Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Map, New Day


Well, I may have made a lot of bad predictions in my life, but this one shaped up more or less how I laid it out. After the conventions, I predicted a period of stability leading into the debates, although even I couldn't have predicted how stable the electoral map was. Obama was slowly creeping up in national polls, however and he has had a very good past two weeks (or should I say, Mccain/Palin has had a very bad two weeks.) More on that in a second.

Changes to the map almost all favor Obama and are as follows:
Lead Change Virginia -- flips from Mccain to Obama, becomes a key battleground

Key Battlegrounds Virginia -- Obama leads now, but it IS very close
Serious Battlegrounds
Ohio -- no change
North Carolina -- stays Mccain for now, but promoted from fringe to serious battleground. Obama has made big inroads here and a state which every observer would have thought would be solid red again (Bush won by 12 points) is now within grasp (some sites are even calling it in his favor at this point.) Mccain needs to go on heavy defense here.

Substantial Battlegrounds Nevada -- no change
New Hampshire -- no change
Florida -- promoted from fringe to substantial battleground -- Mccain still leads, but Obama has crept very close

Somewhat Battlegrounds Colorado -- no change

Fringe Battlegrounds Pennsylvania -- demoted from somewhat to fringe battleground -- Obama pulls away a little
Indiana -- no change

Note: Wisconsin and Minnesota dropped as battlegrounds. Both are still relatively close and are retained as potential battlegrounds
Potential Battlegrounds
New Mexico

Note: I have dropped Michigan as a battleground as Obama has pulled away and Mccain is not doing much to contest this state at this point. You could make an argument for dropping New Mexico too, but it is slightly closer, so it stays for now.
Obama's Big Two Weeks
Obama has had a great couple of weeks, not only negating the gains made by the Republicans after the convention, but pulling out to close to his biggest national lead yet. Three factors have been driving Obama's gain:

(1) The Economic Crisis Focusing on the economy versus national security issues is a net benefit to Obama. Add to that John Mccain's multiple bungles ("the fundamentals of the economy are strong", followed by calling for a suspension of the debate until a deal was struck, debating anyway, claiming credit for contributing to a deal that fell through) and you've got a plus for Obama

(2) The Sarah Palin Effect, Part 2 The shine is off the pit bull with lipstick, for sure. After taking constant heat for dodging the press, Sarah Palin's first big unscripted interview with Katie Couric was an absolute disaster. She looked completely out of her league and the YouTube videos of her and Ms. Teen NC popped up almost immediately. The only silver lining for Mccain is she has now set the bar so low that if she shows up and sounds halfway coherent on Thursday, it will be an expectations win.

Conservatives have been arguing for the past week that her gaffes (such as saying the financial bailout was about providing healthcare and promoting free trade or saying that Alaska having islands close to Russia gives her foreign policy experience) have been widely talked about by the press but that Joe Biden's gaffes (such as stating that FDR talked to people on TV in 1929, a statement where essentially every noun is incorrect) have not been talked about as much. They have a fair point. But Palin didn't do herself any favors with the press by shunning them. Plus, Biden may be gaffe prone, but nobody doubts that he has the intellectual or experiential chops to be President, whereas the question is open with Palin.

(3) The Debate I said in my initial post-debate blog that I thought the debate ranked somewhere between a draw and a modest win for Obama. I tend towards the later side of that spectrum with some time and perspective. Clearly, Obama enhanced his credibility by showing he could hold his own with Mccain on foreign policy. He looks more and more presidential as he gains experience in these forums.
Intrade Ridiculousness
If you follow the gambling exchange Intrade, it is now showing Obama as an almost 2:1 betting favorite. This is WAY too generous to Obama. The race is nowhere near over and Obama's entire lead could be erased with one poor debate performance, one gaffe or one October surprise. Intrade appears to be prone to wild swings this year, Obama was a 2:1 favorite after clinching the nomination, dropped to 3:2 leading into the conventions, was even money after the conventions and is now back to 2:1.

There are 5 weeks left...that is a lifetime in a campaign (just think about the fluctuations in the LAST 5 weeks) and we still have 4 major events left to unfold:
1. The VP Debate -- Thursday, October 2nd
Everyone thinks that this favors Obama, but as I said, the expectations for Palin are so low that if she turns in a reasonably close performance, it is effectively a win. She has been prepping hard for the debate, so don't be too surprised if she doesn't fall on her face. Plus, there is always the chance for a Biden gaffe in front of a huge TV audience (although not one from 1929.)
2. The Town Hall Debate -- Tuesday, October 7th
This is John Mccain's best format (the Town Hall) and will probably garner bigger ratings than debate #1 because it is on a weeknight.
3. The Domestic Policy Debate -- Thursday, October 15th
This is thought to be Obama's strong suit, but Mccain has underrated debating skills -- don't count him out in this one
4. The October Surprise -- Friday, October 16th Onward
If there is an October Surprise coming (and you have to believe the Mccain campaign will at least try), then it will come after the third debate. The last thing you want to do is leak a sleazy story in a way that will give your opponent a national audience to debunk it.

