Posts Tagged ‘US elections’

Election predictions

November 5, 2008

First, the USA…

Well, the Redskins lost their last home match before the election, stauchly Republican Dixville Notch is Obama’s in a landslide (15–6), and Obama’s national polling margin at RCP is 7.6%. It’s done and dusted. The US election has been over since the second debate, if not the first. But it’s still an exciting race…

Will it be an ordinary win or an enormous tectonic shift in the make-up of the American electorate? The polls show Obama winning an outright majoity of the popular vote, something Clinton couldn’t achieve, and around 350 electoral votes.

To claim a real national mandate, Obama and the Democrats must change the map, turning two or three Rocky Mountain states blue, a few Southern states too, and add some more Midwestern states. The polls show North Carolina, Missouri and Indiana at the margin. I’m hoping that Obama’s huge advantage on the ground, the record turn-out, and the cell-phone factor will push them over

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Poll trolls

October 31, 2008

There is every reason to expect a landslide in next week’s US elections. I expect Obama to win with more than 300 EVs, and the Dems to pick up maybe 8 Senate seats (VA, NM, AK, NC, CO, NH, OR, maybe MN and GA at a pinch) and 30-40 House seats.

But, Faux News is at it again, touting the race as a “toss up”, narrower than the margin of error. So, one more time, here’s why they’re way out.

First, they’re reporting just one poll. Guess what? The others don’t paint the same picture. [Update: Fox’s poll has already been shown to be a dud, with party identification at 41% Democratic, 39% Republican.]

Here’s the picture you get aggregating the daily tracking polls:

Obama opened up a large gap in mid-September, and has maintained a large lead ever since, with a slight narrowing in recent days. This narrowing was expected, and is considered quite normal. Underpinning Obama’s continuing lead has been a realignment of perceptions of the candidates, reflected in the candidates’ favourability and trust ratings.

Not only has the “horse race” been a picture of remarkable stability, but things have been getting worse for McCain in recent days. The race is about winning electoral votes state-by-state, and not the popular vote. Ask Al Gore.

As of today, aggregating state-level polls shows Obama ahead by at least 8% in states with 272 EVs — enough to win — and by 6%–8% in states with a further 29 EVs and ahead in states with 56 EVs. And Obama is above 50% in the states where he is 6% or more ahead, except Ohio (49.5%). Apart from Missouri and Indiana (which remain toss-ups), the news in the last few days has been good for Obama: his lead has widened slightly in Florida, and remained steady in Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.

Here’s RealClearPolitics’ changes in the status of swing states in recent days:

10/30 Pennsylvania Solid Obama »»» Leaning Obama
10/29 Nevada Toss Up »»» Leaning Obama
10/29 Georgia Leaning McCain »»» Toss Up
10/28 New Hampshire Leaning Obama »»» Solid Obama
10/27 New Hampshire Solid Obama »»» Leaning Obama

But the national polls are showing a great deal of variation, you say (correctly). Suppose there’s a lot of hidden support for McCain? Well, you’re right to have doubts about the polls, but if there’s any hidden support, it’s likely Obama’s…

Polls: Caveat Emptor

First, unlike NZ, turnout in the US has historically been a problem, so the data used are “likely voters” rather than registered voters. How do you know who’s “likely” to vote? Traditionally, pollsters put more weight on past voting behaviour as opposed to expressed intentions. Fine, for your average election. But this is not going to be an average election.

Obama’s margin appears to be over 30% with young voters and over 80% of African American voters. Young voters and African Americans have tended to have low turnouts in the past. However, voting in the primaries, early voting so far in the 31 states that allow it, and unprecedented volunteer activity all point to this being an exceptional year for young and African American turnout.

How much difference will this make to the result? Well, Gallup started producing two figures a couple of weeks ago, using the traditional likely voter model and an expanded one that gave greater weight to expressed intentions. The latter has been tracking at around 3–4% above the former, so that’s how much you could add to Obama’s figures in most national polls if you think that next week will see a massive turn-out.

