Yes, We…Can?

So far as I can tell, nobody in the history of modern polling has won a presidential election from as big a hole as John McCain now stands in, at last check a national polling advantage in the neighborhood of 5 points for Obama. Now, if you are a betting man, surely you like your odds on Obama. But does that mean that the race is over? Perhaps, but not necessarily. While the circumstances are of course different, we have seen two past Republican campaigns, neither of them headed by the most dynamic of campaigners, provide examples of strong closing-month performances.
The most obvious recent example was 1996. The Gallup poll, which admittedly is one of the more volatile polls (Obama presently leads it by 8) on October 6/7, 1996 showed Bill Clinton with a commanding 22 point lead, 56-34 over Bob Dole with 5 points for Ross Perot (the first of two debates was on October 6). Four days later, after the first debate and the Vice Presidential debate, that lead was 57-34 (Clinton +23). In an October 14-15 poll, conducted on the eve of the second, October 16 debate, Dole pulled much closer (48-39, Clinton +9), but as late as October 20-21 the poll showed Clinton up 19, 52-33 with 8 for Perot. Dole then began his serious charge, pulling above 40% for the first time on November 4-5, to finish at Clinton +11 (52-41-7), and ended up at Clinton +8 on Election Day, 49-41. Dole thus ended up shaving as much as 15 points off Clinton’s lead in less than a month.
Then there’s 1976. Jimmy Carter had, of course, famously led by 34 in one midsummer poll…in a poll conducted September 24-27 (the first debate was September 23), Carter led 51-40 (+11), but in one conducted September 27-October 4, that lead dropped to +2, 47-45. Carter widened his lead to +6 on October 8-11 after the famous “Democrat wars” gaffe by Bob Dole in the October 6 VP debate, led +6 (47-41) on October 15-18 (the second debate, with Ford’s Poland gaffe, was October 15), was still at +5 on October 22-25 (the third debate was October 22), but an October 28-30 poll for the first time showed a Ford lead, 47-46. On Election Day, Carter won 50-48.
Polling today is more sophisticated, of course, and there are other distinguishing factors as well. On the one hand, the 1996 election had a third party candidate who surged up to double digits in late October, and Dole was running so far behind a still-strong GOP Congressional brand (Republicans held both Houses of Congress through that race) that a good deal of his late surge was just natural Republicans coming home. Some of the same was true of Ford’s surge. On the other hand, the 1996 race should have been much less volatile than this one – it matched a 3-decade Senate veteran with a sitting president in a time of peace and prosperity – yet the polls showed significant movement late in the game. 1976 was more similar to the present race, as it pitted a moderate Republican running in a time when the GOP brand was as destitute as it has been since the New Deal, matched against a relatively green and unknown opponent. And of course, this year’s race involves not only an unprecedentedly inexperienced and far-left presidential candidate and times of economic uncertainty and foreign war but also the triple complicating factors of no incumbent, Obama’s race, and McCain’s age coupled with Palin being not a whole lot more experienced than Obama. Those are all reasons why we might expect more, rather than less, real underlying volatility in voter preferences in addition to the possibility that the polls themselves are having trouble measuring the race. And at the end of the day, while it may at first glance seem harder to push upward in the polls against the headwind of a bandwagon once the media has (correctly) called the race for the frontrunner, as in 1996, there is a difference in the degree of difficulty between pulling up close to 50 and breaking through it.
Again: none of this should be reason for Republicans to celebrate – as I said, nobody in a hole like this has actually won a race. But history tells us that voter preferences can still shift in the last month, and if Obama’s lead now is accurately reflected by the RCP average of +5.3, it is still very much worthwhile for McCain-Palin and their supporters to fight on to the end.


The further we get into the fall, the more meaningful the state-by-state polls become. But it’s nonetheless useful to bear in mind the hard numbers from past years to keep a realistic view of what the range of possibilties are in any given state. A few months back, I had gone through the Federal Election Commission website and put together a spreadsheet, which I’m only getting back around to now, tallying up all the votes for federal office (President, Senate, House) in the last four election cycles (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006) comprising two presidential elections, four House elections, and a full cycle and a third of Senate races. The chart below lays out the results.
Now, let’s be clear: while the underlying numbers are actual votes cast, basically what I’m doing here is using a metric, not a statistic; I’m combining different types of votes over time in a way that’s not scientific, but rather an effort to take disparate pieces of data and make them digestible. Obviously, there are a host of reasons why this isn’t science: turnout is much larger in presidential years, some incumbents in the Senate and House run unopposed (although this is itself usually a sign of strength), a third of the Senate seats are counted twice here, gerrymandering affects House races, and of course, there’s no fixed way to measure the relative probative value of 2006 results vs. 2000 results in measuring 2008’s political terrain. That said, using three levels of balloting over four election cycles does help give us a large enough sample size to get a look at the real, underlying partisan makeup of particular states, and limit the distorting effects of individual personalities.
Here’s the methodology. I present two sets of numbers: “raw” numbers that treat each of the four elections alike, and “weighted” numbers that give a larger weight to more recent results. For the raw numbers, I tallied up all votes cast for each of the two major parties (ignoring third party votes, for simplicity’s sake) in presidential, Senate or House races in 2000, 2002, 2004 or 2006. For the Weighted totals, I weighted the votes by year as follows:
i.e., a vote for a House candidate in 2006 was worth twice the weight of a vote for the same candidate in 2002, and four times the weight of a vote for that candidate in 2000.
The final two columns attempt to combine the electoral vote weight of each state with its partisan composition in order to put the closeness of the state in the context of the reward for presidential candidates of swinging it, dividing the number of electoral votes by the square of the margin separating the two parties (the sum is then divided by 100 just for ease of the reader). The equation is:
= (EV/(D%-R%)squared)/100
Without further ado, here is the chart:

Continue reading Swingers

Narrowing The Field

With 54 days until the election and four debates still to go, a lot can happen; the presidential race could still end up getting badly away from either McCain or Obama. But now that we have the benefit of polling done entirely after the two VPs were picked and the two conventions held, it’s possible to get a sense of what the playing field really looks like. On a national level, the race is still close, but looks much better for McCain, who leads by 2.5 in the RCP poll average; of the 9 polls listed, McCain leads in 6, Obama one, and two are tied, with all showing fewer undecideds than existed a month ago but only one poll giving either candidate 50% (the USA/Gallup poll showing a 54-44 McCain lead among likely voters – a result that would mean the race is effectively over if it was repeated in multiple polls, but which is apparently a serious outlier).
The race, however, will be conducted on a state-by-state basis, which sends us back to the Electoral College. You can run the polls yourself, but below the fold I will walk through what my gut is telling me after looking at those polls. The bottom line is that for all the talk of how Obama and McCain were map-changing candidates, this race now looks like it will go down to the wire in just a handful of crucial battleground states, with most of the Bush-Gore/Bush-Kerry red-blue patterns holding steady (the persistence of these patterns being good news for Republicans after the 2010 census, but that’s another day’s argument).

Continue reading Narrowing The Field

Polls in Perspective

We’ve had wild-swinging polls lately – national polls showing Obama +9 and McCain +4 – but the important thing is not to panic. Polls go up, they go down, and at any rate while the national polls can give you some idea of the direction and momentum in the race, in the end the only polls that matter are on a state-by-state basis, and those really don’t get hugely meaningful until after the conventions.
Anyway, this post has an excellent look back at past July 4 Gallup polls. It’s a useful reminder that these races can move in a number of different directions, and the one thing they almost never do is finish in November right where they were in July.
I think the race right now is where the bulk of the polls seem to say it is: Obama’s winning, but not by a big margin, and he’s a long way from putting McCain away, especially in the key swing states. Obviously, you can find people to argue that there’s an underlying dynamic underway that will sweep one or the other of them away, and maybe that will look clear in retrospect. But for now, it’s still a race. Which is why the Veepstakes buzz (at present, leaning towards Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney on the R side, Tim Kaine on the D side) is being scrutinized so heavily for its impact on particular states and blocs.

