting or depressing.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to NewDealer says:

        “A lot of liberals like me do not want to see President Romney appoint someone who will make Justice Thomas look like William Brennan. A lot of conservatives do not want to see President Obama replace another Supreme Court justice.”

        Yes but isn’t that baked into the cake? That is, as long as they *do* show up and vote, you can take voters with culture war issues for granted in the calculations. So, Chik-Fil-A isn’t going to decide this election. (with the repeated caveat that as long as it energized *both* bases – or fails to do so for both)Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Kolohe says:

          A lot of liberals like me do not want to see President Romney appoint someone who will make Justice Thomas look like William Brennan.

          This is the number one thing that bugs me: the fact that Liberals are pretending that Romney is capable of doing anything like this.

          The Chicken Little scenarios about how Romney will be more conservative than Calvin Coolidge, how he wants to dismantle The New Deal, how he’ll usher in conservative policies that will return the country to the dark ages, and how he’ll nominate people who make Thomas look like Brennan…

          I mean, seriously. I might vote for that guy.

          Romney is squishier than Dubya, he’s a CEO-type, he’s going to compromise, make deals, pay attention to polls like Nancy Reagan paid attention to horoscopes, and distinguish himself from Obama about as much as Obama distinguished himself from Bush.

          (Maybe he won’t win a Peace Prize for it, though.)Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

            Bush pere, who is the squishiest Republican president since Nixon, appointed Thomas. Bush fils,who wasn’t particularly interested in foreign policy until events forced him to focus on it, gave us the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Perle-dominated defense establishment. An all-Republican government between 2003 and 2007 gave us Iraq, that national security state, and government funded like a college kid who calls home whenever he runs out of money. It’s not about personalities.Report

            • NewDealer in reply to Mike Schilling says:


              The GOP is now controlled by a very hard-right base. They have destroyed or cowered all their moderates. Even the most conservative Democrats (who tend to give most Democrat no end of grief) tend to be more liberal than the most liberal Republican.

              Romney might want to be a moderate but he is controlled by a far-right base. He knows what they want and he will give them far-right judges and justices. Very young ones at that who can be on the judiciary for decades and impede progress.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

                Exactly what progress are you hoping won’t be impeded, exactly?Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                The Bush-era GOP were spendthrifts; the Tea Party GOP is too hard. Got ’em either way. Nicely done.Report

              • North in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Last I checked the line is that the Tea Party is just repackaged Bush era GOP. As for getting em either way, well it was pretty much handed to the libs on a platter from 2000 to 2008 eh? Who could have thought that doing away with pay-go, establishing unfunded entitlements, cutting taxes and not cutting spending to compensate for it and starting wars without paying for them would damage the rights reputation for fiscal probity. It’s a mystery.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to North says:

                Got ’em coming and going all right. Big difference, no difference. Yglasias would beg to differ, though. Have you heard of him? Very good, they say.


              • North in reply to North says:

                I don’t know who Yglasias is but I’m a great fan of Yglesias and while I’m unclear on what you think he’d differ about I can say with confidence that he’d agree with me that the TPers are mostly rebranding. Not that I blame them though, after Bush Minor I’d want to change party names too.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Shaking around witchdoctors and refusing to listen to common sense does indeed sound too hard to me.
                Maybe you’re one of those people who would elect the pope to our presidency, if he decided to run…Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

            Romney is not only capable of appointing another dullard like Thomas to the SCOTUS bench, he’s very likely to do so. Bush43 was, as you say, a Biz Kinda Guy, albeit nothing like Romney, who actually made money and demonstrated very considerable competence at this task, both for himself and his investors. Romney’s core constituency is reactionary and strictly constitutionalist. Romney’s own rhetoric on ACA uses phrases like Government Intrusion and suchlike: he might be a moderate, as I believe Bush43 was at heart a moderate, but Romney will never appoint a moderate.