The so-called Bradley effect? As Mark Blumenthal says, “Much of the recent debate centers on whether the effect ever really existed (see the skeptical take by ABC’s Gary Langer) or whether it existed and then disappeared 10 or 15 years ago (see the exhaustive report [PDF] by Harvard political scientist Daniel Hopkins).” There wasn’t any evidence of such an effect in the primaries either, please note.

Then there’s the cellphone-only voters. If anything, this adds another couple of percent to Obama’s total in the polls (here for earlier post).

But what about those polls showing a narrow gap? Like that IBD/TIPP poll that Faux News was salivating over last week? Well, it showed McCain leading by 52 percentage points among 18- to 24-year-olds. Incredible. As in, not credible.

Zogby, another Faux News favourite in recent times? Turns out that Zogby weighting his data by party ID (a common practice stateside) based on 2004 partisan identification. So he’s been weighting so that Republicans are about even with Democrats. Rasmussen, using current partisan identification weights his data 40.0% Democratic, 32.8% Republican, and 27.2% unaffiliated. (Even so, Zogby has Obama 7% ahead today.)

The late deciders you say? (Well, McCain’s claiming they’ll vote his way when they get into the voting booths.) The best analysis suggests that they will split fairly evenly, maybe a little towards McCain. Anyway, even if he got every last one of them, he’d still be behind in the swing states, as Obama is over 50% already.

This is a truly exciting contest, and it may be close, but it ain’t close yet.

Update: Friday evening US-time: McCain claims, “We’re coming back strong.” Reality: RealClearPolitics poll average had Obama’s lead slipping from 8.0% on 25 October to 5.8% on 30 October. Now it’s back up to 6.5%. McCain’s own state is now categorized as a “toss up” and Obama’s campaign has started running ads there. Comeback?! Strong!?

The ‘October Surprise’ is here!?

October 27, 2008

Yup, the USA has attacked Syria. From the BBC

“Syria has said American troops carried out a raid inside Syria along the Iraqi border, killing eight people – if the claims are true then this will be the first military incursion by the US into Syrian territory from Iraq.”

As the BBC points out:

“… its timing is curious, coming right at the end of the Bush administration’s period of office and at a moment when many of America’s European allies – like Britain and France – are trying to broaden their ties with Damascus.

“Whatever the local military factors involved in this US operation, it would be unthinkable to imagine that an incursion into Syria would not require a policy decision at a high-level.”

The US military says that it is “investigating”.

If this is actually true, it’s just so damned transparent. People wouldn’t fall for this, would they?

Why Obama will win

October 25, 2008

Yesterday’s post on the US presidential election is a little previous, according to some. It ends “I’m inclined to think that, as James Carville puts it, “You can call the dogs in, wet the fire, and lock up the house. The hunt is over.””  Here are the reasons why we can anticipate — short of a huge ‘October surprise’ — a big Obama victory.

There’s the state of play. Obama has been ahead in the RCP weighted average of polls since 18 September — by at least 5 points since 1 October. Pollsters like Rasmussen have been commenting on the remarkable stability in the polling for weeks: “Today’s results mark the 29th straight day that Obama’s support has stayed between 50% or above 52%.”

It’s even better for Obama when you look at the battleground states. Not only is he ahead in every state that Kerry won, but Bush 2004 states Iowa and New Mexico are strongly Obama, with Colorado, Ohio and Virginia not far behind. He’s a little ahead in Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Missouri and Indiana according to RCP, but these are much closer. Incredibly, GOP strongholds Montana and North Dakota are now competitive.

