Archive for category Polls

Prediction: Obama 347

See the map above for when polls close in the various states (note that some states have parts of the state close at different times). All times EST.

Yesterday I predicted Obama would win the election Tuesday, based on data from polls, early voting and voter turnout projections.  It does not appear likely that state pollsters were statistically biased or that voter turnout will go significantly below 2004 – 2008 levels.   Moreover, late polls seem to be breaking for the President.  It is still close, but the evidence points to an Obama win.

Caveat:  While the headline prediction looks excellent for the President, it’s based on four states that literally could go either way:  Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire.   If they go for Romney, then he’s within 16 votes of the Presidency — Ohio would give the election to Romney.   The data suggests to me that Obama is favored in each, but not heavily.   The election could still go either way.

Predicting which states he’ll win and what his electoral vote total will be is difficult.    I’ve been pouring over information about early voting stats in Florida and North Carolina (my two hardest calls), reading different prognostications and trying to figure out my own best guess.    So here goes.  First, a number of seats are not competitive:

SAFE  ROMNEY                                SAFE  OBAMA

Alabama  (9)                                   California (55)
Alaska (3)                                      Connecticut (7)
Arkansas  (6)                                  Delaware (3)
Georgia  (16)                                   District of Columbia (3)

Idaho  (4)                                        Hawaii  (4)
Kansas  (6)                                     Illinois (20)
Kentucky (8)                                   Maryland (10)
Louisiana  (8)                                  Massachusetts (11)
Mississippi (6)                                New Jersey (14)
Nebraska   (5)                                 New Mexico (5)
North Dakota (3)                              New York (29)
Oklahoma   (7)                                Oregon (7)
Tennessee (11)                                Rhode Island (4)
Texas  (38)                                      Vermont (3)
Utah (6)                                           Washington (12)
West Virginia  (5)
Wyoming  (3)

VALUE:  144 EV                            VALUE:  187 EV

A number of other states will only be competitive if there is some dramatic twist in the election.   I’ll just list these, giving electoral vote values.

Likely Romney:  Indiana (11), Montana (3), Missouri (10), South Carolina (9)  South Dakota (3)

Likely Obama:  Minnesota (10), Maine (3)* (Maine divides its EV by Congressional district and the 2nd district is only leans Obama)

Total safe and likely Romney EV:  180   Obama EV:  200

And now my state by state predictions for the rest, with explanation where warranted, in alphabetical order:

Arizona (11):  Romney:  Soon Arizona may join Nevada and New Mexico as swing states or even Democratic leaning if the Latino population in the US continues to predominately support Democrats.  It is possible that a surprising uptick in Latino votes could push Arizona into Obama’s column — that’s why it’s listed out here.   The polls suggest that strong white support for Romney will keep Arizonia with the Republicans.

Colorado (9):  Obama:  This was a hard state to call.  It’s been at times in the polls for Obama, and at times for Romney.  Republicans are doing well in early voting.  A strong Latino vote and late polls that leaned Obama cause me to award it to the President.   Also today reports are that the Romney camp is down on Colorado due to internal polling.

Florida (29):  Obama:   I thought as late as yesterday that I’d guess Romney on this one.  But the early voting was phenomenal given the shortened time period (near equal to 2008), and a backlash against attempts to limit early voting might work against Romney and the Republicans.   Also, I think polls might be underestimating Latino votes (note – as becomes clear, this may be an election Obama owes to Latinos).   I think voter turnout will be high, and Obama will pull it off.

Iowa (6):  Obama:   Obama hit this state hard at the end, and most polls showed him pulling away, though not to the extent they did in other swing states.   Still, this is where it started for him, he’s winning the early vote big time, and recent polls have looked strong.

Maine 2nd Dist. (1):  Obama:  I live here, and it’s definitely the rural/conservative portion of Maine.   Still, both polls I’ve seen suggest Obama has a decent lead, and I expect he’ll take the district.   I wouldn’t be shocked if Romney got this EV, but the election doesn’t seem to be trending this way.

Michigan (16):  Obama:  Pretty easy call, though some late ad buys and a couple close polls made it at least conceivable Romney could do well.   Most polls show an easy Obama win, especially given the auto bail out.

Nevada (6):  Obama:  This one is closer, but most polls show Obama with a decent lead of about 4%, and Romney stopped really competing for it in the last week.  This suggests that they consider it out of reach and in Obama’s camp.

New Hampshire (4):  Obama:  Polls have varied widely for New Hampshire, and this is a state that likes to defy expectations, whether in primaries or general elections.   It’s often forgotten that if New Hampshire had gone for Gore in 2000 Florida would have been irrelevant – Gore would have won.   I was very close to giving this to Romney, but some huge rallies, good late polls and lots of effort by Obama there towards the end suggests that they’ll have the momentum to pull it off. 