Obamomentum – End-of-the-Primaries Edition

Now that the Democratic primaries are finally over, let’s take one last look at the charts I have been running for some time now (see here, here and here) of the Democratic presidential primary popular vote totals for the months of March, April, May and now June. (Source: RCP, except I used CNN’s updated figures for Montana) – “margin,” of course, is Obama’s margin of victory/defeat in each primary:

State Date Obama Clinton Margin
South Dakota 6/3 43,726 54,179 -10,453
Montana 6/3 102,373 74,792 +27,581
Puerto Rico 6/1 121,458 263,120 -141,662
Kentucky 5/20 209,903 459,210 -249,307
Oregon 5/20 372,072 258,066 +114,006
West Virginia 5/13 91,652 239,062 -147,410
Indiana 5/6 632,035 646,233 -14,198
North Carolina 5/6 887,391 657,669 +229,722
Guam 5/3 2,264 2,257 +7
Pennsylvania 4/22 1,046,822 1,260,937 -214,115
Mississippi 3/11 265,502 159,221 +106,281
Wyoming 3/8 5,378 3,311 +2,067
Texas 3/4 1,362,476 1,462,734 -100,258
Ohio 3/4 1,055,769 1,259,620 -203,851
Rhode Island 3/4 75,316 108,949 -33,633

Vermont 3/4 91,901 59,806 +32,095
Total 6,366,038 6,969,166 -603,128
Overall% 47.74% 52.26%

In other words, Obama ends the last 3 months of the primary season more than 600,000 votes in the hole, losing the popular vote decisively to Hillary over a stretch of 16 primaries in which 13 million votes were cast. In percentage terms, Hillary’s 4.52% margin of victory for that period is larger than the general election margins of Bush over Kerry in 2004, Carter over Ford in 1976, Nixon over Humphery in 1968, Truman over Dewey in 1948, and just a point smaller than that of Clinton over Bush in 1992. He lost six different primaries by margins of 100,000 or more votes. All this during the time period when he should have been sealing the deal with Democratic voters after having taken what looked at the time like a decisive, momentum-tipping lead in mid-February. The final insult was losing South Dakota, a state he was widely projected to win and in which he led decisively in the few polls taken until the last day or two before the election, and which cast its ballots while the vultures were visibly circling Hillary’s campaign.*
It’s Obama’s weakness in that period even within his own party that has to be troubling to Democrats pondering his chances in November. Recall that Obama faced virtually no serious scrutiny until he pulled within 20 points of Hillary in the national popular vote in mid-December in the immediate aftermath of Oprah’s campaign appearances on his behalf (he didn’t pull within single digits until after he won Iowa); it was only after he was christened the clear frontrunner that he started to take serious fire, beginning in late February and early March with Hillary’s “3 a.m.” ad, the Goolsbee/NAFTA flap, and of course the Rev. Wright story, and continuing with the accumulation his radical left-wing associations, his endless stream of verbal flubs, and his ever-growing list of friends, mentors and staffers cast under the bus. Jay Cost has a great series of posts (start here) on the demographic breakdown of how and where Hillary beat Obama; consider this, among his many charts, looking at the states Bush won in 2004 that the Democrats would have some hope (and, obviously, need) to pick off in 2008:
That there is not much of a winning coalition in most parts of this country.
Let’s also wrap up my look at turnout, using the same baseline as before (the number of votes in 2006 for House Democrats in the state) – this time, I’ll just run the chart just for the same time period (the full chart and explanation of sources is here), but leaving out Puerto Rico, where I used a different and ultimately inaccurate baseline to capture the relatively disappointing turnout:

State 2006 House D Vote Date Votes* Turnout
TX 1,890,869 3/4 2,825,210 149%
OH 2,081,737 3/4 2,315,389 111%
VT 139,815 3/4 151,707 109%
RI 265,028 3/4 184,265 70%
WY 92,324 3/8 8,689 9%
MS 260,330 3/11 424,723 163%
PA 2,229,091 4/22 2,307,759 104%
IN 812,496 5/6 1,278,268 157%
NC 1,026,915 5/6 1,545,060 150%
WV 263,822 5/13 330,714 125%
KY 601,723 5/20 669,113 111%
OR 765,853 5/20 630,138 82%
MT 158,916 6/3 177,165 111%
SD 230,468 6/3 97,905 42%

Turnout started to tail off after the early May primaries. In general, through the primaries and caucuses (especially caucuses), Obama tended to do better in the lower turnout states, but we see here that at the very end, he did better in Montana, which had fairly robust turnout, than in South Dakota, where even adjusting for the fact that Stephanie Herseth’s 2006 victory may set an unrealistically high bar for turnout, the turnout was quite low.

Continue reading Obamomentum – End-of-the-Primaries Edition

Puerto Rico Polling

Just a note: I’ll update the Obamomentum charts after Tuesday’s balloting. From CNN’s report on Hillary’s victory in today’s Puerto Rico primary, it appears that turnout was much, much lower than my back-of-the-envelope projection from the 2004 general gubernatorial election, but Hillary’s margin of victory was still 142,000 votes due to her overwhelming 68%-32% margin. In other words, this is the sixth time in three months that Obama has lost a primary by 100,000+ votes.
UPDATE: Patrick Ruffini notes the wide margin by which Hillary’s victory exceeded late polls. There are a number of possible explanations for this – perhaps the polling was done poorly, perhaps people who say they will vote for Obama are just disproportionately unlikely to show up to vote, perhaps people even in Puerto Rico are unwilling to admit on the telephone that they are not voting for Obama – but it does rather undermine the idea that Obama’s persistent underachieving of the polls and exit polls is just a feature of racist white people.

Obamomentum, Kentucky and Oregon Edition

Well, it’s time once again (see here and here) to update the chart with what should now be the complete Democratic presidential primary popular vote totals for the months of March, April and May – I delayed in getting this posted because it took until very late today to get all the votes tallied from Oregon, and in fact I’m running this with 99% of precincts there reporting because who knows how long that last 1% will take. Of course, a handful of late votes are still trickling in from IN & NC, too.

State Date Obama Clinton Margin
Kentucky 5/20 209,869 459,093 -249,224
Oregon 5/20 360,728 252,270 +108,458
West Virginia 5/13 91,652 239,062 -147,410
Indiana 5/6 630,946 645,365 -14,419
North Carolina 5/6 887,412 657,676 +229,736
Guam 5/3 2,264 2,257 +7
Pennsylvania 4/22 1,046,822 1,260,937 -214,115
Mississippi 3/11 265,502 159,221 +106,281
Wyoming 3/8 5,378 3,311 +2,067
Texas 3/4 1,362,476 1,462,734 -100,258
Ohio 3/4 1,055,769 1,259,620 -203,851
Rhode Island 3/4 75,316 108,949 -33,633

Vermont 3/4 91,901 59,806 +32,095
Total 6,086,035 6,570,301 -484,266
Overall% 48.09% 51.91%

(Source). In other words, even before we get to Puerto Rico, Obama is nearly half a million votes in the hole since the events of late February and early March (i.e., the 3am ad, the Goolsbee/NAFTA flap, and of course the Rev. Wright story). Now, let’s look at turnout, using the same baseline as before (the number of votes in 2006 for House Democrats in the state) – this time, I’ll just run the chart just for the same time period (the full chart and explanation of sources is here):

State 2006 House D Vote Date Votes* Turnout
TX 1,890,869 3/4 2,825,210 149%
OH 2,081,737 3/4 2,315,389 111%
VT 139,815 3/4 151,707 109%
RI 265,028 3/4 184,265 70%
WY 92,324 3/8 8,689 9%
MS 260,330 3/11 424,723 163%
PA 2,229,091 4/22 2,307,759 104%
IN 812,496 5/6 1,276,311 157%
NC 1,026,915 5/6 1,545,088 150%
WV 263,822 5/13 330,714 125%
KY 601,723 5/20 668,962 111%
OR 765,853 5/20 612,998 80%
MT 158,916 6/3 NA NA
SD 230,468 6/3 NA NA