            What makes you think this sort of thinking is so much Chicken Little-ing? Sure, we could all be projecting here, seeing in Romney what we want to see. In Massachusetts, despite his rhetoric, he turned out to be anti-abortion and even more tellingly, anti-pardon, pro-polluter, everything we’d expect of a hard-right governor.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Thomas ain’t no dullard. His opinions are more interesting than, say, Alito’s, Kagan’s, or Sotomayor’s. I can give you a handful of opinions that have really interesting thinking in them (even as some of them are infuriating) and I’d be interested in seeing you provide examples of the awesome legal thinking from any of the justices that you consider really swell that are as interesting as Thomas’s opinions in Gonzales v. Raich, Jones v. Flowers, or Davis v. Washington.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                Thomas is a sullen and unethical oaf to boot. Abe Fortas was removed from the SCOTUS bench for less. The only time that old walrus ever rouses from his slumbers on the bench is to mount some intemperate philippic against equal rights for anyone. Except for his wife, who is more equal than others when it comes to the applications of any ethics rules.

                As for interesting SCOTUS writing, I always enjoy reading Justice Roberts. Clear expository prose, incisive stuff. But of all the recent SCOTUS dissents, I liked Stevens’ partial dissent in Citizens’ United.Report

              • Ryan Noonan in reply to Jaybird says:

                Ouch. I like Sotomayor. She’s one of my favorite members of the current Court.

                I also tend to like Thomas, though. Scalia is the one who is actually overrated. Writing strong prose in the service of deep and abiding cruelty is not something worth praising.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to Jaybird says:

            Mitt romney has never compromised in his life. Why should he start now?Report

  3. BlaiseP says:

    My little econometric presidential model based on RBOB and unemployment numbers still gives the popular vote to Obama by two percent. But there’s a kink in my model: a pipeline disruption in the upper Midwest has resulted in pump prices shooting up by 40 cents: RBOB stands in for pump prices.

    The unemployment numbers were good news for Wall Street last week, though I have my doubts about the underlying fundamentals of unemployment. Gold looks to be stabilising around 1600, which means Panicky People are now slowly getting back in the pool after much girlish shrieking and hand-wringing back in February and such, when gold was over 1770. When precious metals stabilise, that’s always good news for equities.

    Romney’s running out of steam. He’s given up on the Bain CEO schtick and is now attempting to look governor-ish. Of course, that means he might have to say something about Obomneycare and all those wonderful things he did as governor, most of which were quite reasonable — just not what Republicans want to hear out of their heir presumptive.

    Here’s the deal, selon BlaiseP. Romney could have blown Obama out of the water. He still could, if he were allowed to run on his record. But the Republicans are in Shuhada Martyr Mode again, as they were in the era of McCain and Palin. Obama won’t win because he’s got a better plan or because he’s a great guy or because the country needs his wisdom at present time. Obama’s going to win because the Republicans have put Romney in a straitjacket of ideology and will not let him out.Report

    • Fnord in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Will the pipeline disruption still be raising prices in November? Or, failing that, will high gas prices in August still be effecting how voters feel in November?

      Those are both real questions; I honestly don’t about the specifics of oil distribution logistics.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Fnord says:

        Well, one part of it is that the winter fuel mix comes back in Sept & October, so (as I understand it) the system has a lot more flexibility then (fewer ’boutique fuels’) – my guess is they could probably just truck the stuff to where it’s needed from whereever as long as the more universal (and lower) standard is in effect.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Fnord says:

        Prices will come down somewhat as the refinery/pipeline situation works itself out. As Kolohe notes, by the time of the election, we’ll be on winter fuel.

        All I meant to imply was how my model is currently stumbling: I could theoretically substitute pump prices for RBOB but that’s unworkable for a variety of reasons. But aggravation is cumulative: this silly model is nothing but a aggro-meter. Shortages of any vital commodity damage confidence.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Thanks for the info about the pipeline disruption. I was traveling this weekend and had a bit of sticker shock at the pump. I’ve seen little news outside the Olympics lately, so I had no idea what had happened to cause such a price increase.Report

  4. CK MacLeod says:

    Given that unemployment is really the only issue in this election

    Sez who?

    Maybe “really the only issue” is “character”: a simple intuition on the part of masses of voters – changeable votes, more or less likely to turn out – over which of the two candidates and their associates would be easier to live with/less likely to do great harm/somewhat more likely to achieve positive results across whatever range of particular issues.

    There may be some chance that the decision actually will affect unemployment in some lasting way, or with how we deal with employment and the economy generally. Not sure anyone very strongly believes it, however. Partisans may be tempted to hope that a cyclical upturn will benefit whoever is in office.Report

  5. Tom Van Dyke says:

    The campaign doesn’t start until Labor Day. Romney’s task is to not make us sick of him.