If I were setting a line, I'd say Obama is something like a 3:2 favorite at this point. He is ahead, no doubt, but this thing isn't close to over.
Cleanest Recent Campaign
Unlike most observers, I have to say I'm surprised at how clean this campaign has been. I was expecting the 527 ads to be running now on both sides:
Against Mccain -- The Keating 5, Mccain saying "I still hate the gooks" in 2000, etc.
Against Obama -- Jeremiah Wright saying "goddamn America!", ads highlighting his Arab-sounding name (Barack HUSSEIN Obama) and hinting he is a Muslim

Are these two guys really a different breed of candidate? Or is it just too early?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

No Changes to the Map -- Too Soon to Measure Debate Impact


No changes to states since yesterday. Since it has only been a day, I won't completely redo my battleground section -- there is only 1 Change. Virginia moves from Substantial to Serious Battleground as the polls show an increasingly unclear picture as to whether John Mccain can hold on to that state -- it remains in the Mccain column for now.

As a reminder -- the battlground states (with the party predicted to win at this point) are as follows:
Key Battlegrounds -- None at this point
Serious Battlegrounds -- Virginia (Mccain)
Substantial Battlegrounds -- Ohio (Mccain), Nevada (Mccain)
Somewhat Battlegrounds -- New Hampshire (Obama), Colorado (Obama), Pennsylvania (Obama)
Fringe Battlegrounds -- Florida (Mccain), Indiana (Mccain), Minnesota (Obama), Wisconsin (Obama), North Carolina (Mccain)
Potential Battlegrounds -- Michigan (Obama), Missouri (Mccain), New Mexico (Obama)

John Mccain's problem continues to be although he is only modestly behind, the top 3 battlegrounds (Virginia, Ohio and Nevada) are all already in his column. He would need to take either Colorado (recall that I said this state was the key to the whole election) or Pennsylvania to win at this point. New Hampshire doesn't do it as that gives a 269-269 tie, a likely Obama win in the House of Representatives.

Debate Scorecard
I believe based on watching the debate and initial polling data that this debate ranked somewhere between a draw and a narrow win for Obama. His most important goal was to show he belonged on the stage discussing foreign policy at Mccain's level and he achieved that. Both men showed an impressive command of the facts (probably Mccain slightly more so than Obama) and I have to say it was one of the most substantive debates I have ever seen in a Presidential race. There were really no gaffes but also no great one-liners and I suspect the poll impact of the debate will be minimally -- I think when the polls cycle through, things will not have changed a ton except to maybe very slightly solidify Obama's lead. This is not good for Mccain in that I believe his campaign hoped for a breakthrough performance that would vault him back even, but it is not the end of the world for him either -- he is still certainly in the hunt and there are 3 more debates including the VP debate next Thursday, which I have to say after the Couric/Palin debacle I wrote of yesterday, I am going to watch with extreme interest.

Here is my point by point on what I said yesterday:
For Obama:
(1) Mitigate the experience gap by showing an equal command of the facts as Mccain
Mostly achieved -- he certainly showed he belonged on that stage although Mccain leveraged his experience at several critical junctures effectively.

(2) Come off as more decisive than in the past
Achieved -- very little waffling or deferrment of answers

(3) Hammer Mccain for supporting deregulation of the lending industry
Mostly unachieved -- he made mention of it but never made it a central point as he should have.

(4) Keep saying "Bush 44" 100 times an hour
Mostly achieved -- he talked a lot about "Bush policies that Sen. Mccain supported".

(5) Make people comfortable that you can handle national security
Achieved -- hard to paint Obama as risky and inexperienced based on that snapshot.

(6) Let us know you want it -- get nastier if you need to
Not achieved -- was far too deferential to Mccain.

Unscientific Score Out of 100 for Obama = 87% = Grade of B+

(1) Come off as a populist rather than a member of the old guard
Partially achieved -- spoke about how Main St is hurting, but...you get asked about the economic crisis and your answer is government is spending too much??? Talk about how you are going to help the people, John! Worst section of the debate for Mccain.

(2) Hammer Obama for being indecisive -- on Georgia, on mortgage bailouts, etc.
Mostly achieved -- was all over him about his initial reaction to Georgia, his statements about Iran.

(3) Convince voters that you really do have the kind of economic chops to handle the financial crisis that we are in
Partially achieved -- showed a pretty good command of the facts, but again, failed to talk about what he would do for people who are hurting.

(4) Present yourself as the agent of change that has actually done it
Achieved -- clearly presented the best qualities of his record.

(5) Let us know you are a nice guy too -- be complimentary of Obama while you tear him down
Not achieved -- came off as a little nasty in a few exchanges.

Unscientific Score out of 100 for Mccain: 80%, Grade = B

New Feature! -- The Probability Matrix
To help everyone better understand exactly how decisive each state is, I will be publishing a ranked order of the states from most Pro-Mccain to most Pro-Obama along with a probability that each candidate would win if the election were held today. This is a pretty exhaustive statistical exercise, so I won't update it every post, but I will make sure that it is up to date for election night along with a guide I will be publishing on how to follow the race from East Coast to West Coast to understand who is likely to win it all.

Note that because the probability matrix uses a statisical base, the numbers may not exactly tie to the battleground designations -- the battleground designations survey other projection sites and historical trends to make their calls. The picture here looks slightly better for Obama than the "poll of projections".

