Sunday, October 28, 2012

U.S. Election - Why Obama is likely to win.

TC's view is that so far, while the race is close, barring significant unforeseen developments in the last week, Obama will likely win a majority in the electoral college and the national popular vote on November 6th.
If you follow the race through the impressions of reporters in the mainstream media, one gets the impression of a race that has rocked back and forth.  There is a clear difference in the view of the race between the quantitative analysts - sites such as Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight and Mark Blumenthal's on the Huffington Post - and the so-called 'savvy experts'.  Some polls have suggested a volatile race while others have suggested a much more stable scenario.

These clashing views were best articulated by YouGov pollster Peter Kellner in an analysis (essentially similar to the views of Nate Silver and Mark Blumenthal) that TC finds persuasive:
There are two versions of what has happened in the past three weeks in the battle to be US President. One is the version told by most nationwide polls and accepted by the media; the second, told by a minority of nationwide polls, including YouGov, and most polls in the key battleground states, is significantly different.

Version one says that the first television debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was a game-changer. If we average the polls conducted by Gallup, Pew, Ipsos, ARG and the Daily Kos, we find that before the debate, Obama was ahead by four points; afterwards Romney led by four – a shift in the lead of eight points. Before the debate, Obama was heading for a clear victory; afterwards, Romney looked the more likely winner. Since then, the contest has narrowed a little, but Romney has held most of his initial gains.

Version two says that the first debate made only a small difference. If we average the polls conducted by YouGov, Rasmussen and ABC/Washington Post, then the debate shifted the nationwide vote shares by just a single point: from an Obama lead beforehand of 2% to an Obama lead of 1% afterwards. The figures have stuck close to that ever since. (YouGov’s latest survey, completed this Monday, shows Obama 2% ahead.)

Movements in polls in the key states sit nearer version two than version one. If we average their findings then Florida tipped from Obama to Romney after the first debate, but Obama remained ahead in other key states – notably Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico. Obama narrowly led in Virginia and Colorado before the first debate; afterwards, they were too close to call. On these figures, Obama would still win the electoral college, even if Romney won Virginia and Colorado.
This commentary was posted on October 23 but little has changed since.

There are a number of factors that even suggest Obama may win by more than expected: 

1. There is evidence assembled by Latino Decisions that national polls (and one might add state polls) are systematically under-counting Latino votes for Obama who leads by 3-1 in that community.  Here is what was posted on their web site on October 23:
In 1998 Harry Pachon and Rudy de la Garza wrote a report for the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute titled “Why Pollsters Missed the Latino Vote – Again!” in which they argued that polls across California failed to accurately account for Latino voters in their samples, and that pre-election polls statewide were fraught with errors as a result. Pachon and de la Garza argued that “mainstream” pollsters failed to account for Latinos for three primary reasons: 1) their sample sizes of Latinos were far too small; 2) their Latinos samples were not representative of the Latino population within the state; and 3) they were not interviewing Latinos in Spanish at the correct proportions. THIS WAS 14 YEARS AGO (yes I am screaming).

In 2010 Gary Segura and I wrote that not much had changed and polls continued to mis-represent the Latino vote. It is now well-known that polls in Nevada had small, unrepresentative and biased samples of Latinos, leading them to entirely miss Harry Reid’s 5-point lead over Sharron Angle. Two weeks ago, Nate Silver wrote at 538 that some polls seem to be continuing the same mistakes and under-counting and mis-counting Latino voters, which he had originally picked up, and wrote about the day after the 2010 midterms. Around the same time some new polls started appearing in states like Nevada and Florida with bizarre data for Latino voters – Obama only had an 8 point lead among Nevada Latinos, and Romney was actually ahead among Latinos in Florida. Really?

If this is true, and the evidence they present is persuasive, Obama is likely to do better in the national popular vote than polls suggest, and will easily win Latino vote-rich states such as Nevada and Colorado.

2. Obama is much better organized to turn out the vote, which alone could be worth 2 points This report on the Atlantic Monthly website concludes:

Some Republicans admit that the ground game is a weakness for the party. In Colorado, one top GOP consultant who has worked on presidential campaigns told me he mentally added 2 to 4 points to Obama's polls in the state based on superior organization. In Florida, GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said Republicans would win in other ways: "They're very organized. They're very, very organized, and you have to admit they're very organized," Diaz-Balart said of the Democrats. "However, I think Republicans are very motivated."

We may not be able to fully size up the campaigns' ground games and their effect until Election Day -- and maybe not even then. But what struck me most, in talking to Republicans about their ground game, was the extent to which they admitted they weren't even playing the game.
3. It is worth noting what a friend pointed out to me: there have been a lot of election polling errors recently that go in one direction.  Examples include the recent elections in Quebec and Alberta, last year's federal election, the 2010 UK election and the French presidential election earlier this year.  What all had in common was that support for incumbents was under-estimated.  Perhaps the same will happen in the U.S. on Nov. 6.

Most of the attention is on the race for the presidency.  However, the contests for the House and Senate are equally important, and there the outcome is likely to be a Democratic Senate and a Republican House. A divided Congress is not good news for any hope of policy activism in a second Obama term. The House of Representatives has considerable power and influence in the American system so the outcome there matters. To date the national generic congressional polls show a slight Democratic edge, but the margin does not appear to be enough to oust the Republican majority.