You will note that turnout was down from the boom in the early May primaries, but at least in Kentucky, the voters still turned out in quite large numbers in the face of the Obama camp’s argument that there was nothing left to vote on. Obama had more success in Oregon, where turnout was much lower.
Let’s update last week’s projections by bringing the turnout back down to 110% for South Dakota and Montana relative to the 2006 figures, while still using the conservative 60% estimate for Puerto Rico. I still don’t have new polls for Puerto Rico, South Dakota or Montana – I’m still using the one poll each from the first two and the imputed poll results from the matchup with McCain for the third. Here’s where that would get us:

State Date Obama Poll% Clinton Poll% Obama Est. Clinton Est. Margin
Puerto Rico 6/1 37% 50% 444,000 600,000 -156,000
Montana 6/3 43% 36% 75,167 62,931 +12,237
South Dakota 6/3 46% 34% 116,617 86,195 +30,422
Total 46% 54% 635,784 749,126 -113,342

How much guesswork is in this last chart? A lot. We really are operating in the dark as to these last three primaries. Conservative South Dakota blogger Ken Blanchard argued last week that the poll in his state is too optimistic for Obama:

The last poll taken in South Dakota showed Obama 10 points ahead of Senator Clinton. But those results were announced back in April, and a lot of muddy water has gone down the Big Jim River since then. If I had to guess, I would guess that Obama figures to lose South Dakota. He is showing up to show that he isn’t just writing off the rural states. If I were him, I would skip the Watertown trip, and instead visit Cabelas in Mitchell. A few photos of him buying a pair of hip waders, and sipping coffee with the locals would be just the thing. It is the Cabelas demographic he is having trouble with.

We shall see; one would hope someone would bother running one last poll. For Obama, though, the best news is that there are only three more of these to go.

Obamomentum, West Virginia Edition

It’s not every day you see the presumptive nominee lose a presidential primary in a swing state by 41 points (by contrast, despite a persistent protest vote faction, McCain hasn’t actually lost a primary since Kansas and Louisiana on February 9), but that’s exactly what happened to Barack Obama last night in West Virginia, and suggests pretty strongly why his campaign seems to be writing off the state for November.
Anyway, let’s update the chart I’ve been running (last installment here) showing the popular vote trend since Obama’s armor started to crack at the beginning of March. Here’s the current chart:

State Date Obama Clinton Margin
West Virginia 5/13 91,652 239,062 -147,410
Indiana 5/6 630,925 645,336 -14,411
North Carolina 5/6 883,508 656,284 +227,224
Guam 5/3 2,264 2,257 +7
Pennsylvania 4/22 1,046,822 1,260,937 -214,115
Mississippi 3/11 265,502 159,221 +106,281
Wyoming 3/8 5,378 3,311 +2,067
Texas 3/4 1,362,476 1,462,734 -100,258
Ohio 3/4 1,055,769 1,259,620 -203,851
Rhode Island 3/4 75,316 108,949 -33,633

Vermont 3/4 91,901 59,806 +32,095
Total 5,511,513 5,857,517 -346,004
Overall% 48.48% 51.52%

Attentive readers will note that some of the earlier states’ vote totals have changed slightly; I’m using the RCP figures, which presumably got some late corrections on TX, PA, IN and NC. RCP also has the overall numbers, which mostly narrowly favor Obama, though it depends on what states you count; in any event, recall that Obama didn’t even crack 30% in national polls against Hillary until after he won Iowa, and didn’t catch her until early February, after trailing by double digits for most of 2007; much of the Obama vote in the first two months was basically the honeymoon of a challenger who had yet to be seriously vetted. So while looking at the last two and a half months doesn’t cover the whole race, it likely tells us a lot more than looking at things that happened a political lifetime ago. If you knew nothing else of this race, you’d certainly look at those trendlines and think, especially after last night, that Hillary was really pulling away by now.
Where from here? Another interesting thing is that my rough-estimate projection last week vastly underestimated Hillary’s West Virginia margin of victory, which was twice what my mostly unscientific model had projected. Partly that’s because I was working off one poll with a lot of undecideds, but partly it’s because turnout was larger than the baseline I was using, the number of votes for House Democrats in the off-year 2006 election, which I took as a reasonable proxy for the number of people available to vote in a Democratic primary. I’ll attach at the bottom of this post a chart showing how that figure has served as a predictor of turnout, but the take-home from that exercise is that West Virginia Democrats came out in very large numbers despite their betters in the media telling them the race was over, already, man – not quite as large numbers as we saw in Indiana, North Carolina, Mississippi and Texas, but larger proportional turnout by this metric than in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, or Virginia. The voters apparently think there’s still something to vote on.
If we update last week’s projections, then, with more recent polling and an assumption of 125% rather than 100% turnout relative to the 2006 figures, what do we get? I’m using now the RCP averages for Oregon and Kentucky, but I don’t have new polls for Puerto Rico, South Dakota or Montana, and I’m still using the conservative 60% estimate for Puerto Rico:

State Date Obama Poll% Clinton Poll% Obama Est. Clinton Est. Margin
Kentucky 5/20 30% 59% 225,646 441,514 -215,868
Oregon 5/20 53% 39% 510,250 373,353 +136,896
Puerto Rico 6/1 37% 50% 444,000 600,000 -156,000
Montana 6/3 43% 36% 85,417 71,512 +13,905
South Dakota 6/3 46% 34% 132,519 97,949 +34,570
Total 47% 53% 1,397,832 1,584,329 -186,497

In other words, if form holds – even using the conservative projection of the vote total in Puerto Rico – Obama could end up well over half a million votes under water for the last three months of the primaries. We can only speculate as to why Obama has been struggling like this – whether it’s a sign of Hillary’s strength, the nature of the later primary states, a temporary weakness or permanent damage to Obama – and whether it will carry over in the general election campaign. But I can say this: if Obama was a fatally damaged general election candidate by this point, this is pretty much how you would expect him to be doing in the late primaries.

Continue reading Obamomentum, West Virginia Edition

Obamomentum, Revisited

Most anyone watching the primaries had expected all along that Obama would win North Carolina – where the Democratic primary electorate is dominated by African-Americans and college towns – and Hillary would win the more conservative white Democrats in Indiana last night, but Hillary’s relatively narrow margin of victory in Indiana and the simple fact that Obama notched a victory in a state of significant size after a string of losses both add up to an undeniably good night for Obama. Let’s update the chart I ran previously of the popular vote since the beginning of March:

State Date Obama Clinton Margin
Indiana 5/6 615,862 638,274 -22,412
North Carolina 5/6 890,895 657,920 +232,975
Guam 5/3 2,264 2,257 +7
Pennsylvania 4/22 1,042,297 1,258,245 -215,948
Mississippi 3/11 265,502 159,221 +106,281
Wyoming 3/8 5,378 3,311 +2,067
Texas 3/4 1,358,785 1,459,814 -101,029
Ohio 3/4 982,489 1,212,362 -229,873
Rhode Island 3/4 75,316 108,949 -33,633
Vermont 3/4 91,901 59,806 +32,095
Total 5,330,689 5,560,159 -229,470
Overall% 48.9% 51.1%

As you can see, over this period – covering the time after the genuine cracks in Obama’s previously untouched public brand image had appeared – Obama is still behind in the popular vote, and with only Oregon on May 20 as a likely source for significant number of votes for Obama, that’s not going to change.
That’s even before you deal with the exit polls – I’ll leave the dissection of those to others, but it seems pretty clear that Obama is getting crushed among white and Latino voters, and you can’t win much of anything in these United States without those two groups. It’s also before you deal with the popular vote for January and February, which is harder to measure because you get into the question of how to estimate the caucus popular votes (in some states, these were not recorded) or whether to count Florida and Michigan:

Here’s the remaining schedule, with a chart showing the most recent poll I could find – I used Rasmussen for West Virginia, Kentucky and Oregon, a mid-April Dakota Wesleyan poll for South Dakota, a mid-April Puerto Rico poll, and, lacking a head-to-head poll, I used Rasmussen’s general election numbers for Montana, which show Obama polling much better, but with basically similar numbers to the South Dakota poll (but note that unlike earlier Obama mountain-state victories these are primaries, not caucuses). I then projected the number of voters – for the states, I used the number of ballots cast for Democrats in the House in 2006*, since this seems to have been a fairly reliable proxy for the number of ballots cast in the primaries in Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina; Puerto Rico is more challenging, but to be conservative I just assumed a turnout of 1.2 million voters, which is roughly 60% of the 2004 gubernatorial general election turnout (in which above 80% of registered voters voted); as Ben Domenech has noted, given Puerto Rico’s traditionally high voter turnout and the realization that this may be a unique opportunity to affect the mainland presidential election, if Hillary’s still battling at this point the turnout could be much closer to the general election figures:

State Date Obama Poll% Clinton Poll% Obama Est. Clinton Est. Margin
West Virginia 5/13 27% 56% 71,232 147,740 -76,508
Kentucky 5/20 31% 56% 186,534 336,965 -150,431
Oregon 5/20 51% 39% 390,585 298,683 +91,902
Puerto Rico 6/1 37% 50% 444,000 600,000 -156,000
Montana 6/3 43% 36% 68,334 57,210 +11,124
South Dakota 6/3 46% 34% 106,015 78,359 +27,656
Total 45% 55% 1,266,700 1,518,957 -252,256

Obviously, these are very rough estimates, especially since some of these polls have upwards of 20% of the electorate undecided, but you get the general idea. Much will depend on the turnout, especially in Puerto Rico, but I think it’s a safe bet that when all is said and done, Obama will be down somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 votes for the period covering the last three months of the primary campaign. Heck of a way to launch a general election campaign.

Continue reading Obamomentum, Revisited

Hillary and McCain

RCP looks at the gulf between Hillary’s strong position in the polls and her weakness among the lefty “netroots,” in large part driven by her stance on the war. In a lot of ways this mirrors John McCain, who is still polling OK but is almost friendless in the blogosphere. In McCain’s case that may be due in part to the fact that
1. Bloggers are independent writers about politics
2. McCain is identified as an enemy of independent speech about politics
and thus he may be disproportionately unpopular with bloggers. I think it’s at least partly the case that there will be some convergence in each camp, although the presence of Obama does create a serious threat to Hillary that no other candidate could have mounted.

2006: The Terrain

There’s been a lot of talk, more than usual this early in the election cycle, about the 2006 Senate races and the odds of either party picking up seats and changing the dynamics in a Senate now perennially deadlocked over judicial nominations and other business. In fact, much partisan strategy over these battles will, as always, be shaped by the prospects for the next election – where the parties hope to gain, where they fear to lose, and whether they expect to be dealing from a stronger or weaker hand come January 2007. With that in mind, let’s take a look, using some hard numbers, at the political terrain for the 2006 Senate races.
There are polls, of course, but polls this early are volatile. Before we get to the polling data, there are two main pieces of hard data – actual votes – that we can use to evaluate the political climate in a state entering the beginning of a Senate race. The first is the red/blue issue: when people were paying greatest attention, which party did they side with? The polarizing nature of the 2004 election, with a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat, sharpened that distinction. The second is the history of this Senate seat: how did the incumbent do in his/her last election? This second item is of particular importance where the incumbent is running again, although you do have to bear in mind that you are dealing with election results from six years ago, before 9/11, the Iraq War, the Florida Recount, Enron, judicial filibusters, Terri Schiavo, blogs, etc., etc., etc. Rather than rest on one or two of these data points, let’s combine the two. I present a ranking of the Senate seats to be contested in 2006, from most to least likely to change parties, based on adding (1) the incumbent party’s percentage of the vote in the last race for this seat (S%) to (2) the incumbent party’s percentage of the vote in the 2004 presidential election (P%) (all numbers from FEC sources here, here and here):

ST Incumbent P Notes S% P% R% D%
NE Ben Nelson D B 51.00 32.68 83.68
RI Lincoln Chaffee R 56.85 38.67 95.52
ND Kent Conrad D 61.37 35.50 96.87
FL Bill Nelson D B 51.04 47.09 98.13
MN Open (Mark Dayton) D A 48.83 51.09 99.92
MI Debbie Stabenow D A 49.47 51.23 100.70
PA Rick Santorum R 52.41 48.42 100.83
WA Maria Cantwell D A 48.73 52.82 101.55
NJ Jon Corzine/Open D B 50.11 52.92 103.03
MO Jim Talent R A, E 49.80 53.30 103.10
NV John Ensign R D 55.09 50.47 105.56
VA George Allen R A 52.26 53.68 105.94
DE Tom Carper D A 55.52 53.35 108.87
MT Conrad Burns R 50.55 59.07 109.62
CA Dianne Feinstein D D 55.84 54.31 110.15
OH Mike DeWine R D 59.90 50.81 110.71
NM Jeff Bingaman D 61.70 49.05 110.75
WI Herb Kohl D 61.54 49.70 111.24
ME Susan Collins R 68.94 44.58 113.52
NY Hillary Clinton D B 55.27 58.37 113.64
CT Joe Lieberman D 63.21 54.31 117.52
MD Open (Paul Sarbanes) D 63.18 55.91 119.09
WV Robert Byrd D 77.75 43.20 120.95
TN Open (Bill Frist) R 65.10 56.80 121.90
MS Trent Lott R 65.88 59.01 124.89
TX Kay B. Hutchinson/Open R 65.04 61.09 126.13
IN Richard Lugar R 66.56 59.94 126.50
HI Daniel Akaka D 72.68 54.01 126.69
AZ John Kyl R C 79.32 54.87 134.19
MA Ted Kennedy D D 72.69 61.94 134.63
UT Orrin Hatch R 65.58 71.54 137.12
WY Craig Thomas R 73.77 68.86 142.63

Observant readers will note that I’m missing a state, Vermont. The problem is that Jim Jeffords ran there as a Republican in 2000, so it’s hard to make anything of his 65.56%-25.42% thumping of his Democratic opponent. Kerry won 58.94% of the vote in Vermont, so if you double that and throw out the Jeffords anomaly, the D% should probably be 117.88, ranking the state near Maryland as an open seat the Democrats ought to be able to defend.
A=Unseated incumbent in 2000 (or 2002, in Jim Talent’s case)
B=Won open seat in 2000
C=Ran unopposed in 2000
D=Ran against divided opposition in 2000
E=Won special election in 2002
These notes are important. John Kyl is in a very strong position, but he ran unopposed in 2000; he’s not quite as bulletproof as he looks. The Democrats may seem weak in several spots because they ran the table in close Senate races in 2000, but several of those candidates knocked off incumbents last time around, and will start in a stronger position this time around with the headwind of incumbency at their backs rather than in their faces. I figured “divided opposition” where the two main candidates pulled below 96%, leaving a number of voters on the table, but since Ted Kennedy beat his opponent 72.69%-12.86% in 2000, that doesn’t amount to much.
I’d hesitate to say what threshhold indicates a realistic chance of a seat changing hands, but obviously anyone below 100 has to be viewed as an opportunity for the other side, and anyone above about 110 is – other than open seats – an extremely tough race. You can see that most of the most competitive races, based on this criteria, involve Democratic-held seats.
Of course, all of this is prologue; the 2006 races will be fought, like every election, with a new backdrop of issues and partisan mood and momentum, which so far seems to be favoring the Democrats. The number of genuinely competitive races is bound to be reduced if credible challengers can’t be located, as was the case in 2004 in Nevada, for example, where Harry Reid was vulnerable but the GOP couldn’t get a serious challenger. But the numbers above at least provide a solid guide to where the needle stands entering those races, and how far it has to move to save or defeat the incumbents listed above.
UPDATE: Don’t miss Gerry Daly’s effort to tweak some of the variables here to create a more accurate measure. I don’t necessarily agree that the other Senate seat is all that instructive, as demonstrated by longstanding in-state splits: D’Amato and Moynihan, Grassley and Harkin, Domenici and Bingaman, etc. and the fact that some states just get in the habit of re-upping incumbents. For example, the persistence of Robert Byrd does nothing to help Jay Rockefeller. On the other hand, for similar reasons, I’m inclined to agree with a commenter at RedState that the last Senate election isn’t that useful in evaluating open seats, at least not in the case of someone like Frist or Sarbanes who ran as an incumbent six years ago.