McCain is playing defence. He and his running mate are making appearances in places like Georgia and West Virginia, which is not the road to victory. He has pretty much pulled out of the Kerry states, with the major exception of Pennsylvania (which doesn’t have early voting). Arguably, he must take Pennsylvania to win, given how things stand. But here are the latest polls (courtesy pollster.com):

Obama dominates in the field, comprehensively out-spending and out-organising McCain. He raised $150 million last month alone. He’s purchasing half-hour blocks of prime-time national TV, while McCain is having to scale back his advertising spend in critical states. Even in the traditionally Republican states like North Carolina, Obama’s ground staff and volunteers out-number McCain’s by a factor of four or more.

Worse for McCain, voting is underway in swing states North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado and Florida (in the latter two the early voting is expected to account for up to 60% and 50% respectively). Disproportionate numbers of those fronting up to the long queues are registered Democrats (absentee votes are another matter), evidence that the biggest and most sophisticated ‘get out the vote’ organisation in US history is working as it should.

Looking at the big picture, winning this year was always going to be an uphill battle for any Republican. A phenomenally unpopular incumbent fighting an unpopular war was enough of a handicap, and then, only weeks out from the election, comes the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. Partisan identification greatly favours the Democrats this year.

Still, the Republicans got off to a good start by chosing their best candidate for the conditions — someone with a track record of bucking the party, a maverick. With the right campaign strategy, McCain might have had a chance. But it’s hard to discern any strategy on McCain’s part, aside from playing things news cycle by news cycle and trying to destabilise Obama. They didn’t establish McCain as a serious player on the economy when they should have, and they didn’t undermine confidence in Obama when they might have.

There have been huge blunders by McCain. “Suspending” the campaign (or pretending to) to meddle to no effect in the crisis talks in Washington was a silly gamble. Picking a no-nothing, egregiously unprepared right-wing nutbar as his running mate was idiotic. Palin energised the Republican base, galvanised the Democrats and alienated many lingering independents still susceptible to the (phony) maverick narrative (and a number of thoughtful Republicans, not least of which was Colin Powell).

In terms of the underlying dynamics, Obama looks better by the day. He is slightly ahead with favourable ratings, and way ahead (behind) with unfavourables, giving him a net 23% compared to McCain’s 9%, according to RCP. He’s also ahead on everything excpet security, better liked, and seen to favour the rich a whole lot less than McCain.

McCain’s campaign has also been losing at the symbolic level. Heroes don’t whine about how their opponents won’t play ball (joint appearances at ‘town hall’ meetings). They don’t get angry and petty and condescending just because their opponent is taken more seriously than they think right and proper. And straight-talking patriots don’t run campaigns that are divisive, rascist, dishonest and unrelentingly negative. Particularly in times of crisis. McCain has undermined his own narrative without any help from anyone else.

Which has allowed Obama, in sharp contrast, to look presidential, authoritative, focussed and collected. Mr Cool. Squared. Not only is Obama a once-in-a-generation communicator and thoroughly brainy, he seems to have the instincts and confidence necessary to make the tough decisions that lie just ahead. A person for his times.

Update: Friday night US-time, and RCP’s poll average has Obama at his highest level of support (50.4%) and the gap very close to its widest (at 7.9%).

Comeback Kid M.I.A.

October 24, 2008

Watching Faux News yesterday you would have been amazed to hear that the US presidential election race is getting tighter. “Neck and neck” the caption read. Faux News was highlighting a poll that showed Obama only one point ahead of McCain. Their own poll showed Obama ahead by 9 points, but never mind that old thing. Couldn’t get much more “fair and balanced” than that, could you?

Here’s the spread of national polls and tracking polls, and movements since the previous poll:

There’s a spread from 1% (the AP poll that Faux News chose to report) to 11%. More importantly, these polls ticked Obama’s lead up for the fourth day in a row. So, yes, McCain gained a very small amount of ground around the weekend, but then… lost it again. The swiftboats never docked.

Obama’s now back where he was last week (at around 7.5%). But now there’s less than two weeks to go. And this picture is backed up by the state polls, which is, after all, where the electoral votes are:

That’s 354 Evs to 184. I’m inclined to think that, as James Carville puts it, “You can call the dogs in, wet the fire, and leave the house. The hunt is over.” Whatever Faux News says.