Here is the first cut:
Super Safe Mccain States in Rank Order(Mccain > 99%)
Utah, Alabama, Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alaska, Texas, Georgia, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Arkansas

Pretty Darn Safe Mccain States
West Virginia -- Mcain = 99%, Obama = 1%
Louisiana -- Mccain = 97%, Obama = 3%

Potential Battleground Mccain States
Missouri -- Mccain = 96%, Obama = 4%

Fringe Battleground Mccain States
Florida -- Mccain = 86%, Obama = 14%
North Carolina -- Mccain = 85%, Obama = 15%
Indiana -- Mccain = 84%, Obama = 16%

Substantial Battleground Mccain States
Ohio -- Mccain = 81%, Obama = 19%
Nevada -- Mccain = 77%, Obama = 23%

Serious Battleground Mccain States
Virginia -- Mccain = 68%, Obama = 32%

Somewhat Battleground Obama States
New Hampshire -- Obama = 73%, Mccain = 27%
Colorado -- Obama = 89%, Mccain = 11%
Pennsylvania -- Obama = 92%, Mccain = 8%

Fringe Battleground Obama States
Minnesota -- Obama 93%, Mccain 7%
Wisconsin -- Obama 95%, Mccain 5%

Potential Battleground Obama States
New Mexico -- Obama 98%, Mccain 2%
Michigan -- Obama 98%, Mccain 2%

Pretty Darn Safe Obama States
Iowa -- Obama 99%, Mccain 1%
Maine -- Obama 99%, Mccain 1%

Super Sate Obama States (Obama > 99%)
Washington, Orgeon, Connecticut, Maryland, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Delaware, Vermont, Rhode Island, Hawaii, District of Columbia

I will publish this in graphical form along with my guide prior to election night.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Pre-Debate State of Things


Again, the map has not changed. Obama/Biden have made gains, but they have mostly been in solidifying close states in which they were already leading (like Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico & Wisconsin) and in closing the gap in states that they are still slightly behind (like Virginia and North Carolina -- although some sites are starting to call Virginia for Obama, this is not yet the finding according to our methodology.)

We have three shifts in battleground levels, all in Obama's favor.

So, the pre-debate battlefield looks as follows:

This is big simply in that it means that either candidate has a bit of a hill to climb to swing a state.

Substantial Battlegrounds
Virginia -- stays GOP but promoted from somewhat to substantial battleground -- this one has slowly been creeping up the past few weeks. We still show Mccain leading, but it is undoubtedly getting closer here.
Ohio -- no change -- still an auto-win for Obama if he wins here
Nevada -- no change

Somewhat Battlegrounds
New Hampshire -- stays DEM and demoted from serious to somewhat battleground -- it is still close to be sure but Obama may have somewhat resolidifed his lead here. Still probably the most at-risk Kerry state for Obama
Colorado -- no change
Pennsylvania -- no change

Fringe Battlegrounds
North Carolina -- still GOP, but....I knew this would make the list sooner or later -- Obama still putting a lot of resources behind trying to pull an upset here -- loss would be devastating for Mccain
Indiana -- no change
Florida -- no change
Minneosta -- no change
Wisconsin -- no change

Potential Battlegrounds
Only Michigan, Missouri and New Mexico stay.

I have dropped North Dakota and Montana as Obama has pulled resources and effectively conceded these states. Expect further reduction in the number of states in play in the coming weeks and the campaigns tactically focus in on a few key battles.

The Financial Crisis and the Debate Debate
John Mccain and Barack Obama WILL debate in Oxford, MS tonight.

My conservative friends, avert your gaze to the next paragraph.

To my eyes, Mccain made a strategic blunder in "suspending" his campaign (whatever that means) to focus on the financial crisis. He has no standing to lead the debate (he is not on any of the relevant committees and has never been a key player in economic legislation other than attackcing pork), was unable to broker a deal and provided a great opening for the Obama camp to make him look weak and indecisive -- first he says he won't debate if there is a deal, then bends to public pressure and pressure from Mississippi (which had spent $5 million preparing for the debate) and says he will go since enough progress had been made, which is odd, seeing as how the debate seems to be at best, no further along than when he arrived and at worst, more entrenched.

Obama, meanwhile, was able to play the statesman by leaving the complexity of actually passing a bill to the rest of congress while outlining principles that people could easily relate to agree to.

Round to Obama.

But, perhaps the reason Mccain did what he did was....

The Couric/Palin Debacle
I just watched Katie Couric's interview with Sarah Palin on YouTube and Republicans should be glad that the financial crisis was front and center and not this interview. Palin came off very uniformed, unable to articulate any thoughts beyond her talking points and at times, downright incoherent (case in point, we have to do the bailout to provide healthcare to people???) The saving grace is that nobody watched it because the country was pre-occupied with the drama on capitol hill and Wall St.

John Mccain is a better politican and a better candidate than he is showing right now, but he needs a strong night in the debate or he risks this one slipping away early. I don't expect Palin to help him at all next week, although one has to believe they are trying to prep the heck out of her right now to get ready.