Continue reading 2006: The Terrain

Exiting The Democrats

You have to take the national exit polls with a grain of salt, but it appears that this poll weights out to the correct result, and if so, a few things jump off the page:
1. Bush won white voters 58-41. He won white males by 25 points and white women by 11. Now, I know white people aren’t exactly a cohesive group, and that there’s something vaguely distasteful, even, about speaking of a “white vote”. But if you’re not even competitive with a demographic that constitutes 77% of the electorate, you got problems. Similarly, 81% of the electorate consists of Christians, and while the poll doesn’t combine Protestant and Catholic, if my (rusty) algebra is correct, Christians voted for Bush by a margin of 57-42. At the cross-section of the two majority groups, 61% of the electorate is white Christians, and they broke 63-36 for Bush. Again, you can’t afford to lose by that kind of margin with a majority voting bloc.
2. 49% of voters trusted Bush and not Kerry to fight terrorism, and those voters broke for Bush 97-3, such a decisive margin as to suggest that this issue was a deal-breaker for nearly half of all voters. In short, all else aside, Kerry was about 99% defeated just by the lack of voter trust in him as a war leader. This is supported by the fact that voters who trusted both candidates on terrorism broke for Kerry 75-24, while voters who trusted both candidates on the economy broke for Bush 61-38.

Where Bush’s Swing Voters Came From

In this post, I examined the national popular vote and concluded that, comparing of the increased number of Bush voters from 2000 (about 8.66 million) and the increased number of Kerry voters as compared to Gore voters in 2000 (about 4.56 million), one of two things had happened – either:
1. Bush had won the votes of 65.5% of “new voters,” defined as people who – regardless of whether they had voted in past elections – didn’t vote for either Bush or Gore in 2000; or
2. Bush had won less than 65.5% of such voters but had stolen away so many Gore voters (even over and above Nader voters who switched to Kerry) that he could approximate the same effect.
As more poll data comes in, I’m more convinced now by some of the commenters to the prior post who argued that it was more the latter than the former, and that the Gore voter switch is particularly pronounced when you consider the likelihood that most of Nader’s voters from 2000 went over to Kerry. (I heard someone on TV claim that exit polls showed Bush won 10% of Gore voters). This is a conclusion that should cause ABC’s The Note great embarrassment for its now-famous declaration, back on August 11, that “we still can’t find a single American who voted for Al Gore in 2000 who is planning to vote for George Bush in 2004.”
I calculated the 65.5% “marginal votes” figure by applying the following formula to the national popular vote:
((Bush 2004 votes) – (Bush 2000 votes))/(((Kerry 2004 votes) – (Gore 2000 votes)) + ((Bush 2004 votes) – (Bush 2000 votes)))
As noted, Bush won an additional 8.66 million Republican votes, whereas Kerry won something on the order of 4.56 million additional Democratic votes. I computed these figures by ignoring third-party candidates, figuring that people Kerry won over who had voted Nader last time are, in many ways, equivalent to bringing new people into the process, and by comparing the official FEC tabulations from 2000 and the latest running tallies so far. I would caution that the 2004 figures are still moving targets; returns are coming in daily. The 65.5% figure, for example, is down to 64.5% as of Friday, and may go up or down as more absentee and provisional ballots are tabulated in various states.
Anyway, I thought I’d take a state-by-state look to see where it was, precisely, that all of those 8.66 million new Bush voters came from. The numbers that follow were computed Friday, November 5, following the call of Iowa, the last contested state, for President Bush. It’s a particularly interesting question for me, as a New York City Republican listening to my fellow New Yorkers rage at what they saw as the provincialism of the red-staters who gave Bush his victory (See here and here for examples): where was it that all these extra Bush votes came from? What state led the charge to Bush?
New York
That’s right, New York. The single largest percentage of marginal voters swinging to Bush came among the benighted, provincial, knuckle-draggin’, Bible-thumpin’, troglodytes of the Empire State itself. New York was one of only three states in the Union (along with Rhode Island and Alabama) to see an increase in Bush votes and a decrease in Kerry votes as compared to Gore, and the only one in which the decrease was significant. Bush gained nearly 400,000 additional votes in New York while Kerry lost more than 120,000 – a swing of nearly half a million votes. That swing, by the way, all but eliminated Gore’s 540,000 advantage in the national popular vote all by itself. Before New Yorkers fume at Bush voters in the South and the Great Plains states they should look around at their neighbors and ask themselves how many of them have been strangely quiet about this election.
It wasn’t just New York, of course; the fourth-largest marginal swing was New Jersey, and Bush won over 80% of the marginal votes in Connecticut. Can you say, “September 11”? And, come to think of it – when you combine those states with the nearly 1 million new Bush votes in Florida – there may have been another factor at work in 2000, much noted in the media at the time and much ignored in the media this time: Joe-mentum. Without the presence of the first Jew on a national ticket, Kerry may not have had the same oomph in states with a large Jewish population (“Where have you gone, Joe Lieberman, your party turns its lonely eyes to you . . . “) Of course, these are basically Democratic states, so Bush still didn’t win them. But he won over a lot of people here in the past four years, and that showed in the final tallies.
I list the states in order of the percentage of the marginal vote won by Bush:

Continue reading Where Bush’s Swing Voters Came From

Marginal Votes For Bush

Here’s something I think is really, really interesting, as long as you understand that the methodology isn’t so much science as a rough way of measuring the impact of something that might be more accurately measured if you had accurate exit polls. Turnout was up across the country, such that Bush got more votes everywhere than he did in 2000, and Kerry got more votes everywhere than Gore did in 2000 (except California in each case, as far as I can tell, although there may be a bunch of absentee ballots yet to count).
The conventional wisdom was that increased turnout would help Democrats. If this were true, one would expect that, at least in contested states, the marginal voters would break for Kerry – i.e., that when you subtract out the 2000 returns from each side, what’s left should lean Kerry. This would be true unless Bush moved so many Gore voters to his column (above and beyond the number of 2000 Bush voters who abandoned him) to negate the benefits of new Kerry-leaning voters. (My own suspicion is that, in general, the people who voted last time and switched sides were close to a wash, although they likely broke for Bush in some places like NJ where he lost decisively last time but closed the gap significantly).
But if you run the calculations of marginal votes, what you get is Bush majorities in the marginal numbers in a lot of places. In some states by big margins – in Connecticut, for example, Bush wins about 88% of the marginal vote. Ohio was an exception, but Bush takes 48% there, enough to hold a state he won by a few points last time. Of course, in New Hampshire, which he lost, he drops to 43%.
I’ll run a state-by-state table of these later on when we’re closer to having final tallies (including absentees) to provide a good comparison. But let’s at least run the table on the national popular vote. Here’s the equation I used:
((Bush 2004 votes) – (Bush 2000 votes))/(((Kerry 2004 votes) – (Gore 2000 votes)) + ((Bush 2004 votes) – (Bush 2000 votes)))
For these purposes, I ignored third-party candidates, since people Kerry won over who had voted Nader last time are, in many ways, equivalent to bringing new people into the process. Looking at the official FEC tabulations from 2000 and the latest tallies so far, I get the following:

Bush 2000 Bush 2004 Bush + Gore 2000 Kerry 2004 Kerry + Bush Share of Increase
50,456,002 59,117,523 8,661,521 50,999,897 55,557,584 4,557,687 65.5%

When you put the numbers in that context, you see that Bush was actually hugely more successful at the margins in his combination of bringing new voters to the polls and convincing more people to switch to him than away from him. Remember that next time you hear that high turnout always and everywhere favors the Democrats.