Radio NZ gets US election news wrong

October 20, 2008

Yesterday Radio NZ News reported that:

“Democrat Barack Obama’s lead over Republican John McCain in the United States presidential race has dropped to 3 points. That’s according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll which says Senator Obama leads his rival by 48 to 45% among likely American voters, down 1 percentage point. The four-day tracking poll has a margin of error of 2.9 points.”

What’s wrong with that?

Well, for a start, reporting any single poll as though it is fact — “has dropped to 3 points” — is arrant nonsense. It’s an insult to the listeners’ intelligence. Report the averages of the polls, if you must.

Worse, not only is Zogby just one tracking poll out of seven currently publishing results in the US (not to mention all the other regular polls being reported at this point in the race), it has consistently shown Obama’s support as lower than the others:

See those black dots below all the others, Radio NZ? That’s the poll whose results you have chosen to highlight. Dumb.

Why cherry-pick the most unfavourable poll? This is exactly what Fox News and Drudge (here for details of Drudge’s bad spin) have been doing all week, in order to try to launch their “Comeback” narrative for McCain. But Radio NZ isn’t part of the Republican propaganda machine, is it?

No, it did this because it used a news service that, like the others, misuses polls to try to make elections more interesting. It was lazy and/or ignorant.

Reporting their daily tracking poll results (Obama 51% to McCain 46%) this morning, highly respected pollster Rasmussen notes:

“Obama’s support has ranged from 50% to 52% every day for twenty-four straight days while McCain’s total has been between 44% and 46% during those days. Prior to today, Obama had led by four or five points every day for the past week. The week before, the Democrat was up by five to eight points each day (see trends).”

Not nearly as interesting is it?

We taxpayers pay good money for a news service that is a cut above the commercial crowd, Radio New Zealand. You must do better than this.

The full picture

The full picture, courtesy pollster.com

Update: Since posting yesterday, the RealClearPolitics poll average has increased Obama’s lead from 5.0% to 5.8%. And the Zogby poll? It now shows a 6% gap. And no mention of polls by Drudge for the first time in a week or more. Funny that.

Update2: Oops! Monday night’s Zogby poll has Obama 50.3%, McCain 42.4%. Nary a mention on Drudge or Faux News. Or Radio New Zealand.

“That one” wins again — Is McCain toast?

October 8, 2008

McCain really needed to win. He is, as far as presidential polls go, way behind, and people are making up their minds. In fact, they’re already voting in some states. And he didn’t win.

Despite some good moments, he came across on an emotional level as petty and condescending, sometimes rambling and on the verge of incoherence. He referred to Obama at one point as “that one”, a moment that might come to stand in debate history alongside Gore’s sighs, Bush senior’s peek at his watch and Nixon’s five o’clock shadow.

Even the Republican commentators on CNN (and apparently David Brooks as well!) couldn’t bring themselves to argue that McCain won the second debate. As for the first two debates, the polls showed that the undecideds scored it for Team Obama:

The CBS poll of uncommitted voters (n = 516) has Obama winning 40% to 26%. Views of Obama and McCain changed positively: those who thought Obama will “make the right decisions on the economy” rose from 55% to 68%, and for McCain from 41% to 48%. Those who said that Obama “understands voters’ needs” rose from 59% to 80%, and for McCain from 33% to 44%.

CNN’s flash poll has Obama winning 54% to 30%. Importantly, Obama is 22 points ahead (59% to 37%) with these undecideds when they’re asked who would better handle the economy, and 21% ahead (57% to 36%) on who would better handle the financial crisis. Obama also gained a net 8% in favorability, while McCain was unchanged.

Obama was slightly ahead with the CNN sample on who would better handle Iraq (51% to 47%) and slightly behind on who would handle “Terror” (51% to 47%). So McCain’s losing his lead there, but the fact that the economy is overwhelmingly what is concerning voters right now cannot be a consolation.