Tune in at 9 PM tonight and see what happens!

Also -- as an aside, if you have not yet registered to vote, please do so soon. Most states have either a 21-day or 30-day requirement, so deadlines are fast approaching!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Remarkable Electoral Vote Stability

Obama/Biden holds 273-265 Electoral Vote lead, now lead in average of national polls by 2-3%

I'm itching to give everyone a new map, but I just can't....the same one still holds. I predicted a couple of posts ago that we would see a lot of stability in the electoral map until the debates took place, but even I would not have predicted that not a single state would have changed hands since immediately after the convention. Obama holds on to his ever so fragile lead in the electoral vote while evidentally re-establishing a lead in national polls.

The latest list of battleground states is as follows:
Key Battlegrounds
Still none (no change from last post)

Serious Battlegrounds
New Hampshire -- stays Democratic but moves from potential to serious battleground -- some polls have been out showing Mccain with a marginal lead while others still have Obama ahead. If there is one state that Mccain could win that Bush didn't, this is it.

Substantial Battlegrounds
Ohio -- stays GOP but moves from somewhat to substantial battleground as Obama gets ever so slightly closer in this always razor-thin state.
Nevada -- stays GOP but moves from fringe to substantial battleground -- Obama has made up a lot of ground here in the last swing state to close the polls on election night.

Somewhat Battlegrounds
Colorado -- reduced from serious to somewhat as Obama seems to have re-established his lead here
Pennsylvania -- no change -- Obama still leads, but still too close for comfort for the Dems
Virginia -- promoted from fringe to somewhat -- Obama is back in the mix in what has become a north/south crossroads state

Fringe Battlegrounds
Minnesota -- no change -- still can't figure out why this isn't a slam dunk for the Dems -- did the GOP convention really matter that much?
Florida -- added as fringe -- back in the mix -- can Obama convince Jewish senior citizens that he is one of them?
Wisconsin -- added as fringe -- like Pennsylvania, would be a huge upset for the Mccain crowd
Indiana -- added as fringe -- no way this should be in play but it has been on and off for several months now...could Mccain really lose here? In a state Bush won by 20%???

Note: New Mexico and North Dakota have fallen off as battlegrounds, I have elected to keep BOTH as potential battlegrounds due to relatively close polls in North Dakota and previous close polls in New Mexico.

Potential Battlegrounds
Michigan -- Sarah Palin is out stumping hard -- is this because she will appeal to voters from that part of the country or becacuse Mccain would rather focus on states he has a better shot at winning himself?
Missouri -- Mccain has backed off the heavy campaigning to focus elsewhere -- Obama hasn't been here in a while -- could this one be sewn up for the GOP now?
New Mexico -- should stay Obama, but it was polling Mccain as recently as a couple of weeks ago
North Carolina -- surprisingly close polls plus amazing voter-registration push by the Obama campaign. Could a massive turnout of new voters and African-Americans swing this one his way?
North Dakota -- would be a weird upset, but Mccain can't seem to pull away
Montana -- one of the whitest, gun-lovingest states in the union -- so why the heck is Obama so close?

The Odd Electoral Math
It is peculiar to see a 4-6 point swing in national polls (from Mccain/Palin leading by 2-3% to Obama/Biden leading by 2-3%) and see no movement in the electoral college. Interestingly, while Obama has closed the gap in several states as he has gained (Ohio, Florida, Virginia) and solidified his lead in others (Colorado, New Mexico), Mccain has also closed the gap in several states that were not previous battlegrounds (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Hampshire and to some extent Michigan.) What we have here may be the effect of the conventions sinking in -- that voters who were crossing party lines are coming back home to their core parties and the electoral map is realigning along with it.

Differing Views on 269-269
3bluedudes.com has a posting today that shows a decidedly different view of a 269-269 tie than I presented. Recall that I said, when the chips were down, if the election went to the House of Representatives, congress would vote along party lines and Democrats would win, full stop. The tie is still looming -- just switch New Hampshire to GOP and we are there. Or give Obama Nevada and take away Colorado. There are a bunch of other plausible combinations.

It was a good article that presents some interesting counter arguments but I respectfully disagree with the article's conclusions. Here are my thoughts on the major points discussed:
(1) Elector Defection
While it is true, as the article states, that electors in many states are not law-bound to vote for the winning candidate and there have been changes in the past, I do not think that it is a realistic scenario in a 269-269 vote that an elector from one side or the other jumps ship to make it 270-268. My reasons are:
a. Electors that are selected from each state are party loyalists and not prone to jump to the other side
b. In recent years, there is almost no history of electors jumping to the other side. Electors that didn't vote for their state's candidate were typically voting in protest -- such as the elector in 1988 that voted for Lloyd Bensen for President to point out that the Democrats had lost the election by having their ticket backwards.
c. Even in an election as controversial as Bush/Gore -- not 1 elector jumped ship from either side

(2) Democrats controlling less than 26 states in the new congress
Not going to happen. The landscape is caustic for the GOP in congressional elections. No way that they pick up control or splits in 25 states.