Believe The Polls

By now you’ve heard a lot about how the partial exit polls that leaked out during the day on Election Day across the internet were skewed to an almost absurd pro-Kerry extent, and you’ve seen how pro-Democrat pollster John Zogby’s final results were the same way just before the election (he projected more than 300 electoral votes for Kerry).
But the state-by-state polls actually weren’t all that far off if you knew how to read them. Personally, I was relying on two reliable sources down the stretch: Daly Thoughts and RealClearPolitics, both of which came out with the same Election Day prediction of 296 electoral votes for Bush. Assuming that nothing overturns Bush’s lead in Iowa, which looks like the last state not definitively called, Dales and RCP will have each gotten 49 of 50 states right, missing only Wisconsin, which Kerry held on to by the narrowest of margins.
In fact, RCP’s national poll average showed a fairly steady lead for Bush throughout the fall, so anyone who put their faith in the RCP guys knew what was likely to happen. Media reports to the contrary were mostly based on cherry-picking pro-Kerry polls and/or on the assumption that new voter turnout would moot all the old polling models. Dales in particular should be explaining over the next few weeks why that was a bad idea (Kaus got in the best cheap shot yet: “Bush 51, Kerry 48: Pollster Ruy Teixeira demands that these raw numbers be weighted to reflect party I.D.!”)
Mark Steyn often argues that liberal media bias is a Republican’s best friend, as Election Day is the only time that Democrats are forced out of the self-serving illusions given them by the media and compelled to face reality. On this one, he seems to have been right; the evidence was there in the polls, but people who were reading Zogby and the various media outlets that trumpeted a late Kerry surge missed it. Glad I was reading guys who could tell me the score.

The Message

We’ll see more from exit polls and the like, although one of the ironies of this election is that the exit polls were so wrong about the result, yet they will still be used to break out who voted for who and why. Makes you wonder.
Anyway, here’s my best guess on the message of this election as it pertains to the issues (more later on the candidates and the campaigns):
1. The War on Terror: Polls regularly showed that people are split on the war in Iraq, with many Americans having misgivings on the reasons for going there and our progress in winning the war. Ultimately, nothing succeeds like success; I’m confident that in time, we’ll have enough tangible progress to get more public acceptance.
But Democratic hopes that unease about the war would sink Bush turned out to be largely unfounded. Even if people weren’t so sure they supported the Iraq war, it was clear throughout the campaign that they trusted Bush and his team to carry the broader war through to victory, or at least as far as they could get in four more years. To some people, that may sound irrational: if you don’t trust Bush on Iraq, why trust him at all? But most people, I think, understand that the president knows more than they do about any particular foreign controversy; they are perfectly capable of doubting the Iraq war based on what they know, and yet resting comfortably with the more general sense that Bush has proven himself to be a guy who’s not going to take potential threats sitting down.
One of the criticisms that has sometimes been made by Democrats is that Bush politicized the war. If they mean simply that Bush sought political profit from his leadership in wartime and his handling of the time of crisis after September 11, well, that’s politics; do these people not remember Oklahoma City, or the 1944 election for that matter? But that’s not it; what really rankles is not that Bush scored political points off of having handled some uncontroversial things well. What rankles is that Bush found electoral advantages in 2002 and 2004 from the Democrats’ own differences of opinion with his policies. As if it was noble of Democrats to attack the president’s policies at all turns in the harshest of possible terms and seek to undermine them in Congress, and yet somehow improper for the president to point out these differences to the American people and ask them to decide which side of these various controversies they trusted.
This is the great dilemma for Democrats. Democrats have a set of beliefs about domestic politics (more later on this), and many of them feel cheated in some sense that foreign policy swamped those issues in the campaign. But at the same time, a large segment of Democrats remain harshly critical of the president’s foreign policies. A Tony Blair/Joe Lieberman-type Democrat who doesn’t put daylight between himself and Republicans on foreign policy and national security issues would make it nearly impossible to politicize those issues and remove deep divisions in our politics. If Democrats are going to bemoan the prominence of national security in our politics, they need to decide: are they willing to go along with Republican policies and attitudes that are popular, at least in broad outline, with the public? If they are, the security issue can be neutralized. If not, then they will have to accept the natural consequences of their own ideas.
2. The Economy: Some Republicans will argue that the president’s economic policies have been blessed by the electorate. I’m not sure I’d go that far. Polls seemed to indicate, again, a generally divided view, with Kerry sometimes having advantages on the economy. But it is clear that voters found Bush’s economic management at least sufficiently unobjectionable that bread-and-butter issues didn’t overwhelm the rest of his message, even in hard-hit places like Ohio and Michigan (Bush did better in Michigan than in 2004). And, of course, there’s no question that Bush’s fealty to his tax cut pledges helped him hold his base, and that – as in 2004 – a number of House and Senate races went Republican after being fought on economic issues.
3. Social Issues and the Courts: Here, I believe there is a mandate, if one that Republicans need to interpret carefully. Republicans up and down the ticket did exceptionally well with rural and other socially conservative voters, and Karl Rove’s prediction that he could bring out millions of evangelical Christian voters who didn’t vote in 2000 proved prophetic. Polls regularly showed that voters preferred Bush over Kerry in picking judges, and it’s now already conventional wisdom that the same-sex marriage issue played disastrously for Democrats in the heartland. With the Senate now up to 55 Republicans, Bush will be amply justified in appointing conservative judges and in pushing to get through the appellate judges who are already stalled. If Bush is really devious, he could respond to the next Supreme Court vacancy by appointing Miguel Estrada and daring Democrats to complain about his lack of judicial experience after they spent years keeping him off the bench.
But the posture of the same-sex marriage issue should also serve as a reminder: America is a progressive country and a conservative country, and politicians forget one of the two parts of that formula at their peril. Progressive, in the sense that there is a broad, general acceptance of social change. People may fight about particular changes in our society and grumble and groan about the decay of everything, but at a fundamental level, the public is willing to accept that attitudes about race, gender roles, sexual behavior and the like do change over time, and the society changes accordingly. Certainly, efforts to use government to forcibly hold back such changes in attitude almost always result in political setbacks. Bill Bennett had this to say yesterday:

President Bush now has a mandate to affect policy that will promote a more decent society, through both politics and law. His supporters want that, and have given him a mandate in their popular and electoral votes to see to it. Now is the time to begin our long, national cultural renewal . . .

With all due respect to Bennett – much as I’m sure he and I agree on many values issues – that’s not going to work. But if it’s important to recognize the progressive nature of social change, it’s at least equally important to recognize the conservative impulse as well: people who may be willing to be persuaded to change their minds about things – or who may give way in time to people with different opinions – may not be so enthused about court decisions that take away from the people the development of that process and tie it up in a constitutional straitjacket. In some cases, that straitjacket can actually reverse the direction of the progressive impulse (as any social change can be reversed over time if attitudes change); pro-lifers are optimistic that, if anything, the absolutism of pro-abortion groups like NARAL and their allies in the courts have succeeded in provoking a general trend towards more rather than less disapproval of abortion. If such a trend grows visibly over time, eventually there will not be popular support for candidates like Kerry who swear to appoint judges with a pro-Roe v. Wade litmus test. This election could wind up being seen in retrospect as such a turning point, as Bush (like Reagan) got a larger share of the popular vote than avowedly pro-abortion candidates like Kerry, Gore, Clinton, Dukakis and Mondale ever did.
People like Kevin Drum keep telling us that times are a-changing and eventually, issues that favor conservatives will go away. But this dichotomy will never go away, no matter what the particular issue. Liberals are forever trying to use the courts to short-cut or entirely avoid the process of persuading people on social issues, and that will continue to be a self-defeating tendency no matter what the specific issue at hand. As long as conservatives focus their energies on appointing judges who will leave most such issues in the hands of the people and don’t try to make major social changes of their own before their time, social issues will remain a bulwark of conservatism.