Oh, and Obama wins the likeability test hands down. On “who was the most likeable” it was 65% for Obama and 28% for McCain.

So here’s where we’re at. The voters are scared out of their wits by the biggest financial meltdown since the 1930s. They’re seriously worried about their jobs, their homes, their health care and a lot more. The fast diminishing pool of undecideds, in particular, don’t seem impressed by character assassination. McCain’s negativism of recent months hasn’t had any traction. Team McCain’s clever strategy? Empty all the sewers on the voting public! Gosh darn, ain’t that the cleverest thing since suspending the campaign to go to Washington and, er, not doing anything useful…?

I’ll have That One, please…

Postscript: Once again, the Fox News text-in poll has a massive victory for McCain, which is kind of comforting. If those who watch Faux News are so one-sidedly Republican, then the Republicans’ chief propaganda outlet is basically just retailing Republican talking points to its own base. Harmless stuff.

I’d have to agree with Krauthammer on this

October 4, 2008

Obama could still lose, despite the formidable lead he’s building up in electoral votes. His lead in many of states is not huge. And a month’s a long time in politics…

(more…)

Wall Street blues

September 30, 2008

They came so close on Capitol Hill. Ignore the tosh about Pelosi’s pre-vote speech. If that’s all it took to put the Republicans off voting to try to save their financial system from imminent meltdown… Country First, anyone?

Yes, it is all about stopping the financial system imploding and the credit from drying up altogether. We can expect more bank failures now, and not just in the US. If we’re — yes, we’re in this too — lucky, the collapse of credit world-wide won’t precipitate a major recession. And we’ll get a revised version of the failed plan before too long, as Robert Reich suggests. If we’re lucky. (Hat-tip Daily kos.)

If we’re unlucky we get a full-blown depression. But we don’t know about that, because there aren’t a lot of models for a situation this extreme.

It’s not about the fat cats. But for many ordinary people, the idea that the fat cats would benefit was repugnant. (Initially at least. Rasmussen reported today that “Opposition to bailout plan falls dramatically”.) And there being an election in a couple of months, some congresspersons put saving their ass before saving their country.

Hell, who do you think finds the idea of giving money to the rich most objectionable? The liberals, or the people who skew tax-cuts to the super-rich?

Okay, there were the Republican Study Committee conservatives who came up with the idea of insuring the toxic debts (mortgage-backed securities not already insured) and somehow magicking away the cost. The proposal was a one-pager.

At the end of the day, any banking system collapse requires recapitalisation to avoid credit drying up and economic disaster, as the IMF’s study of 124 banking crises and responses shows.

I personally don’t think that buying toxic assets is the best solution, but then, what do you expect from Bush? There are other models, and the best outcome would be for the US legislators to consider some of the others. But quick. And without the spoiler interfering again.

Looking Presidential

September 30, 2008

Presidential

Sen. Barack Obama expressed confidence Monday that lawmakers would come through with a financial rescue package… [telling] voters at a campaign event in Denver, Colorado, that it’s important to “stay calm, because things are never smooth in Congress.””

Not Presidential

“McCain’s campaign accused Democrats of injecting politics into the American economy… “Barack Obama failed to lead, phoned it in, attacked John McCain and refused to even say if he supported the final bill. … This bill failed because Barack Obama and the Democrats put politics ahead of country.””

Note that McCain also “phoned it in”, tried to take credit for the congressional deal before it passed failed — such a maverick! –, refused to “even say if he supported the final bill”, and failed miserably as a leader, being unable to convince his own people to support their own President’s proposal.

Update: only hours after trying to pin the blame on Obama for his own side failing to support the bailout deal that he was supposed to have fixed, McCain says:

“Now is not the time to fix the blame, it’s time to fix the problem.

Oh, that’s so presidential.