(3) Single Democrats in narrowly controlled states jumping ship to vote for their states selection
This is probably the most realistic scenario for chaos, but I do not believe it will happen in a significant enough way to make a difference. Democrats will likely control 30+ delegations in the new congress, I can't see that many defections. The voting public is not going to demand that people commit to vote along their district's lines prior to the election -- the issue will not even come up in a real way unless there is a 269-269 split.

Debate Tasks
Goals for each of the candidates in the Presidential debate:
(1) Mitigate the experience gap by showing an equal command of the facts as Mccain
(2) Come off as more decisive than in the past
(3) Hammer Mccain for supporting deregulation of the lending industry
(4) Keep saying "Bush 44" 100 times an hour
(5) Make people comfortable that you can handle national security
(6) Let us know you want it -- get nastier if you need to

(1) Come off as a populist rather than a member of the old guard
(2) Hammer Obama for being indecisive -- on Georgia, on mortgage bailouts, etc.
(3) Convince voters that you really do have the kind of economic chops to handle the financial crisis that we are in
(4) Present yourself as the agent of change that has actually done it
(5) Let us know you are a nice guy too -- be complimentary of Obama while you tear him down

I expect massive ratings for the first debate (40 million wouldn't surprise me) -- the first debate is by far the most important -- this may well set the trajectory for the rest of the campaign -- or it may change nothing -- we shall see.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Battle Lines are Becoming Clearer

Obama/Biden holds 273-265 Electoral College lead, Dead Heat in Popular Vote Polls

Since my last posting, the Palin bounce has worn off somewhat and the financial crisis has somewhat altered the discussion in the campaign, at least in the short-term. The result has been that Obama/Biden have pulled back at least even in national polls, possibly even up by 1-2% depending on which poll you like. The electoral vote remains unchanged, although I think it is fair to say that the number of battleground states continue to diminish. Overall, even though Mccain did not pick up states, he is in better shape in terms of the electoral map than last week as a few states he was needing to defend as battlegrounds dropped won or off the list. No changes to the map, here are the changes to the battlegrounds:

Key Battlegrounds
None qualify this week

Serious Battlegrounds
Colorado -- unchanged from last week -- I continue to contend that this state will be the key to the race (more discussion on this below)

Substantial Battlegrounds

New Mexico -- unchanged form last week -- Obama holds a small but consistent lead

Somewhat Battlegrounds

Ohio -- demoted from serious battleground -- this continues to solidify for Mccain -- losing her would essentially rule out a national win for him
Pennsylvania -- promoted from potential to somewhat -- a couple of polls have showed it tied -- this is like Ohio for Mccain, Obama can't afford to lose here


Nevada -- demoted all the way from key to fringe -- Mccain has been strengthening here for the last couple of weeks -- relatively small African-American population makes this a hard win for Obama -- he will need high hispanic support and turnout
Virginia -- demoted from somewhat to fringe -- it is still close, but Obama's dream of picking this up seems less and less likely -- he will need massive wins in Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and Loudon Counties as well as the City of Richmond to pull it off
North Dakota -- demoted from somewhat to fringe -- I can't seriously see this one not going red
Minnesota -- promoted from potential battleground to fringe battleground -- polls are remarkably tight -- location of the Republican convention may have provided a bounce to Mccain -- a loss here would be devastating for Obama

Note: Florida, Montana, Indiana and New Hampshire have all been dropped as battlegrounds. I have elected to include all 4 as potential battlegrounds as polling is still relatively close.

Potential Battlegrounds
Michigan -- I kept this on the list as polls are relative close, although I can't see Obama losing here unless Mccain wins huge. Economic issues should help Obama here as Detroit obviously continues to be hit hard.
Missouri -- basically the same story as Michigan in reverse -- if Obama wins here, it'll be a blue sweep
North Carolina -- I thought we would be done talking about NC by this time, but the polls are remarkably inconsistent, so I'm not sure what the state of the race is here. Mccain clearly leads, but could be by 1% or 20% depending on who you believe.
New Hampshire -- I may drop this one soon as Obama appears to have solidifed a strong lead here but this state has always loved Mccain and is still far more conservative than the rest of New England.
Indiana -- how can this still be within 5%? The only reasonable explanation is tough economic times and the effect of the Chicago suburbs. Tough to believe Obama could win this super-red state he couldn't even win in the primaries.
Montana -- like North Carolina, a state with very inconsistent poll data. Only 3 electoral votes, so they must have called everyone in the state by now with all the polls that have been taken.
Florida -- fading as a battleground as Obama appears to be running behind where both Gore and Kerry were with older Jewish voters. Would be a longshot but also a walk-off homer if Obama could score an upset here.

The North Carolina / Montana Effect and the Truth about Polling
Within the past couple of weeks, there have been broad variances in the poll results from different organizations. Nowhere is that more clear than in North Carolina and Montana. Polls in North Carolina have shown the gap between Mccain and Obama anywhere between 1 and 20 points and Montana anywhere from 3 to 15 points.

What gives?