2004: The Morning After

I stayed up until Edwards spoke at 2:30 (after being announced as “the next vice president of the United States”), so I’m just too spent this morning to do the full what-it-all-means post, or even to fully absorb the meaning of Kerry’s refusal so far to concede. My gut tells me that Kerry’s refusal to call it last night was only fair, given the traumatic 2000 experience for his party and given how close this one was in the Electoral College, although it’s rather sad to see the tradition of Election Night concession speeches fade away. But I would hope he buries the hatchet by the end of today; fishing for an extra 500 votes when you have a popular vote plurality at your back is one thing, but going to war for 146,000 votes is quite another, and with Bush having won a decisive majority of the national popular vote, I suspect the public would run out of patience for a fight that lasts more than another day or so. The Democrats never got closure on the last election because the leader of their party never looked them in the eye and said, “we lost fair and square, it’s over” the way the loser of every election had before. Kerry surely must be able to appreciate, particularly with the passions that election and the war have stirred up, why it will be crucially important to the peace of the nation going forward to do that soon.
My feeling this morning is mostly one of overwhelming relief. We got through the election without a terrorist attack, meaning the last thing Al Qaeda might have been holding back something for has passed. Not that they are done, but there was no other reason to wait other than lack of capacity to strike. And the election went well. The Commander-in-Chief will stay at the helm, and we will have the opportunity to carry his strategy through for another four years. The Senate will be more Republican, as we steel for a likely Supreme Court battle and maybe several.
For historical perspective, not only has Bush won a majority of the popular vote for the first time since 1988, but his 51% of the vote is larger than any Democrat has won, other than FDR (who did it four times) and LBJ in 1964, since the Republican party ran its first national election in 1856 (Jimmy Carter in 1976 is the only other Democrat to muster a majority in that period, and then it was 50% in the wake of Watergate). The Republican party remains a majority party at the national level, having won popular majorities now 7 times to the Democrats’ two since 1945. It is, of course, particularly satisfying, on an emotional level, to see Bush win a larger share of the vote than Clinton ever did.
On the coverage last night, I was flipping channels continuously. CBS was actually the fastest network to call states early, but only FOX and NBC called Ohio for Bush, and at last check nobody was willing to say 270; it’s safe to say that some of the networks just couldn’t quite bring themselves to call a winner until the other side had conceded defeat. I do think FOX had the best coverage, for two reasons. First, FOX had the best ticker, packing in useful information on popular vote totals along with the percentages and share reporting for all the major races. Some of the others left out the raw numbers. Second, FOX had the incomparable Michael Barone, whose encyclopedic understanding of every battleground state down to the precinct level gave FOX viewers a decisive informational advantage in digesting the returns from hotly contested states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.
Furthest-out line of the night, besides some of Dan Rather’s Ratherisms, had to be Joe Scarborough discussing why statewide and nationwide elected officials like hurricanes in Florida.
Anyway, I’m tired and I need to get back to work. I’ll be back on my usual early-morning blogging schedule wrapping up the election the next two days, and then I’ll be resuming baseball coverage next week. I’ll also be taking down some of the election-related bells and whistles on the site over the next several days.

Strong Incumbents, Strong Challengers

Looking at the RealClearPolitics 3-way polling averages, 11 out of 12 have Bush with between 47 and 51% of the vote, and 8 of 12 have Kerry with between 47 and 49% of the vote. The latest Rasmussen tracking polls are consistent as well, showing Bush leading 47.9-47.1, 48.1-47.1, and 48.8-47.4 over the past three days (the most recent listed last). Which means, essentially, that we have both an incumbent and a challenger who have a fairly solid base of support entering the last two days of the campaign. I think most of us will agree that it is highly likely that Bush will poll at least 47% on Election Day, and equally highly likely that Kerry will poll at least 46% and probably at least 47% – thus, at least a decently close election remains likely, although we could still have a decisive popular-vote majority and/or an Electoral College landslide.
Recognizing the limits of historical analogies, what can we determine from this? I decided to take a look at the final election results for elections dating back to 1824, when they started keeping records of the popular vote. There have been 25 elections in that period in which an incumbent has stood for re-election; 16 have been re-elected, 9 have been voted out of office.
Strong Incumbents, Weak Incumbents
Obviously, a strong incumbent – if we define a “strong” candidate as one who finishes with at least 47% of the vote – is likely to be re-elected. How likely? All 16 who were re-elected had at least 47%, while only two incumbents who polled at least 47% were voted out, those being Ford in 1976 with 48% of the vote and Grover Cleveland in 1888, who won the popular vote with 48.6% and was voted down (if you want to quibble with my line-drawing – and I had to draw it somewhere – the one incumbent in the 46% range, Martin van Buren at 46.8% in 1840, went down to defeat). The only three presidents to be re-elected with below 50% were Harry Truman in 1948 (49.4%), Woodrow Wilson in 1916 (49.2%) and Bill Clinton in 1996 (49.2%).
What’s interesting – and, in fact, what shows the limitations of historical analogies – is how few incumbents have lost races without a complete collapse in their support. Besides Ford, the other four incumbents to lose since 1900 got completely abandoned at the polls: Carter in 1980 got 41%, Hoover in 1928 got 39.6%, Bush Sr. in 1992 got 37.4%, and Taft in 1912 got 23.2% and finished third. Besides Cleveland and van Buren, the other two 19th century incumbents to lose also showed weakly, in both cases against candidates who beat them in the popular vote four years earlier: Benjamin Harrison drew just 43% in his 1892 rematch with Cleveland, and John Quincy Adams drew just 43.6% in his 1828 rematch with Andrew Jackson.
The average margin of victory for successful incumbents? 54.9 to 41.1 overall and 54.9 to 40.9 since 1900. The average margin of victory for successful challengers? 49.5 to 41.2 overall, and 48.5 to 37.8 since 1900.
Strong Challengers, Weak Challengers
The flip side is when, as this year, we have a strong challenger: six candidates have drawn at least 47% of the popular vote against an incumbent president, and all of them have won. Of those, only one drew less than 50% of the vote: Benjamin Harrison in 1888 with 47.8%.
Strong Incumbents, Strong Challengers
You can see where this is heading. In the five presidential elections in which an incumbent and a challenger were separated by 5 points or less, the incumbent won two (Truman in 1948 and Wilson in 1916); the challenger won three, Carter defeating Ford in 1976 and the two Cleveland-Harrison matches in 1888 and 1892; or, that’s a two-to-one advantage since 1900. Not much you can learn there either way. For what it’s worth, the average outcome was 47.6% for the incumbent and 47% for the challenger, or 48.9% for the incumbent and 47% for the challenger since 1900.
If you look at matchups of a strong challenger against a strong incumbent, there’s only two historical precedents, both of them bad for the incumbent: 1888 and 1976.
Well, it should be pretty clear from all this that the history isn’t all that enlightening; there’s really only five campaigns out of 25, and maybe really only two, that give us any examples to study. But I do think the history is a useful caution about reading too much into the study of, for example, how late-deciding voters make their minds up. The fact is, the 1976 campaign is the only one in the last 50 years to look anything like this one, and the polling data from 1976 don’t exactly support the notion that voters facing a choice between a strong incumbent and a strong challenger will swarm to the challenger at the end, as Ford’s strength came from a late surge after never pulling better than 45% until the final poll of the election, when he pulled briefly ahead at 49-48 with a momentary surge that quickly subsided (link via this analysis). And Ford, you may recall, was a bit of a unique incumbent: he had never been on a national ticket before, and was running on a record of the first election after Watergate and the fall of South Vietnam.
In other words: tomorrow, history leaves us on our own. It’s our job to make it.

The Microbial Theory

Let’s consider exactly how bad things look right now for John Kerry in the Electoral College, by looking over RealClearPolitics’ state-by-state battleground poll averages. Bush, of course, starts with a historical advantage: he needs 269 electors to tie, 270 to win, and if he holds the 2000 “red states,” he gets 278. On the RCP scoreboard, Bush gets 291 if you count the states where his average margin is at least 3 points over Kerry.
With Ohio drifting away from Kerry and Wisconsin looking firmly planted in the Bush camp, Kerry’s hopes are now totally dependent upon wresting Florida from Bush, while holding on to big battlegrounds like Pennsylvania (Kerry by 1.7), Minnesota (tied), Oregon (Kerry +0.7), and New Jersey (Kerry +1.4) (Michigan, at Kerry +5 now looks fairly safe for Kerry barring another big shift in the dynamics of the race).
But, leaving aside the issue of Maine and possibly Colorado splitting their electoral votes, consider this outcome – even if Florida gets away from Bush, he could still win with the following states:

Continue reading The Microbial Theory

54-40, or Fight?

