Saturday, October 20, 2012

The 2012 Map: Still Advantage Obama Despite Gallup Poll Results, Celebrating Milestones

Days Until the Election: 17
Projected Popular Vote Total: Obama +1.1% (Obama up 2.1% since last week)
Projected Electoral Vote Total: Obama 286, Romney 252 (Obama down 8 since last week)
Current Betting Odds: Obama 61%, Romney 39% (unchanged since last week)

The fundamental situation in the Presidential race didn't change in the past week and that's bad news for Mitt Romney, as, in my estimation, he is still behind in the electoral college.  Romney picked up a very narrow lead in Virginia and New Hampshire in my projection and lost Colorado, netting him 8 electoral votes, but lost ground in the popular vote polling.

First, a few notes on the popular vote.  The Gallup poll has been the subject of a lot of press of late, with it showing a 7% lead for Mitt Romney on Thursday, a 6% lead for him on Friday and a 6% lead again today.  Gallup is among the most established and respected polling firms in the country, so it would be foolish to ignore their results, but they do cause me to scratch my head in light of the other polling results that we are seeing from established tracking polls.  The Investor's Business Daily poll (which many have pointed out over the past 8 years was the closest to projecting the outcome in 2004, although it was mid-pack in accuracy in 2008) shows Obama up by 2%.  Rasmussen, which has long been accused of being a right-leaning polling firm, shows Romney up by 1%.  The Reteurs/Ipsos tracking poll shows Obama up by 3%, Rand has Obama up by 3% as well and Romney is up 2% in the UPI poll.

In short, of the 6 tracking polls covering the race, 5 of them have the range somewhere between Obama +3% and Romney +2% and Gallup has Romney at +6%. 

Additionally, several non-tracking national polls came out in the past week that validated the range of the other 5 tracking polls - a Battleground poll this week showed Obama +1%, an ABC News/WP poll showed Obama +3% and a Hartford Courant poll showed Obama +3%.

Clearly, one of two things is going on:
(1) The Gallup Sample is dramatically different from the other polls in terms of their assumption around likely voters
(2) Gallup had a few days which were just a statistical anomaly that will even itself out over the course of the next week

In the case of #1, we would have to determine which likely voter model we believe in order to determine if Gallup is right or if the rest of the polling universe is right.

In the case of #2, the effect of weighting and averaging the polls that I use in my statistical model would largely take care of the outlier.

So is the Gallup poll dramatically different in sample selection?  It does not appear so from its internals.  One of the things that is observable is that the Gallup poll appears to be a lot less stable than other national polls which leads me to believe that they normalize their data a lot more.

Bear in mind, the Gallup poll has a margin of error at a 95% confidence interval of +/-3%, meaning that 6% is actually within the margin of error (if you add 3% to Obama's total and subtract 3% from Romney's, which is the correct way to measure these margins, you get an even race.)

As far as my projection goes, I see no reason to discount the results from the Gallup poll in my measures but also no reason to give it more weight than any other national poll.

At the state level, I think it is safe with scarcely more than 2 weeks and 1 debate to go to narrow the field to states that truly have a real chance of switching.  Let me do the rundown of all the competitive states:
All the solid/strong states - assume these are gone.  Indiana, South Dakota and Missouri are out of reach for the Democrats - Obama won't even try for them.  Ditto that New Mexico, Washington and Connecticut for the Republicans.  So, let's start by striking the left and right hand columns from consideration.

Of the states within 10 points, here is my rundown of the real prospects:
Montana - nobody is spending any money here or campaigning here and Obama lost it last time.  I consider it out of reach for him.
North Carolina - the Obama campaign is cutting back on media buys here and isn't making campaign stops.  I think the crown jewel of his 2008 victory and the site of the 2012 DNC is gone for the Dems.
Arizona - a state that was utterly uncompetitive in 2008 given John McCain's home field advantage keeps flirting with being competitive.  But Obama isn't campaigning or spending much there.  I think this one will stay in GOP hands.

Florida - still hotly contested by both parties with tons of ad spending and candidates criss-crossing the state.  This one is still up for grabs.
Virginia - both campaigns are fighting hard here and it is extremely close.  Still up for grabs.
New Hampshire - given it only has 4 electoral votes, I'm shocked at how much both campaigns are investing here.  Definitely still competitive.
Colorado - among the closest in the nation and still very much up-for-grabs.  A large Mormon population helps Romney but a large Hispanic population helps Obama.
Wisconsin - I will leave this on the competitive list since the state still appears very close in the polls.  It doesn't seem that the Romney camp is fighting too hard for this one though.
Ohio - definitely the lynchpin of the campaign and one fought heavily over by both sides.  Obama has a small but clear edge here, but this is still competitive.
Nevada - similar demographics to Colorado create a similar campaign dynamic.  Also, the hard-hit economy makes it a prime Romney target.  Still competitive.
Iowa - still up for grabs and attracting campaign dollars and visits.

Pennsylvania - the prospect of winning here for the first time since 1988 is quite a sexy idea for the GOP, but they aren't investing heavily here and I think this one stays Democratic unless Obama collapses in the next couple of weeks.
Michigan - this one once appeared competitive but keeps slipping away for the GOP.  It will stay Democratic.
Oregon - Romney is investing nothing here.  It stays in Obama's column.
Minnesota - same as Oregon, Minnesota is competitive in theory only.  It will stay Democratic.

So we are left with a battlefield of 8 states: Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, Wisconsin, Ohio, Nevada and Iowa.

Obama starts with a base of 237 Electoral Votes, Romney 206.
The true battlegrounds have the following electoral votes (in rank order):
Florida - 29
Ohio - 18
Virginia - 13
Wisconsin - 10
Colorado - 9
Nevada - 6
Iowa - 6
New Hampshire - 4

Let's look at the path's to victory for each candidate:
For Obama:
(1) Win Big
The easiest path is win the two biggest prizes.  If he takes Florida and Ohio, it's over.  He gets 284 electoral votes.

(2) Win Easiest
The states where he holds the strongest leads are Wisconsin, Ohio, Nevada and Iowa.  They have a collective 40 electoral votes, which would give the President 277 electoral votes.  So, he could even afford to lose either Iowa or Nevada and still have 271 electoral votes.  Wisconsin, Ohio +1 seems like Obama's easiest path

For Romney:
(1) 3 Biggies Plus 1
Florida, Ohio and Virginia would get Romney to 266.  Win any other state and he is at 270.  New Hampshire would seem like the easiest state to claim in this electoral map.  Maybe that's why he is investing there.

(2) Win the Closest
If you go down the rank order, to get to 270, he needs Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado and Wisconsin to put him over the top at 271 electoral votes.

So what strategy are the campaigns investing in?

Both candidates have been criss-crossing Florida and Virginia, states that Romney will need in both strategies and ones that Obama needs in strategy #1.

We'll see where they spend time as the campaign closes.

Site Milestones
My last post was my 500th on this blog.  September was the most-read month ever for this site and October is only 100 viewers away from surpassing September, something it seems almost sure to do today.

I'm hardly Nate Silver in terms of fame in projecting elections, but I would note that we were almost as good as Nate in 2008 (this site predicted 48 out of 50 states correctly, Nate picked 49 of them right.  We called the popular vote exactly correctly as well.)  But it's nice to know that thousands of people every month are reading and enjoying what I do.

Thanks for reading and for telling your friends about us.

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