    • James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      The campaign doesn’t start until Labor Day.

      Funny, in Indiana, where GOP senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock has a statistically insignificant lead in his race, his aides are saying that the Democratic candidate is “running out of time to close the gap.”

      Is there an official GOP codebook that we can use to determine when particular political races are over and when they’re not yet begun?Report

  6. Robert Greer says:

    70-30 ain’t great odds. Silver gave about the same figure for Prop. 8’s defeat in California, and that one didn’t go Democrats’ way.

    There’s simply way too much time between now and November to be talking like Tomasky. He doesn’t give any reasons for why Obama is a lock for Iowa and New Hampshire, and he doesn’t seem to consider how a pretty slight change in the national polls could tip the Electoral College odds toward Romney very quickly. It would literally take one minor Obama scandal or one pretty good week for Romney to give Romney the edge.

    Also, Obama has been front-loading his ad buys in an attempt to ‘define’ Romney before most voters start following closely. This means Romney could be considerably outspending the president in the final weeks of the election. Add to that a relatively listless Democratic base and some voter registration law shenanigans in places like Wisconsin, and Romney comes well within striking distance.

    Let me put it another way: If Romney were to improve his standing by just two points, he’ll have entirely erased Obama’s Electoral College advantage. Two points is far less than most of these polls can even detect.Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Robert Greer says:

      Ace top to bottom, Robert. Din’t know Nate Silver screwed the pooch on Prop 8, especially that badly.Report

    • Robert you shouldn’t make claims that are so easily refuted.


      • Robert Greer in reply to Keith Beacham says:


        You’re right, I was thinking of his prediction for the outcome of the same-sex vote in Maine, not California: Silver gave roughly 5:2 odds against the Maine proposition, yet it won. The point is that even if Silver’s model accounts for all the things that could go wrong with Obama’s campaign, the model will have picked the wrong candidate about once every three times. I don’t’ think Democrats have reason to panic — Romney is truly a terrible candidate for the Republicans — but they shouldn’t be popping the champagne either.Report

        • North in reply to Robert Greer says:

          I think that’s apples to oranges Robert. The science of presidential polling is as old as polling itself. Same sex marriage has been on the polling radar for only a handful of years comparatively. Silver’s models run on data and patters pulled from previous contests and with SSM the pool is much shallower.Report

          • Robert Greer in reply to North says:

            If Silver is still constructing his models the same he did in 2008, then everything you’re talking about is already built into the model. If Silver is predicting an Obama win with 70% certainty, then even if his model is correct Romney will still win one in three times, otherwise Silver’s prediction is wrong. Because the swing state polls are so good for Obama right now, and because Romney has to basically run the table to get to 270, Silver’s model must be skeptical along some other dimension to call Romney’s chances so high. I bet this is mostly a function of the wide variability in the national polls.Report

  7. Burt Likko says:

    A problem with projecting polling data is that you wind up seeing the world like a cat or like a sports reporter: the only thing that can happen in the future is the thing that just happened.

    The piece of the forecast that looks most important to me is Virginia. By flipping that formerly reliably Republican state, Obama forces his Republican opponents to run the table on nearly everything else that is reasonably up for grabs. The GOP can neutralize that if it flips a similar state, and I wonder if Tim Pawlenty on the ticket could do that in Minnesota.

    But even if that scenario plays out (lots of reasons it might not) the critical battleground, as it has been for a generation now, is Florida. Romney simply cannot realistically win without it.Report

  8. Kolohe says:

    I’m just surprised at the continued inability in Republicans to make any inroads into getting Pennsylvania electors. *That* would put Obama (or any Democrat) in a tenuous position in the Electoral College.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Kolohe says:

      They’re trying everything they can think of.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Kolohe says:

      Philadelphia is black, Pittsburgh is union, and those two demographics wouldn’t vote Republican if the alternative were the American Nazi Party. Black people voted 70/30
      for both Obama and for Proposition 8.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to DensityDuck says:

        That doesn’t explain 2004. How does the same electorate that has sent Santorum and Toomey to the Senate (and hell, for that matter Specter and Casey Jr) pick John Fishin Kerry over Dubya?Report

        • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Kolohe says:

          SE PA didn’t turn against Santorum until ’06 after he’d spent a lot of his second term highlighting his more wacky social issue positions. However, they didn’t even vote for Bush the first time around (Gore won by four points) and in the next four years, the Philadelphia suburbs and NE PA becoming more and more an exurb of NYC and NJ simply made it even tougher for Bush to win, despite Kerry’s electoral problems (which are actually a little overstated when you look at the various numbers which indicate that Bush actually should’ve won by a larger amount.)Report

          • Kolohe in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

            But they’re back to Toomey now. How is it that Bush (in his second run, Gore *should* have won his election in a landslide) has been the only one not to crack this nut when the prevailing winds were in his favor?Report

            • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Kolohe says:

              2010 was a wave election year for the GOP of historic proportions and Sestak still only lost by two points. Also, Toomey was able to cast himself as a conservative, but not a crazy like some of the other people running in ’10, unfortunately.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Kolohe says:

          2004 versus off election years. PA young voters need to be yelled at to go vote. The soddin’ old folks show up any year.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Pittsburgh is UPMC, which ain’t union in the slightest. Can’t you be bothered to look up some damn statistics?Report

    • Morat20 in reply to Kolohe says:

      My god man, they’re disenfranchising voters are hard as they can! What more do you want from them? 🙂

      More seriously, in my mind — Texas is one of the big states to watch over the next decade. Living in Houston — which has flipped blue in just the last few years — and seeing Austin and San Antonio as blue as they are…

      Texas has been driving the modern GOP in a number of ways. But Texas simply can’t stay red without making a significant about-face on immigration, and even then they’ve got issues with the big cities moving blue. Their hold on the state house and governor’s office is pretty solid, but nothing like it was even a decade ago.

      It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in Texas, because as Texas goes over the next decade or two, so goes the modern GOP. Watching the Dewhurst v Cruz election was…insightful.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Kolohe says:

      Starting about 30 years ago, the Republicans bet their future on two groups defined by their mindsets: (mostly-white) small-town Americans, and (mostly-white) Americans that could afford to live in gated communities. Gated community can cover a range of urban/suburban situations; the downtown penthouse apartment with a person at the front desk checking who comes in and calling ahead to provide access to the locked elevator is just as much “gated” as the suburban development with walls. At the time, most suburbs regarded themselves as gated, by distance and lack of public transportation if not by walls and private security. Or regarded themselves as small-town with the Fourth of July parade and all the rest.

      It was a bad long-term bet. Actual rural populations across the country (including PA) are shrinking. The problems in the suburbs are starting to look a whole lot more like urban problems: infrastructure, poverty, crime. The Republicans simply don’t have policy answers to urban problems, and demographics are catching up to them. They’re hitting every hot button issue they can in an effort to keep the suburbs from noticing: immigration, gay marriage, etc. But the time when all of that can work is running out. The Senate and the Electoral College buy them some time, but that time is running out.Report

  9. Jaybird says:

    Turnout, turnout, turnout. I don’t know that Obama can count on everyone who voted for him in 2008 showing up at the booth in 2012. I don’t know that he can count on 24 of 25 of them doing so… but most of the polls that I’ve seen have assumed that turnout 2012 will look a lot like turnout 2008.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, in years past, assuming that this election will have more or less the same turnout as the last election is and was the right assumption to make for any given poll.

    It seems to me that 2008 was an outlier when it came to turnout… and I wonder what polls that make 2004 assumptions look like.Report

  10. James Hanley says:

    Can I quibble with your use of a 0-100 axis? As no presidential election has ever approached that differential, it’s not really more revealing to use that range. Visually it actually overstates the closeness of the race. Tomaskey’s range is actually a better choice.Report

  11. Peter says:

    Here’s something odd at FiveThirtyEight:

    In North Dakota, which has been more heavily polled because of the competitive Senate race there, Mr. Obama has consistently trailed by double digits.

    It seems rather strange that Obama is trailing by a big margin in what is now the most prosperous state in the country, a state where unemployment is something you read about in history books. Nor does North Dakota have a large proportion of never-voting-Democratic Christian fundamentalists.Report

  12. Kimmi says:

    85/15, at this present moment, for Obama winning in November.
    Either Romney gets more women, or he loses.Report

  13. Katherine says:

    The only thing Nate Silver’s model can tell us is what would happen if the election was held today (Obama would have a 2 in 3 chance of winning). He can’t tell us anything about what will happen three months from now, because any number of things could change between now and then.

