Monday, November 26, 2012

The Way Forward for Republicans

Jeb Bush is not it. Sorry.

I'm not saying Jeb Bush isn't someone Republicans might choose as a presidential nominee. I could see that happening. And that's part of the problem Republicans have. They need a sharper break with their recent past and they seem unwilling to make that break.

As for Jeb himself, some Republicans think he's the way forward because he is well-regarded for his job as Governor and because he is more "Latino-friendly" (not a hard-liner on immigration and his wife is Mexican).

Here's why that's wrong:

1) "Bush" - You can pretty much count the number of times Romney said the name in 2012 on one hand. And this was not a mistake by Romney. The name remains toxic among too many independents and even among some Republicans. Jeb gave a full-throated defense of his brother's presidency at the Republican Convention this year. It didn't rehabilitate GW's image any.

2) Between 1952 and 2004 (52 years and 14 presidential elections), Republicans put together a ticket that didn't have a Nixon, a Dole, or a Bush on it just 1 time (1964). That's kind of creepy. These days, there's a fine line between partisanship and tribalism. Turning back to another Bush gets way too close to the tribalism side of things. The turn to McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012 was not quite the "fresh" makeover the Republicans needed. They desperately need that now.

3) Republicans don't so much need new ideas as they need a return to reason and "reasonableness." Mitt Romney actually pledged during the Republican primaries that he would not support $10 in spending cuts in return for $1 in tax increases because this would be $1 in tax increases too much. Voters sense this lack of reasonableness on various issues. A CNN poll out today indicates that 70% of Americans believe the Republican Party does not do enough to compromise with the President while just under half say the same about the President. Jeb Bush cannot be the new face of Republican reasonableness. And that brings us back to the root of the problem ...

The Republican Party has a problem with their base. Both political parties are prone to extremism in their primary processes. But it is worse in the Republican Party. How do we know? Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (not to mention Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain and Rick Perry and Donald Trump) were serious alternatives to Mitt Romney in the primaries. They won serious primaries and got lots of votes. Dennis Kucinich ran for president but he never got a significant number of votes anywhere. The radical left does not hold the same sway in Democratic primaries as the radical right does in Republican primaries. It is not enough for Chris Christie or Mitch Daniels or Jon Huntsman to run. They need to have the space for these candidates to say reasonable things and still win the nomination. That space didn't exist in 2012.

It is a long way to 2016 and Republicans have time. But I'm not hopeful that Republicans have learned the key lessons yet. Nominating Jeb Bush would be a sure sign they haven't learned these lessons at all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

47% ...

... of Americans voted for Mitt Romney as it turns out.

That's poetic justice.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Serious Question About Benghazi-gate

What's this about now?

Let's posit for the moment that Susan Rice was lying on the Sunday talk shows as McCain et. al. seem to be implying. What does she ... or Hillary Clinton ... or President Obama ... or the United States stand to gain from doing that?

In other words, what exactly are they accusing her of lying for? Richard Nixon was lying to cover up a criminal act. Bill Clinton was guilty of lying to save himself from embarrassment. I don't get what Rice, etc., is accused of lying for. And if you can't explain that piece of it, if you can't outline for me what the motive is here, there's no scandal.

So, again, what's this about now?

Monday, November 12, 2012

"Totally disappointed, man"

That's what one Romney supporter said in the wake of Mitt Romney's loss last Tuesday. Of course, this isn't just any Romney supporter. This is the guy who had a Romney/Ryan logo tattooed on his face ... as in permanently. Here's the best part of the article:
Hartsburg’s tattoo covers a 5-by-2 inch space on the side of his face, and he did it after raising $5,000 on eBay for the effort. He didn’t even tell his wife he planned to get the tattoo until about an hour before.

“Right away, she was taken aback,” Hartsburg said, adding that his wife is also a Romney/Ryan supporter.

“My 15-year-old son, however, he was all about it.”
At least Romney has brought one family together. So that's nice.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sorry Ohio ... Colorado Was the Key State in 2012

It turns out Colorado was the tipping point state, not Ohio, in 2012. What do I mean by this?

I took all the states and listed them in the chart below in descending order by the size of Obama's margin of victory (or loss).

Of course, most of the states on the edges are irrelevant to this story so let's drill down to look at the states that Obama won or lost by 10 point or less.

It may not look like it but there is so much worthy of discussion here. First, notice that Obama did better nationally than he did in Ohio. This was not true in much of the pre-election polling and represented a moderate surprise to me. The final pre-election polling average on Pollster had Obama up by 1.5% nationally but up by 3.4% in Ohio. PPP's final national poll had Obama up by 2 but up by 5 in Ohio. There was much discussion in the final days of the campaign that the Romney campaign did not see an easy path in Ohio and that explained the last-minute (and futile) effort in Pennsylvania. But Ohio really was reasonably close.

Don't get me wrong here. That 1.9% victory is not tiny. Remember that Ohio was so saturated with campaign visits and campaign ads that it was probably going to be very, very difficult for Romney to move enough voters to win there. But it was a little bit closer than we thought it would be.

Second, notice that the three closest states Obama won were, as Chuck Todd likes to call them, "FLOHVA." And they were in that order - Florida, then Ohio, then Virginia. Chuck Todd talked a lot about how the election was going to come down to these three important states. I certainly agreed but figured that Florida was kind of irrelevant because, if Obama won Florida, he would already have won Ohio and would already have the 270 he needed. I was right about that latter part but was wrong that ... Obama didn't turn out to need Ohio either. Or Virginia. Wow.

