Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Big 2012 Electoral Map - Why It's Really Close and Why I Believe Obama Will Probably (But Not Certainly) Win, Foreign Policy Yawn, The Split Vote Scenarios

Days Until the Election: 13
Projected Popular Vote Total: Romney +0.2% (up 1.3% in the past 4 days)
Projected Electoral Vote Total: Obama 277, Romney 261 (Romney up 9 in the past 4 days)
Current Betting Odds: Obama 60%, Romney 40% (Romney +1% in the past 4 days)

It's close.  It's very close.  Certainly closer than 2008.  Whether it winds up closer than 2004, when President Bush won re-election on the basis of a 2.1% margin in Ohio (New Mexico and Iowa were actually narrower, but winning both of those would not have put John Kerry over the top) remains to be seen.  It would require a rare twist of fate for it to be as close as in 2000, when President Bush won his first term by officially less than 0.01% of the votes cast in Florida.

But it's close.  Close enough that even if this were election eve, I wouldn't be 100% confident that my model would correctly project the winner.  Certainly close enough that with nearly two weeks left until the election, I can't predict with any certainty.

But President Obama is still ahead.

Consider the case for Obama's re-election:
(1) President Obama has not trailed on my electoral map the entire election cycle.  Not for a day.
(2) President Obama has not trailed in the betting odds on Intrade once.  Not for a day.
(3) The electoral map favors Obama - even when he trails modestly in the national polls, he maintains his electoral lead.

I'm not saying Romney couldn't win.  He could peak at exactly the right time - on election day.  Democratic voter turnout could be much lower than the pollsters are modeling.  We could still have an October surprise that could wildly swing the race. 

But in spite of Romney's surge following the first debate, Obama is still where I would place my bet today.  We'll see if I'm singing a different tune in two weeks.

What should give Republicans some encouragement is that Romney's paths to 270 have clearly widened.  Ohio is still by far the easiest path and expect that to continue to be the most fought over battleground.  But Romney could also win by holding what he has (which now includes a razor-thin lead in Colorado) plus picking up Iowa and Nevada.  Or he could lose all 3 of those states but win by picking up Wisconsin.  Or, in a very low shot, he could pull off a huge upset in Pennsylvania.  But all those paths are less probable than the one showing in the chart above.

Who Schedules These Debates?
What the heck was the commission on Presidential debates thinking?  Foreign policy as the theme for the closing debate?

I'm not saying that foreign policy doesn't matter.  Certainly how we deal with trade with China, Iran's nuclear ambitions, Israel's place in the middle east, Iraq, Afghanistan and a whole host of other issues matter.

But recent polling indicate that 6% of voters consider foreign policy their top priority in this election.  6%.  Why would we make the final debate that voters see something that only 6% care about.  How about a debate solely on the economy?

And what a horrible set of questions on foreign policy.  How can you have a foreign policy debate without a single question on Mexico, our immediate neighbor that has been ravaged by cartels?  Not a single question on the Eurozone crisis, the single greatest threat to the world economy?  90 minutes on a topic virtually no voters prioritize and they don't even ask the most important questions.

At any rate, the poor topic choice essentially made the debate of very minimal impact.  Polling indicated that President Obama modestly won the debate in the eyes of the majority, including myself.  But it won't be a poll mover - Romney passed the bar as Commander-in-Chief with his command of the facts on the stage and beyond that, few will be swayed by competing answers on Libya.

Split Scenarios
Most Presidential elections end the same way - one candidate gets the most popular votes and wins the electoral vote.

In very close races, however, interesting scenarios emerge.

(1) The Popular Vote and Electoral Vote Split
This is quite a plausible scenario this year.  I show Mitt Romney up by 0.2% and President Obama up in the electoral college.  Even Romney were up 2%, assuming that 1.8% movement was evenly spread across the country, he would pick up only Iowa and would still lose the electoral vote 271-267.

I am personally licking my lips at that prospect.  Following the split result in 2000, when President Bush lost the national popular vote but narrowly (quite narrowly) won the electoral vote, there was an outcry on the left for electoral reform.  Since then, 9 states, all blue states, representing 132 electoral votes have passed laws enacting the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would award that state's electoral votes to the national winner if states representing 270 electoral votes sign on, meaning that if states totaling 270 electoral votes signed onto the compact, the winner of the national popular vote would win the election.

The reason no Republican state has signed on is obvious - the electoral college was a structural advantage to the GOP in 2000.  If that ceases to be the case, we would have a shot at real electoral reform.

Wouldn't it be nice if candidates had to campaign somewhere besides Ohio, Florida and Virginia to win an election?  Shouldn't there by campaign rallies in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta and all the other major cities that get shunned each year because they aren't in swing states?

On a related note, to validate to divergence of the state and national polls, I ran my current state projections through the 2008 vote model to see how the national vote might come out if the state projections are right.  The results of that were that if all of my state predictions were exactly correct and turnout exactly mirrored the 2008 election, President Obama would win by 0.8% in the national popular vote, or a 1% divergence from my current actual popular vote projection.

This is well within the margin of error and also bear in mind that for states that are not close, the projection is based on scant polling data, increasing the propensity for error in those states.  A 1% divergence fundamentally confirms my projection:
* The national vote is close to even
* President Obama is ahead in the electoral college

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