    And Jaybird’s completely right about turnout. Obama had huge success with GOTV in 2008, when it seemed like he would be different and people were excited about him. After four years of him not being different, the more left-wing side of the Democratic Party, and young voters, aren’t excited anymore, and turnout won’t look anything like 2008.

    With many Democrats disappointed in Obama, and many Republicans dissatisfied with Romney, the election looks to be an apathy-off. The Republicans can win an apathy-off.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Katherine says:

      “The only thing Nate Silver’s model can tell us is what would happen if the election was held today (Obama would have a 2 in 3 chance of winning). He can’t tell us anything about what will happen three months from now, because any number of things could change between now and then.”

      No, that’s the difference between his ‘Now-cast’ and his ‘Nov 6 Forecast’. Granted he can’t take in account ‘black swans’ (though he does have the full current probability distribution of getting everthing from 0 to 538 electoral votes for each candidate), but his future cast accounts for trendlines and models other factors that may in play in November but are not reflected in current polling.Report

      • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kolohe says:

        9/26/10: Nate Silver predicts 45-seat GOP House gain.
        11/2/10: GOP gains 63 seats

        Not to say Silver and his methods aren’t honest and sound. It is to say that if he was that far off at the end of September 2010, his utility in early August 2012 is more like horoscopes, for amusement purposes only.Report

      • Katherine in reply to Kolohe says:

        They take into account what would happen if current trends continued up until Nov. 6. They don’t take into account any change in trends. That doesn’t make them particularly useful at the moment.

        I like 538, but the closer we get to Nov. 6, the better chance its predictions have at being correct. Predictions made this far out can tell us a little about the structural factors, but they can’t tell us who will win.Report

  14. Koz says:

    I’ll my two cents in here a little bit late.

    First of all, contrary to Tomasky (and Elias as well, presumably) the Electoral College is not that important, and won’t be till about three weeks or so till Election Day. In a broad enough sense, there are too many swing states. Eg, I don’t expect Willard to campaign very much in Connecticut, Oregon, or Hawaii, but it’s completely plausible that he could carry any or all of these states.

    What is important are highly voting-predictive demographic criteria. Eg, high-school educated working white males or soccer moms are going to rise and fall as groups, no matter where they happen to live.

    What is going on is that the Obama campaign has spent a lot of money in July and August on TV ads and other media to criticize Gov. Romney and this has got minimal traction nationally. What is good news for the President and may be excellent news is that he has built up a lead in important state polls. Ie, see here: http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/morning-jay-obamas-ad-blitz-moving-polls_649254.html?nopager=1

    My sense is (and contrary to a few conservatives) this lead is real, but it’s not permanent. That’s to say, to some extent the red states gradually shift color over time, but nearly to the extent we’ve seen over the past three weeks. We should expect substantial reversion to expectation regarding the difference between the national popular vote and the statewide popular vote, for each state. President Obama’s best chance is that this turns out not to be the case.

    The President is in real trouble in two ways: first, he is expected to be significantly outspent over the remaining campaign, starting with the conventions. But more important than that, he has no real message for reelection except attack Mitt Romney. Further, I don’t see much in the way of events that can break in the President’s favor between now and Election Day, and several that can be worse.

    That’s the important thing to bear in mind when looking at Nate Silver’s projections. I think Silver’s models are very good, but it’s important to bear in mind what they are attempting to measure. Ie, to be a bit pedantic, we should call them projections, not predictions. They measure a snapshot of where the race stands to today, bearing in mind polling data (and maybe some macroeconomic data as well). The point being, it’s all backward looking. For example, IIRC fairly soon after the South Carolina primary Newt Gingrich had a 90% likelihood of winning Florida and slightly over 50% likely to win the nomination. Silver’s model didn’t consider the possibility that Romney and his outside backers would bury Gingrich in an avalance of negative ads, it wasn’t part of the data. Even though, at the time is was a widely-anticipated development.

    What developments are going to help the President from where he is? The Demo convention, maybe replacing VP Biden with Hillary Clinton (but if that were going to happen we would have seen it by now). That’s about it. So basically the President is left hoping to make a 3% national lead hold up and/or catch a break in the shakeout of statewide returns.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Koz says:

      I think a 3% national lead is pretty damn decent, these days…
      Romney could change his place, but he badly needs more women, and I don’t see where/how he gets them.Report