I don't know for sure, but here are a few thoughts:
(1) Margins of Error
Possibly the most misunderstood aspect of polling data is a poll's "margin of error". This term is in itself a misnomer. What is normally referred to as "margin of error" is, in fact, a calculated number known to statisticians as a Confidence Interval. The principle works like this -- the more samples that I take out of a population, the more confident I can be that the sample I'm taking is relatively representative of the population at large. Think about 100 beans in a jar, some red, some blue. If I pull 1 bean and it happens to be blue, it doesn't tell me much about the contents of the jar - it could be 55% red or 55% blue and it would be a reasonable outcome for me to pull 1 blue bean on any given pull. Now, let's say I pull 10 beans. If 8 of 10 are red, I'm pretty confident that there are more red beans than blue beans. Of course, I'm not 100% confident, I could have just happened to pull a disproportionate number of red beans. The same basic principles works with polls. When a polling firm calls 1,000 people in North Carolina, they THINK they have a representative sample, but it is POSSIBLE that they just happened to call people who are disproportionately pro-Obama or pro-Mccain. Most polls that publish a 3% Margin of Error are expressing a 90% confidence interval. That is, based on the sample size, they are 90% confident that the individual results are within 3% of the actual results. 10% of the time, the error will be higher. By the way, because the 3% applies to the individual results, the effective range of the poll is actually 6%. In other words, if Mccain leads Obama by 6% in North Carolina, within the 90% confidence interval, it could be tied or Mccain could lead by 12% if the margin of error of the poll is 3%. Oh, and by the way, the 10% of the time that the actual results fall outside of the confidence interval, Mccain could lead by more than 12% or actually be behind. Confused yet?

(2) Sample Error

The statistics behind polling assume that the pollster is getting a truly random sample. That is, of the people who are going to vote on election day, he is equally likely to talk to any of them. Of course, pollsters can't do this because a. they don't know for sure who will vote on election day, b. not everyone will speak to pollsters and c. 10% of voters no longer have home phones. Pollster recognize these problems and attempt to "normalize" their data to adjust for the people they missed. In other words, if they believe that women will represent 52% of the votes cast in a state but their poll results show that only 35% of the people that they talked to are women, they will adjust their results to give a disproportionate weight to the women they did talk to.

The problem is that nobody knows for sure who will vote and nobody can tell for sure that the people that they did talk to are more broadly representative of the groups (e.g. under 25 voters without home phones may have different voting patterns than under 25 voters with cell phones.)

All of this makes accurate polling a very complex operation and can lead to wide variability in poll results depending on the methodology applied

(3) Inclusion / Exclusion of Third Party Candidates
A CNN/Time poll I saw recently showed a 2-3% swing in favor of Obama when third party candidates were included on the list of options. This didn't inherently make any sense to me, but apparently both Nader and Barr are stealing more from Mccain than from Obama (or maybe just mentioning Nader makes Democrats unite around Obama.) Regardless, it is hard to tell if this will play out in the voting booth, but it accounts for some of the differnece in some polls.

(4) Registered vs. Likely Voters
Some polls attempt only to survey the total registered voting population. Other polls attempt through a series of questions and historical patterns to determine which voters will actually show up at the polls on election day. The problem with this is that it is difficult in a given election (especially one as dynamic as this one) to know who will actually come to vote.

All told, polls are a valuable tool still, but keep in mind they are just one data point. That is why it is best to consider all the polling data as well as historical and national trends to figure out who is going to win a state. Amazingly, with the glaring exception of New Hampshire, polling was by and large very accurate during the primary season.

Colorado is the Key
I can forsee 3 possible scenarios in this election:
#1 Obama breaks out and takes a substantial lead -- I still believe that it is possible given the current political climate and unpopularity of the president that Obama could be leading by 5-7% a month from now. This would lead to a crushing electoral vote, with Obama carrying at least 350 electoral votes.
#2 Mccain finds a way to win in Pennsylvania -- if Obama can peel off enough Hillary voters and win big in places like Allentown and Scranton, he could effectively end the race early in the night. It is hard to draw up a realistic map in which Obama loses PA but wins the election
#3 It all comes down to Colorado -- in map after map, Colorado holds the key to the election. Makes the Democrats look pretty smart for holding the convention in Denver. Put on an extra cup of coffee on election night while they count the ballots down there.

269 to Win
We talk about a candidate needing 270 electoral votes to win, but in reality, John Mccain needs 270 and Barak Obama needs only 269. The reason? A 269-269 tie sends the election to the new House of Representatives with each state having one vote. Democrats will likely control 35-36 state delegations in the new congress. Will all the Democrats in the House necessarily vote for Obama if their state voted against him? YOU BET THEY WILL! Survival instinct dictates that they will support their parties candidate, particularly after all the controversy in 2000 and 2004. Besides, the whole point of it going to the House in a tie is so that they can use their own judgment, not simply repeat the same votes that got us to the tie in the first place. Republicans would do the same except they can't.

By the way, the new Senate picks the VP by straight vote, so Biden is in good shape as well.

269-269 is a real possibility. Look at my current map. Say Mccain picks up Colorado and Obama picks up Nevada. Voila! 269-269. Or say Mccain picks up New Hampshire -- poof! Back at 269-269. And you thought Bush v. Gore was controversial.