Bush leads 54-40 in a Gallup poll due out this morning, raising further questions about the sometimes wide variance in polling. Still, I’d be surprised if many presidential candidates have won after trailing by double digits in a Gallup poll as late as the middle of September. The electoral math is getting grim for Kerry; if Bush wins Florida and Ohio, it’s very hard for Kerry to win, and Bush is looking stronger in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which would really lock down the electoral college.
But don’t get cocky; Dales still sees a lot of states in play.

Poll Taxing

Via Andrew Sullivan, the early results show a strong pro-Bush swing in the battleground states following his initial TV ad campaign. Perhaps most notable is this result:

14. If John Kerry were to win the election in November, do you think your federal income taxes would go up, or not?
Yes, would 58%
No, would not 27%
No opinion 15%

That’s never a good omen for a presidential candidate.

Charting The Battleground States

Let’s have some fun with numbers . . . as primary season winds down and we look ahead to the likely Bush-Kerry matchup, it’s important to bear in mind a lesson that the 2000 election drove home: presidential elections are won and lost in the Electoral College. (Which is, among other things, why national polls are of limited usefulness; it’s the individual states that matter). So I thought I’d look at which states are likely to be “in play.”
There are two variables: how many electoral votes a state has to offer, and how likely it is that the state could go to either candidate. The first is a fixed number; we know it in advance. (Daily Kos, which has some of the best horse-race coverage around, has a great calculator that lets you compute the electoral numbers by coloring various states red and blue). For the second, a good starting point is the 2000 election results.
I decided to take a whack at combining the two. I started by dividing a state’s electoral votes by the percentage point difference between Bush and Gore, but that gave too much weight to the larger states, so I settled on dividing the electoral votes by the percentage point difference squared. (For ease of comprehension, I multiplied the percentages by 10 – thus, a 12-point difference was rendered as 1.2 before squaring it, a six-point difference as .6). This isn’t a scientific sample, just a way of quantifying what we already intuitively know. Here’s my ranking of the most-hotly-contested states (Under “Margin,” I listed a negative margin for states won by Gore):

Continue reading Charting The Battleground States

California Polling

Bush is losing ground in the polls in California. This underlines two things:
1. As I’ve been saying for some time, Bush has a better shot of reviving in NY (where the war on terror is especially close to home) than in CA. I’ll believe a Republican winning in California when I see it.
2. Bush has nothing to lose from a recall of Gray Davis, and much to gain; if things just fester in California, voters won’t be itching to reward any incumbents.
On a related note, CalPundit (actually doing some California punditry in a break from his all-Niger routine) has a hilarious story of Democrats plotting to force a budget impasse in California for partisan advantage– in front of an open mike.
Just imagine if Newt Gingrich got caught saying some of the stuff in this article.

California and New York

There are few hardier perennials in the world of conservative journals of opinion than the article assuring us that, really, this time, Republicans are gonna start winning in California. It’s right up there with “any day now, African-American voters are gonna wake up and realize that the Democrats take them for granted!” (The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund is a master at both of these genres). Hugh Hewitt had a recent species of this in the Weekly Standard: Barbara Boxer’s a loony leftist! Bush is gonna win the state! Hey, Cubs fans find a way to have hope each spring, so I guess California Republicans can too. Me, I’ll believe it when I see it.
Here in heavily Democractic New York, though, I think Bush really can make inroads in 2004. My reasoning is simple:
1. Upstate New York has traditionally been good territory for the GOP, and Republicans have also proven competitive in the suburbs and on Long Island. In short, if Bush can neutralize Democrats’ huge advantages in the City (in 2000, he lost Manhattan by more than a million votes), he’s definitely in the game.
2. Voters in New York City have proven their willingness to vote for Republicans — albeit more liberal ones than Bush — when they feel their physical safety is at stake. Hence, we’ve had Republican mayors for the past decade.
3. Nobody cares more about progress in the War on Terror than New Yorkers. We’re the City With The Big Bullseye, and everybody knows it. We were the opening battleground of this war. If Bush can convince people that he has made real progress on ths front by the fall of 2004 — no major domestic terror strikes, Saddam gone, perhaps a new regime in Iran, maybe Osama’s head on a spike — he can be very competitive in the City, and maybe win the state.
It will all turn on the war — but then, if the war is seen as going badly, Bush will be packing his bags in 2004 rather than counting electoral votes anyway.

Handicapping the 2004 Senate Race: The GOP Seats

Let’s pick up where we left off yesterday, with the early prognosis for the 2004 Senate races. Once again, you can check the 1998 results for these seats here. This will probably about conclude this week’s bout of election-related blogorrhea.
1. RETIREMENTS: Just one, a prominent one in a state that could go either way (I haven’t checked lately, but last I heard the governors’ race was still unsettled): John McCain in Arizona. You have to count that as a possible Democratic pickup.
2. THE NEWCOMER: Frank Murkowski in Alaska is supposed to be up for re-election, but he was just elected governor, and his appointed replacement will stand for re-election in 2004. That’s a guarantee that there will at least be a contested election, but Alaska has been GOP territory for some time, and the ANWR controversy has exacerbated that. The main risk may well be that if Murkowski is a disaster as the governor, voters might take it out on his hand-picked replacement.
3. SAFE SEATS IN SAFE STATES: Republicans have a bunch of these, guys who are well set in their seats and won handily last time – Don Nickles in Oklahoma, Richard Shelby in Alabama, Judd Gregg in New Hampshire, Mike Crapo in Idaho, Sam Brownback in Kansas, Robert Bennett in Utah. I may also put Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado along with fellow former Democrat Shelby in this category.
4. SWING STATES: Republicans Charles Grassley in Iowa, Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and George Voinovich in Ohio seem safe – Specter faced a still challenge after the Clarence Thomas hearings, but he’s tacked far enough to the left that it’s tough for Democrats to outflank him now – but all three are in states that will be heated battlegrounds for the presidential race, and any one of them could find himself facing a formidable opponent. Iowa, for example, has a popular Democratic governor, Tom Vilsack, who won re-election handily Tuesday and, with Tom Harkin in the other Senate seat, has nowhere else to go but challenge Grassley or run for the White House (although Vilsack is also sometimes mentioned as vice presidential material, the Democrats’ trend in the last few elections has been to look for veep candidates who will generate some national buzz). Put Campbell in this category – Colorado has been a swing state in recent presidential years, although it went GOP in a big way on Tuesday – if not in the one above.
5. ENDANGERED SPECIES: Three GOP incumbents won with less than 53% in 1998. One, Kit Bond of Missouri, is in a swing state, but I suspect he will do fine even if he’s facing Dick Gephardt. Righty Jim Bunning of Kentucky will probably be helped hugely by the presidential race – Bunning barely won re-election with 49.75% of the vote last time, but Kentucky’s a pretty conservative state these days nationally.
That leaves us the most endangered Republican of all, Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois, who slid into office on the trail of slime left by outgoing Senator Carol Mosely Braun. With Illinois’ Democratic governor and Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel both newly elected, I can’t immediately think who will be the favorite to take on Fitzgerald (the way things are going these days, I’d have to guess Paul Simon). But the Democrats will push very hard for this seat and have to be favored to reclaim it.
THE PROGNOSIS: I’d rate the Democrats as having two good shots at pickups here – Illinois and Arizona – with maybe about three other races winding up contested. With the Democrats themselves defending about three or four hot races, they will need a great string of luck to pick up two seats and go to 51 – and that’s assuming they hang on to Louisiana and South Dakota this month. In other words, if the GOP can squeeze out one more seat in the Louisiana race or from South Dakota in the event of a recount, the odds will get prohibitively high against Democrats recapturing the Senate before 2006.