Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Big 2012 Electoral Map - Good Week for Obama, The Future of Obamacare, Commerce and Justice Departments in Disarray

Electoral Map Update
Days Until the Election: 135
Projected Popular Vote Total: Obama +3.5%
Projected Electoral Vote Total: Obama 314, Romney 224

Mitt Romney's closing of the gap against President Obama sure didn't last long.  Obama gained over two and a half points in the national polls (more on that and the outlier Bloomberg Poll later) and appears to now hold a small lead in Florida, a state he had been trailing Romney in marginally for some time.

The two bright spots for Romney are that he held onto a razor-thin lead in Ohio, a must win state, to be sure, and moved far closer in Michigan, which moves into the "lean" category for the first time.  Winning Michigan would be game-changing for Romney, as it takes him out of the narrow electoral box that I have been describing for several weeks.  Flipping just Michigan and Florida from the current electoral map would yield a 269-269 electoral college split, more than likely enough for Romney to win the Presidency, given the Republican house.  Of course, it would also make the couple of electors that I have not been closely tracking in Nebraska and Maine, the two states that are not winner-take-all, crucial.  If a winner-take-all scenario yields a 269-269 split, Obama need only win one congressional district in Nebraska (as he did in 2008) and Romney need only win one of the two districts in Maine (which certainly seems possible, given how much more competitive Maine is than in 2008.)  Deciding a Presidency on this basis would probably be extremely unsatisfying, but the rules are what they are.

National polling was thrown a big curve ball this week when the Bloomberg Presidential poll, which is a fairly respected non-partisan national poll, showed President Obama with a 13 point lead over Mitt Romney.  I've looked at the polling report and there is nothing obviously wrong with the sample selection or methodology, which is in line with other national polls.

So what are we to make of this poll?  Clearly I don't think President Obama has a 13 point lead, as every other national poll shows a much closer race, but this is a good lesson in poll sampling error and statistical outliers.

The way polling works, fundamentally, is by sampling a small portion of the population and using that to project the larger national picture.  Polling is a statistical science, by which taking a sample, if the sample size is large enough relative to the group that you are attempting to sample, you can provide an accurate picture most of the time.

There are two statistical elements which describe the possible variability of a poll - they are expressed statistically as the confidence interval level and the confidence interval range.  The confidence interval range is typically referred to in the media as the "Margin of Error".  This isn't strictly correct, since it ignores the confidence interval level, which is typically not published, but usually 95%.  National media also tends to ignore the fact that the confidence interval runs both other words if it is 3%, then you would have to subtract 3% from one candidate AND add 3% to the other candidate to find the outer range of the confidence interval, or a 6% swing.

In the case of the Bloomberg Poll, the confidence interval was a 95% confidence interval and the confidence interval range was +/- 3.5%.

The media would simply report "the poll had a margin of error of 3.5%".

A statistician would say "We have 95% confidence that each candidate's actual total is within 3.5% of the reported total in the poll".

So, the Bloomberg Poll could be the 1 time in 20 that the poll is just flat wrong.  Or it could be that the 13 point lead that it is reporting is really a 6 point lead and the poll, is, in fact, withing the "margin of error".

Regardless, other national polls from the week, show the following:
Pew Research - Obama +4%
Assocaited Press - Obama +3%
Gallup - Even
Rasmussen - Romney +5%

So, clearly the Bloomberg poll is a high outlier for Obama and the Rasmussen poll is a high outlier for Romney, with the other three showing somewhere between a 0 to 4% lead for the President.  Aggregating all the poll results gives us a 3.5% lead for the President, so the Bloomberg poll does have an impact on the numbers, but not an outsized one.

Monday Is the Day (Probably) for SCOTUS and Obamacare
Monday is the last scheduled day for the Supreme Court to issue rulings and is therefore the probable date for it to issue its ruling on Obamacare.  Now, the Supremes have utter discretion to extend the date if they need more time to finish the ruling, but the odds are still in favor that we will see a ruling early this week.

So what is likely to happen?  The Supreme Court appears to be the last institution that is highly effective at preventing leaks, so I don't have any intelligence that isn't public knowledge, but, like everyone else, I can speculate based on the questioning during the arguing of the case.

There appears to me to be a clear 5-4 majority that favors striking down the individual mandate.
George W. Bush nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito plus George H.W. Bush nominee Clarence Thomas will join Reagan nominees Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy to form the 5 vote majority, opposed by Clinton nominees Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Steve Breyer and Obama nominees Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.  I mention the nominating Presidents to make one simple point - this appears poised to be a straight party-line vote, rather than a debate of complex legal theories.

Kennedy was thought to be the swing vote, but made it fairly obvious by his questioning in the case that he is highly skeptical of the mandate.

What is very much in debt is whether striking down the mandate (assuming the court does) will lead it to invalidate the entire law or whether it will allow the law to stand without the mandate.  I don't really know, but I believe it is likely, also by a 5-4 vote, with Kennedy swinging the deciding vote, that it will rule that the rest of the law can stand.  To strike down the rest, in spite of a clear notice in the law of severability would be a massive overreach of power by the Supremes, and the fact that 4 "strict constructionist conservatives" appeared poised to do it largely invalidates their complaints of judicial activism.  There is certainly some chance that the court will rule 5-4 the other way, with Kennedy not swinging his vote, but I think it is more likely than not that the rest of the law will stay intact.

Hit and Runs and Fast and Furious
The now very well publicized Fast and Furious scandal at the Justice Department reached a new level of rancor this week, with President Obama asserting executive privilege over Justice Department memorandum related to the ill-fated program.

This is now a full-fledged scandal, with Holder for months denying the program, which sold guns to Mexican cartels, then subsequently lost track of the guns, which were used to slaughter Mexican civilians and a U.S. agent, then admitted it existed and has consistently dodged congressional inquiry.

Now, Republicans love to witch-hunt scandal in an otherwise clean Obama administration.  But they have good cause in this case.  Obama should stop letting Holder hide behind him, live up to his stated commitment of public transparency and release the information.  We have a right to know what is in those documents.  And Holder should resign for his role running the department.  Loyalty to Holder should not trump national interest.

In addition to the well-known Justice Department troubles, Obama continues to struggle with the Commerce Department.  The Commerce Department has plagued the President since before he took office.  It took three tries to get a suitable nominee to head the department, with Obama's first pick of Tom Daschle withdrawn due to a tax scandal, his second nominee, Republican Judd Gregg, withdrawn after Gregg decided he didn't want the job.  Obama' third nominee, Gary Locke, actually made it to running the department, but lasted scarcely two years before talking.  Obama's fourth nominee and second secretary, John Bryson, took office last October, but resigned under strange and questionable circumstances last week after being arrested for a hit and run and blaming the situation on a seizure.  With Bryson gone, we may never fully understand what happened during Bryson's traffic accident, but Obama has a hole in his cabinet again.  Don't expect any nominee to get approved before the election.

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