The Dynamics are Complex
Just a few thoughts to ponder as we get ready for the debates:
#1 How will all these new voters the Obama camp is registering impact the election? Could they make the current polls totally wrong?
#2 Are some white voters saying they are going to vote for Obama but will have a last second (or pre-meditated) change of heart in the voting booth? Don't rule it out.
#3 Is there an October surprise lurking out there for either candidate?

One week until the first debate. Could shake things up or solidify the battleground -- we shall see.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Maybe the GOP Won the Conventions After All

Mccain/Palin up 2-3% in National Polls, Obama/Biden leads Electoral Vote 273-265

In my post last week, I stated that I thought the GOP and Democratic conventions had been a stalemate. Since that posting, it would appear that I underestimated the impact of Sarah Palin (more on why I am saying her and not John Mccain later) on the race, at least in the near-term following the conventions. It is clear now that the dust has cleared that we went from what was a tied race nationally to one that Mccain/Palin now leads by 2-3 points (depending on which average method of the polls you use.)

Interestingly, the electoral map has not shifted as much as one would expect with this shift. There are two reasons for this. The first is a short-coming of the methodology we are using, which inherently lags national trends a lot as it uses the average of various other projection websites, which in turn rely partly on the average of state polls. This takes time to cycle through and accurately reflect the electoral map. This is not the primary reason, however, as there have been a ton of state polls in key swing states following the conventions. The primary reason is that the GOP "bump" out of the conventions is primarily in the southern US. USA Today did an excellent piece that showed that what Palin essentially did for the GOP ticket was solidify its southern base and was not nearly as helpful in the key swing states.

So, we may legitimately have a race where Mccain/Palin leads by 2-3 nationally but trails slightly in the electoral college map. The worse news for Mccain, as you will see below, is that the structure of the map still favors Obama -- there are many more possible pick-ups for Obama than for Mccain based on the current state of the race. Now, this will become irrelevant if Mccain/Palin gets up by say 5 or 6 points, but matters a great deal in a close race.

Anyway, here are the chnages in the last week (colors represent candidate who improved):

Nevada -- goes from Blue to Red -- remains a key battleground state

Ohio -- goes from Blue to Red -- demoted from key to serious battleground state

Colorado -- remains Blue -- demoted from key to serious battleground state

New Mexico -- remains Blue -- promoted from potential to substantial battleground state

Virginia -- remains Red -- demoted from substantial to somewhat battleground state

Indiana -- remains Red -- demoted from somewhat to fringe battleground state

Alaska -- remains Red -- goes from fringe to non-battleground state

(note: due to the Palin pick and the double-digit lead now enjoyed by Mccain/Palin, I have elected NOT to make this a potential battleground. I have also dropped Georgia as a potential battleground based on strong polling for Mccain/Palin and the Obama campaign's decision to remove resources from this state.)

Battleground States are now as follows:


Nevada -- may well decide this race if it stays this close -- Obama clings to a small lead


Ohio -- must win for Mccain, he leads but it remains close with strong support for Obama in the northern part of the state. If Obama wins, he wins the race.

Colorado -- probably a must win for Obama, who currently leads as he has for months, but narrowly


New Mexico -- probably a must win for Obama -- hispanic voters the key


Virginia -- must-win for Mccain -- if Obama wins here, he doesn't need Colorado or New Mexico. 25 point lead for Mccain in the western part of the state overcomes Obama's strength in Northern Virginia and Richmond for now.

Florida -- definite must-win for Mccain -- counting on a good showing with Cubans and Jewish voters as well as dominance in the pan-handle

Montana -- showing for Mccain right now -- Obama pulling out resources -- probably will drop off as a battleground in future weeks

North Dakota -- same as Montana -- probably safer red than the predictions show right now


Indiana -- probably a flight of fancy by Obama to think he had a shot here -- no Dem has won in many cycles

New Hampshire -- Obama needs this state that Kerry won, the only potential flip for the GOP from 2004 so far -- Obama still leads though in spite of Mccain's strong base there


Iowa -- interestingly, Mccain has made no in-roads here so far -- they just don't like him in corn country

Michigan -- polls show it tightening -- must-win for Obama

Minnesota -- GOP convention there fails to move the needle so far -- must-win for Obama

Missouri -- he's been leading there for months, so why is Mccain campaigning so hard there? Does he know something we don't?

North Carolina -- my vote for the next state Obama concedes by removing his resources

Pennsylvania -- atom bomb on Obama campaign if he loses here -- polls show low single-digit lead

South Dakota -- left it on here since North Dakota and Montana are still technically in play, but it is likely this one won't become a serious contentions

Mccain's problem remains that if he wins every single battleground (excluding the "potentials") he wins 283 Electoral Votes, 13 more than needed for victory. By contrast, Obama winning all the battlegrounds results in 355 Electoral Votes. Clearly Mccain needs to dominate -- he cannot afford losses in places like Virginia or Ohio or even for Obama to take Colorado and one other state.

The Sarah Palin effect

Post-election polling indicated that BOTH in terms of ratings and in terms of public response, the major convention speeches were ranked:

1. Sarah Palin (by a significant margin)

2. Barak Obama

3. John Mccain (way behind Obama and Palin

4. Joe Biden (WAY behind the other 3)

Clearly, PALIN made the inroads for the GOP. While everyone has already forgot Biden was in this campaign, she is the rock star for the GOP, outshining even Obama's speech-giving ability. Whether a ticket can be sustained by the bottom remains to be seen.

