Wednesday, October 31, 2012

6 Days to Go - Is the Map Contracting or Expanding?, Is Hurricane Sandy This Election's Defining Moment?

Days Until The Election: 6
Projected Popular Vote Total: Obama +0.6% (up 1.0% from yesterday)
Projected Electoral Vote Total: Obama 290, Romney 248 (unchanged from yesterday)
Current Betting Odds: Obama 67%, Romney 33% (Obama up 3% from yesterday)
Current Popular Vote Betting Odds: Obama 56%, Romney 44%

President Obama gains in my popular vote projection today on the tailwind of some strong polls released today.  There is still a large spread across the polls, all the way from +5% for Romney to +5% for Obama.  Clearly, pollsters have divergent views on the composition of the electorate that will actually show up in 6 days.  I thought it would be interesting to look at all of the polls as well as the accuracy of those polls that existed in 2008 to assess which scenarios are most likely.

Note that in my analysis, I exclude partisan-affiliated polls such as Public Policy Polling, as partisan motivations can obscure objectivity of polling, although PPP's poll currently shows an even race, largely in line with the other national polls.

There are a bunch of ways to aggregate this information to produce an average.  Taking a pure mean (adding up all the margins and dividing by the number of polls) yields Obama at +0.5%.  Taking a median (the middle number), yields Obama at +1.0%.  Taking a sample-weighted mean (applying more weight to polls with larger sample sizes) yields Obama at +0.3%.

Looking at the issue of historical accuracy, if we take only the 4 most accurate polls from 2008 (those that called it within 1% of the actual result), we get a mean of 0.0% (an even race) and a median of Obama +0.5%.

So if I distill it down, there are a ton of ways to average this thing, but just about any way you slice it, we are very close to the even line.  Having a polling spread of 10 points is actually not all THAT unusual...the final polls in 2008 had an 8 point spread.  The averaging techniques take the noise out of the system and the wisdom of the crowd usually pays off - consider if you will that if you aggregate all the polls, you are looking at results from over 16,000 surveys and inserting the wisdom of a dozen professional polling firms in determining turnout.

Of course it could all be wrong or change - but it's normally fairly accurate.

Relative to the states, I have been discussing what I view as a contracting battlefield recently.  Today, I think the true battlefield further contracts to 5 states: Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Ohio and New Hampshire.  You could make an argument for Nevada, especially knowing the history of poor polling performance, but bear in mind that poor polling performance has largely been biased against the Democrats - in 2008 President Obama won the state by about 4% more than the margin of the polls, ditto for Harry Reid in 2010, who grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat.

This runs contrary to what the Romney campaign has been saying and to some extent doing - they claim that they have expanded the map and the next 6 states are in play: Nevada, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.  And they are spending money on ad buys in those states.

Don't trust necessarily what campaigns are saying - of course the Romney campaign is going to say the map is expanding.  And in an era of virtually unlimited political money, don't necessarily trust the fact that they are placing ad buys.  The 5 "true" battlegrounds are already so saturated with ads that spending more money there doesn't help.  What would be the true sign that the GOP believes they can provide an alternate path to victory for their candidate is if Mitt Romney himself starts appearing in those 6 states.

Of course, Romney is basically off the campaign trail for the time-being in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, so we don't know if he will put his time where his campaign's mouth is.  I just can't see him winning any of those states except in the event of an unexpected landslide, in which case they are irrelevant anyway.  They won't provide Romney with electoral vote number 270.

Assuming my scenario is right, Romney now has a must win in 4 out of the 5 remaining battlegrounds and those 4 MUST include Florida, Virginia and Ohio.

It is not an insurmountable task, but it's a tough road for Romney in 6 days.

Particularly in light of:

Presidents Look Presidential in Crises
President Obama is all over the news, looking Presidential, caring and responsive.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is lavishing praise on his administration's response, as are local officials in impacted areas. 

Unfortunately for Romney, presidential candidates have very little place in these crises.  He is trying to tour disaster sites, but it looks brazenly political, while the President's visits look useful. 

The news cycle is all about the disaster and the government's response, which has so far been good.

And there is that little clip of Mitt Romney in the primary debates all but saying that FEMA should be dissolved and responsibility sent back to the states.

Can he turn the tide and recapture the news cycle?  His number of days to work with to do so is going to be small.  Expect Hurricane coverage to dominate the week...Mitt will basically have only the weekend and Monday to work his way back in.

While a Mitt Romney victory is certainly not outside the realm of possibility (if you believe in the wisdom of crowds it has about a one third chance of happening), at this point, Obama winning a sound victory, perhaps reaching 332 electoral votes and losing only Indiana and North Carolina from his 2008 coalition, actually seems more likely

Advantage still Obama.

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