North Carolina (15):  Obama:  North Carolina is another that had me switching sides — first I thought Obama should take it, then new polls and the very narrow margin of 2008 made me lean Romney.   After all, nobody expects Obama to do as well in 2012 as in 2008, do they?   So I’ve been reading about early voting results, the mood in North Carolina, and watching what the campaigns are doing.   Since I think this election is breaking towards Obama, I decided, perhaps more from the heart than the head, to give this to Obama.   I was about to call it for Romney but when I saw that early voting increased over 2008 I decided to take a bet that this means very heavy turnout.   Still, I’m sticking my neck out here!

Ohio (18):  Obama:  Ohio has been polled more than any other state, it seems, and the polls are overwhelming in favor of Obama, some late polls by a solid margin.    Early voting has also been strong in Ohio, and I read reports that Republicans were alarmed by the level of early voting in Democratic counties over the final weekend (the weekend where the Legislature and Governor didn’t want anyone but military families to be able to vote early, until overruled by the courts).   So everything points to a clear Obama win here.    If Ohio is really close, that could be a sign that the Romney team’s assumptions about this race were accurate after all – an important state!

Pennsylvania (20): Obama:  Late ad buys and a final appearance by Romney cause many to think that the GOP considers Pennsylvania winnable.   John McCain made a similar effort in 2008.    Yet Obama has had pretty consistent leads in most polls (and those that show otherwise tended to be outliers or partisan).   With 20 electoral votes, Pennsylvania is a real prize.  If you have to gamble, this is the place to do it.   But Obama should win by at least 5.

Virginia (13):  Obama:  Until a few days ago I was leaning Romney on this one, but late polls seem to be breaking for Obama.   Virginia does not have no excuse early voting, which is one reason I thought Romney might pull it out, especially if Democratic enthusiasm is even a bit down.   Still, given the late polls I end up giving it to Obama.  Not as hard a call as North Carolina, but this could go either way.

Wisconsin (10):  Obama: Wisconsin was to be in play with the choice of Paul Ryan of Janesville as Romney’s VP candidate, but all signs are that Obama is finishing strong here.    On Monday Bruce Springsteen opened for Obama in Madison.  How many people can say that they’ve had Springsteen as their opening act?

So, add all these together and the result is:

OBAMA:  347 EV          ROMNEY:  191  EV

Other Predictions:

Popular Vote:   National polls have moved to give Obama a one or two point lead.   They now seem in line with the state polls.  I don’t expect Obama to win the electoral college and lose the popular vote, in part because the small states that go red tend to have smaller population to EV ratios.  I’ll predict Obama 50.8   Romney 48.2.

The House of Representatives:  I have not been following the House races closely enough to make an informed prediction.   In 2010 I paid more attention and the best I could do was to pick a range of Democratic loses from 29 to 69 – it’s hard to miss with that kind of range!    All I can do this year is say that I think the Democrats will gain at least ten.    If things really break their way they could take the House back, but from what I can tell even Democratic optimists doubt that.

Same Sex Marriage:   It looks very much like it should pass here in Maine — it was close in 2009, and that was an off year election which allowed the evangelicals of the state to have a stronger impact.   I’m not sure about Minnesota, Washington state and Maryland.    Polls in three of the states show about 52 – 45 in favor of same sex marriage (not sure about Washington state’s polling).   Polls tend to overstate support, so it will likely be much closer.   If it were to pass in all four states this would be a watershed, perhaps the most historic aspect of the 2012 election cycle.    Even if only one state supports same sex marriage this will mark its first success in a referendum, and that would be a big deal.

So it comes down to tomorrow!   However it turns out, this has definitely been one of the more topsy turvy and interesting general elections in recent history.   It’s been fun to watch!   Don’t forget to vote!


RAND vs. Gallup

RAND’s trend lines show Obama’s lead outside the margin of error (which is the grey area) at 95% confidence.

On October 27 RAND showed Obama up in the race for the Presidency by six points, 50.93% to 44.58%.   Since the second debate Obama has increased his lead dramatically.   If RAND is right, Obama is home free.

On that same day Gallup, the granddaddy of  all Pollsters, showed Romney up among likely voters 51% to 46%.    The race is tied among registered voters at 48% to 48%.

All other things being equal, it would be tempting to simply say that Gallup should be trusted.   As I’ll describe later, RAND is using a very different methodology than traditional pollsters, and the default conclusion is that RAND’s result is so off from other polls because of this methodological quirk.

Like Gallup, Rasmussen shows Romney opening up a true lead

There are two reasons I’m not going that route.   One is bias.  I support President Obama and if Gallup is right then the race is essentially over, Romney wins.   Yes, one can lose the popular vote and win the electoral college, but a 5% popular vote loss is too big a hurdle.  If Romney is ahead by that much, he’ll win enough states to coast to victory.