Next big event is the first debate in Mississippi on Sept 26th. I expect only small movements until then, unless major news breaks.

Stay tuned...if it was interesting before, it's downright compelling now.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lots of Conventions, More of the Same Electoral Maps

A great deal has happened in the political world since the last blog I wrote -- the selections of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin as running mates and the two conventions.

In total, taking the entire two weeks in perspective, I'm going to call these rounds a draw. Both parties had, in total very successful conventions, although I would contend that there were areas of opportunity in both.

For the Democrats:
Highlights -- Obama's acceptance speech and Michelle Obama's speech on 1. Barack showed stunning oratory (as we have come to expect from him) in front of an enormous and enthusiastic crowd. Michelle Obama showed that she possesses similar brilliant skills to her husband and did an impressive job connecting their personal stories with the American story.
Lowlights -- The lack of a theme in day 1, probably too soft (at least through the first half of the convention) in attacking the Republicans beyond vague generalities about being like Bush, the high media focus on the Clintons and the party unity story.

For the Republicans:
Highlights -- Sarah Palin's speech (probably the best speech of either of the 2 conventions), brilliant attacks on the democrats by Rudy Guliani and company, excellent PR from canceling most of the activities on day 1 (plus, it let them push Bush and Cheney back to Washington), the second half of Mccain's speech
Lowlights -- the first half of Mccain's speech -- who opens with praising Bush? How can the party of national security let protestors get in?, all the negative (and probably unfair) PR buzz about Palin's family.

It will be several days before the polls fully sort themselves out, but early indications are that both parties got bounces that will likely largely negate each other and we will be looking at a close race.

Which brings us to the electoral map...amazingly, very little has changed. The only changes in my calls are as follows:
Nevada moves from Obama to Tie -- this one will be very close in the end....Latino turnout will be key.

Obama's lead is 293 to 240 for Mccain with 5 votes (Nevada) a tie. Battleground states are as follows:
Key Battlegrounds
Ohio -- still could be the key to the whole election -- promoted from substantial battleground in the last run -- can Obama get the urban turnout he needs? Can Mccain get white fundamentalists in the southern part of the state to show up for him in November?
Nevada -- will Hispanics be there for Obama? Can Harry Reid help him?
Colorado -- will the Democratic convention in Denver seal it for Obama? What will happen with turnout in Denver?

Substantial Battlegrounds

Virginia -- Northern Virginia and Richmond vs. the rest of the state. Will it stay Red or will Khaine and Webb deliver for Obama?

Somewhat Battlegrounds Indiana -- could Obama seriously contend in a state he got smoked in the primaries that is almost always Red? Have to admit the closeness of the polls confuses me on this one.
Florida -- should be close but should stay Red. Obama still struggling with Jewish and Cuban voters and not a hit with the over 55 crowd. Mccain popular with military crowd.
Montana -- Obama is apparently a hit in the rural mountain states. Democratic governor and strong performance in the primary -- could actually see this one swinging this election.
North Dakota -- same story as Montana.

Fringe Battlegrounds Alaska -- Palin pick probably seals it for Mccain, but Ted Stevens still looming.
New Hampshire -- was Blue last time, but Kerry was from the neighborhood and this state has always loved Mccain, although apparently not Obama based on the primary results.

Potential Battlegrounds
Georgia -- can Obama rally black voters and score an upset?
Iowa -- Obama way out in front in recent polls, and this state has never loved Mccain, but it is usually a bellweather for national polls
Michigan -- could the hockey mom from Alaska help Mccain here?
Minnesota -- Republican convention held here -- possibly to foretell a state that they will focus on upsetting Obama?
Missouri -- has dropped of the list, but could Obama find a way to rally here?
New Mexico -- looking like Obama all the way at the moment, but it is in Mccain's neighborhood and has a history of being a swing state.
North Carolina -- polls are close, large number of black voters. Is it just wishful thinking by the Dems or could Obama really win here?
Pennsylvania -- state has been trending Blue, but Obama got roasted in the primary. Can Mccain turn out enough rural voters and convert a few Hillary voters?
South Dakota -- could the same story as Montana and North Dakota play out here?

Just a few parting thoughts:
This electoral map looks remarkably similar to 2004 with a few states swinging to Obama. For all the talk of a remade electoral map in 2008, it appears that Obama is probably best served to run on the Kerry+ strategy, holding Kerry states and trying to pick up states like Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, etc. Mccain, on the other hand has very few pick-up prospects, but a lot of turf to defend. If he wins, the map will look almost identical to 2004.

The debates are probably the next substantive event. There will be some jabbing for the next few weeks and we will get to see the convention effects settle out. I wouldn't be surprised if we wind up with dead even national polls and a modest electoral lead for Obama heading into the first debate in Mississippi, so they may well decide this thing. Will be interesting to see how the two candidates do, since neither seemed to do particularly well in primary debates. Probably the most interesting one for me personally will be Biden vs. Palin. My advice to Biden: don't underestimate Palin and be careful not to sound like you are talking down.