Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Early Report Card, Where Is the Accountability?, The Biggest Story of the Night, The Future of the Grand Old Party

The final votes have not been counted and Florida has not been officially called yet - it will be days and possibly weeks before I can accurately assess my performance, but based on the initial returns, we had a solid night of projections.

For the Presidency:
* 49 out of 50 states were called correctly.  Florida is still unknown, but appears likely to go for President Obama in the end, which would make it my lone miss in the state projections - if it goes for Romney, then I would be perfect.  Florida was one of three states (Colorado and Virginia being the others) that I felt were within the reasonable margin of accuracy of my projections.
* On the popular vote, President Obama currently leads by 2.3% versus my projection of 0.9% or a 1.4% absolute error if that vote total holds.  Many of the uncounted votes are in California, with another decent-sized chunk in Arizona and Oregon and a small smattering in some other states, so, on balance, the margin and my error are likely to increase slightly.
* In the Senate, I missed 2 races - in Montana and North Dakota where Democrats pulled off modest upsets.  In both cases, polling was pretty scant and the races were hard to call.
* In the House, there are a number of House races still undecided.  The current margin of 232-192 with 11 races outstanding appears to track extremely closely to my projection of a 239-196 House.  If 7 of 11 outstanding races break for the GOP, my call will be perfect.  Democrats appear to be faring slightly better than that and may win 5 or 6 of the races, which would give me an error of 1 to 2.
* Overall, my calls were highly accurate - 98% in the Electoral College, 94% in the Senate and 98-100% in the House.
* What error there was had a persistent bias in favor of the GOP - both of the Senate races, the state of Florida in the Presidential race and the likely margin in the House all represent races where I had projected GOP wins but Democrats won.  This is ironic when you consider the discussion of polling - all of which leads me to want to discuss:

When Will the Talking Heads Take Responsibility?
I can't tell you how many articles I read from conservative commentators this year about how there was a left-wing media conspiracy to "weaponize" polls by using polling samples so out of whack with what the actual electorate was going to be that they were designed to be wrong and create a false perception of a Democratic lead.

Nate Silver, a man I greatly admire (and who, incidentally, appears to have slightly bested me in the Presidential race by calling all 50 states correctly in addition to calling the popular vote nearly spot on, although he did miss the same 2 Senate races that I did - Nate does not project the House) has been pillared with personal attacks and accusations of being a shill for the left - in spite of the fact that like me, he has a logical and fully divulged model for projecting these races that is set up well before the election and not changed throughout the cycle.

These charges were irresponsible, baseless and clearly wrong.

Now, I call on the media to do its job and call on those who made these charges to explain themselves.

The polling firms did a great job this election cycle, just as they did in the past two Presidential races and deserve credit for doing a complex job extremely well.

As noted, if anything, there was a right-leaning bias in the polling, which led to my slightly right-leaning bias in my projections (apparently Nate is better than me at teasing these effects out.)

I work hard to make accurate projections and am proud of what I do.  I'd put my accuracy the last two cycles (97% of states called correctly through the past two cycles) up against their fact-free hot air. 

I call on all of those who made those charges to make public apologies.  Given how they appear to operate, I'm not holding my breathe.  But certainly we should stop having to give air time to this sort of garbage in future election cycles.

The Untold Story of the Night
In the hubbub of the Presidential race, lost except in passing mention in the media reports were some astounding and encouraging results in state ballot initiatives.

First and foremost, an issue that frequent readers know I am passionate about made a massive step forward.

In Maryland, Maine and Washington, voters chose to legalize gay marriage in those respective states and in Minnesota, voters rejected a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.  These are the first 4 instances of voters either approving gay marriage or rejecting an anti-gay marriage amendment.  They all happened in the same night and while Maryland is among the bluest states, Maine, Washington and Minnesota are far more mainstream.  And this is 4 victories on one night after 32 ballot box defeats for gay marriage over the past 8 years.

Does this mean that gay marriage will be legal in all 50 states soon?  Probably not.  But it will now be legal in 9 states and the District of Columbia and is clearly entering the mainstream.

In 2004, gay marriage was a wedge issue used by Karl Rove to win swing states for George W. Bush.  In 2012, it is well within the mainstream.  Those who are on the wrong side of history will be remembered for it.

Also of major significance was the move by voters to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington.  Not medical marijuana, mind you, all marijuana.  This will be a complicated and dicey issue given current federal drug laws, which have not been repealed.  But it is a major strike for individual liberties.  That such an initiative could pass in swing-state Colorado shows just how out of touch both parties are with evolving public opinion.  President Obama would be wise to keep federal hands out of this issue in these two states that have made a clear, democratic choice.

Both ballot initiatives speak to the shifting social mores and the strong belief in individual liberties of both Generation X and Millennials.  This shift speaks to an opportunity for a party to step in and be the true party of individual liberties.  Could it be:

A Reimagined GOP
Barry Goldwater once warned Ronald Reagan of the unholy alliance between economic conservatives and the moral majority.  Goldwater was never comfortable with the GOP embracing a social philosophy that so severely constricted individual liberties by opposing abortion, fighting the "war on drugs", opposing gay rights and generally trying to impose "traditional values" on the rest of society.

Reagan did not listen and from a political strategy standpoint, he was probably right for the time.
Republicans won 3 straight Presidential elections from 1980 to 1988 and it took a severe recession and a center-left Democrat to unseat.

Republicans have now lost 4 of the last 6 elections and won a majority of the vote only once.

In 2004, 75% of voters were white.  In 2008, it was 74%.  This year, it was 72%.  It seems highly likely in 2016, it will be 70% or less as hispanic populations continue to expand.

Mitt Romney won 59% of the white vote, but bombed with the other groups, getting only 27% of the Latino vote, 25% of the Asian-American vote and 7% of the African-American vote.

This means that every 1% expansion in the Latino vote would translate into a 0.5% loss in popular vote margin for the GOP.  And that Latino vote is expanding by about 2% of the electorate per cycle.

So the strategy of winning a ton of white votes is a decay function.

The GOP has to figure out a strategy to reach minority voters.  Some of it is about issues but a lot of it is about outreach and tone.  George W. Bush won 40% of the Latino vote in 2004.  Ronald Reagan won 25% of the black vote in 1984.  These aren't majorities, but if Romney had won these percentages, he would have swung a 2% popular vote loss to 1.6% popular vote win, a margin that may well have swung the election.

Secondly, the GOP are getting scorched with younger votes.  Members of Gen X and Gen Y (those 44 and under) went for President Obama by 14%.

And here is the opening I am speaking of above.  These generations have been called the "me" generation.  They are starting to earn money and like the idea of lower taxes and less government involvement in their lives.  They COULD be conservatives.  But they detest social conservatism.  They are the reason that marriage equality and drug legalization initiatives are passing.

If the GOP could once again become the true party of liberty, rather than the party that wants the government out of your wallet, but in your bedroom, they might have a compelling argument to make and be able to build a coalition that could win again.

They have 4 years to figure it out.

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