The second is that Gallup is as much an outlier as RAND.    While Rasmussen also shows Romney with a large lead (four points), most polls show the race even or trending slightly Obama.   IBD/TIPP has Obama up two, with a stable lead.   Reuters also shows Obama up two, while PPP has the race tied.   Moreover state polling shows consistent leads for Obama.  The leads are smaller for Rasmussen than other pollsters, but there is no way those state polls can be accurate if Gallup is right.   So there are objective reasons to doubt Gallup’s numbers.  (Whew!)

RAND’s “American Life Panel” is unique among polling operations this election cycle — I don’t know if this approach has ever been tried with so much time and effort.    From their website:

“Since July 5, 3,500 participants in the RAND American Life Panel (all U.S. citizens over the age of 18) have been invited to answer three questions every week:

  1. What is the percent chance that you will vote in the Presidential election?
  2. What is the percent chance that you will vote for Obama, Romney, someone else?
  3. What is the percent chance that Obama, Romney, someone else will win?”

Simply, they are not polling a new random sample every night, but keeping the same 3500 participants for the duration. They don’t screen them to see if they are likely voters, or even assign them to one or the other candidate.  They weigh their votes and likelihood of voting according to how they answer the questions.   500 are invited to participate every day on line, so each day’s result is from the previous seven days.  They weigh the results to match the demographics of likely voters.

There are reasons why this method might favor Obama, though Romney did hold the lead in July and early September.  All participants have internet connections, meaning that it could be pulling in more professionals than working class folk, especially among the white population.

Beyond that, people are also likely to self-report a higher likelihood of voting if they’re allowed to choose a probability.   Someone who probably won’t vote might say there’s a sixty percent chance that they will.   Independents may be more willing to split their preferences (e.g. 55% Romney 45% Obama) even though in a traditional poll when forced to choose they would pick who they’ll eventually vote for.    Using percentages given by the participants themselves may yield funky data.

RAND of course knows this, but points to benefits of this approach.   It should better capture trends, and may give real hints as to what the middle — undecideds or soft supporters of either candidate — are going to do.   If the numbers aren’t accurate at least the trend lines should be.

Only one poll really counts – and on Saturday Florida early voters got started on that one!

Gallup, on the other hand, uses traditional methods, but they’ve had their share of problems in the past.   In previous years Gallup’s tracking polls have shown rapid swings and have at times given unbelievable results.    Nate Silver analyzed this and suggests that the likely voter screen is the reason they are so far from the pack.   Gallup may be overly sensitive to enthusiasm or screening in a way that under counts support for Obama.   Gallup counters by noting they do weigh by demographic factors in their final numbers, expecting the 2012 voting population to be much like 2008.

There are other concerns about national polls — how geographically diverse is their sample?   If they over sample the South or the Midwest, voters of all demographic groups are more likely to be supporting Romney.   Gallup doesn’t give full answers, but insists their data and their likely voter screen is solid.    Gallup’s numbers have been more stable this election cycle, in part because they use a seven day rolling average.

Yet between the two are “the rest” – the majority of polls that show the race tied.   Then there are the swing state polls that show Obama’s leads stable, if smaller than last month.  The trend lines in Florida, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina — states that Romney needs — look better for Obama than for Romney.

So what to make of all this?   Nate Silver has Obama’s odds of winning at about 75%.    Intrade’s traders put Obama’s odds at 63%.   Average poll trends in the swing states show Obama improving on lows before the third debate.

Predictwise spiked abit for Romney on the 24th, but since then has drifted in favor of Obama

In ten days we’ll know a lot more!   My own view is that RAND probably overstates Obama’s edge because if these 3500 people are polled every week, they are likely motivated to pay more attention to the race.    I won’t speculate on why doing that would help Obama, but it is the kind of factor that RAND can’t control for.   On the other hand, it’s feasible that the trend lines RAND shows could be accurate for undecided or “soft” support.   If that’s true, Obama may be leading by more than most people realize.

Still, Gallup may be right.   If the poll stays stable and Romney rolls to a surprising victory, then Gallup has the last laugh.  Romney supporters can’t count on that, but it’s better to be up five in Gallup than down.   However, I suspect Gallup’s methodology is generating poll results that inflate Romney’s lead.   They are not only an outlier (though joined recently by Rasmussen), but they have been an outlier for over a week, suggesting this is systemic rather than the result of funky data.

For now the good news is that partisans of each candidate have some polls to give them comfort in the emotional dash to the finish.   After all, if your guy is going to lose, it’s more fun to enjoy the last days  of the campaign believing he’ll win.