And this brings me to, what is to me, the most interesting point. Colorado was the key "tipping point" state (Nate Silver's terminology), not Ohio. In arguing that Romney was wasting his time in Pennsylvania, I pointed out that the leads Obama had in Ohio and Virginia were so critical that
he can lose Florida, Pennsylvania, and hell, let's give Romney Colorado too. It is still an Obama victory.
But, of course, Obama was never going to lose Pennsylvania. So, when you give Pennsylvania to Obama, it turned out that Obama didn't need Ohio or Florida or Virginia.

Obama finished with 332 electoral votes. But some of these states were close. If Obama lost Florida (29 electoral votes) and Ohio (18 electoral votes) and Virginia (13 electoral votes) - a complete sweep of FLOHVA - he would still have had 272 electoral votes ... because of Colorado. Colorado is the state that won it for Obama.

And here's the interesting thing about that. Obama won Colorado by 4.7 points. Imagine for a moment that the states all shift equally as the national margin moves. This is not quite true but is not a crazy approximation of reality. If this were true, you could move the national vote 4.6 points in Romney's direction and Romney would still lose. You would be moving from a +2.7 Obama margin to a 1.9-point margin for Romney ... and Romney would still lose.

For most of the 2012 campaign, Colorado was thought of as a sort of safety-valve swing state. It was not given as much attention because the Obama campaign knew they win if they win Ohio. And, while that was true, it was also true the Obama campaign was winning without Ohio. Colorado was the true tipping point state.

When you start to meditate on that reality and then think about what drove Obama to victory in Colorado, you start to realize the trouble the Republican Party is in at the national level.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Axelrod: Becker Was Right About That First Debate

It is not a direct quote. But the point is the same. I argued that the first debate closed the gap on polling not because Obama "bombed" but, rather, because there was upside for Romney. Once he appeared credible, some voters pre-disposed to vote against Obama came home to Romney. Axelrod also agrees that the size of the debate bump was smaller than the media made it out to be.
POLITICO: How much did Debate 1 worry you?

AXELROD: “It was uncomfortable because there was a panic. There are certain things that are predictable in this business: The wheel turns. I always worried about that first debate, because the history of presidents in those first debates is it is like a very, very treacherous pass, and the odds that you're going to have a little bit of a problem are very high, and we did. ... I remember in 1984, when Walter Mondale had a good first debate against Ronald Reagan and people were doubting Reagan: ‘Has he lost it?’ ‘Is it over?’ He dropped like 10 points. He had a huge lead, and the lead closed. So I kind of knew we were in for an uncomfortable period there. But in our data what happened was we went -- that 7-point lead went to like 3 or 4 points, and it was almost entirely because Romney gained. Romney got all that Republican-leaning independent vote back, and obviously it increased enthusiasm among his people.

“Even if we had performed better in that first debate, all the upside was for Romney, because this was the first time that the American people really got a chance to -- 70 million people saw him, and just be performing well, he was going to gain. And, obviously, we helped. But what was interesting about the polling after the debate was we did not lose vote, we did not lose favorability, we did not lose approval. If anything, it ticked up a little. It's just that he made big gains and his numbers which had been under water, almost for months, became more positive.”
Translation: Romney had to appear credible to gain some ground and he did that. There was not much the President could do about that. But the good news is that it also didn't close the gap the way Andrew Sullivan and others worried it did.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Romney Does Not Read My Blog

It seems that Mitt Romney does not read my blog. I am disappointed.

If he had been a fan, he would not have been quite as "shellshocked" on Election Night. I had pointed out that the public polling was "unequivocal" about Obama's likelihood of winning. Indeed, Romney's only path to victory was if the public polls were all systematically wrong.

But somehow the message didn't get through to Romney. Stephen Colbert was similarly shocked and devastated:

Hey, all I can do is put it out there. The rest is on them.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

There Are Facts

It turns out the polling was accurate all along. Amazingly accurate as it happens.

As I wrote on Sunday, the polls were unequivocal. The only chance Romney had to win was if the polls were somehow displaying some kind systemic polling bias. I explained that that was possible even if it was not likely. Not likely was right. The polls were just right on the mark.

As a side note, not that I'm out for anyone losing their livelihood or something, but I do think there should be some accountability for some of the pundits that were just silly, silly wrong. For goodness sake, take Dick Morris off the air. Seth Masket is right about Peggy Noonan.

Anyone (including the Romney campaign) who considers Pennsylvania to be a swing state should be shut out of the discourse. They're not living in the fact-based world. I continue to defy anyone to show me something insightful Mark Halperin has said. Gallup Poll meet lack of credibility. Lack of credibility, this is the Gallup Poll.

There are facts. Thank goodness.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Prediction

Here's my best guess on the final outcome ...

Obama 332 - Romney 206.

Florida is the toughest call of all for me. I am basing my call in part on this brief discussion about Florida from Chuck Todd's Daily Rundown on Saturday:

Chuck points out that the Obama campaign thinks they need to be about 160,000 - 200,000 votes ahead (Dem. reg. vs. GOP reg.) in the early vote by Election Day in order to win Florida. Adam Smith had pointed out they are just over 100,000 ahead on Saturday and it looks like they will fall short of their goal. But where are they today? The Miami Herald reports that Dems are now about 167,000 votes ahead ... in a report posted at 11AM on Monday. They're right in that zone that Chuck Todd suggested they needed to be. Florida is going to be close. But I'll bet on the Obama turnout machine to carry him over the line.

Regardless, the map above does not make Florida a must-win for Obama. I am pretty confident about Ohio at this point. I think Romney's last-minute Pennsylvania gambit was the white flag of surrender in Ohio. But hey, you want to see how strong Obama's position is with Ohio? Let's take the map above and assume I'm wrong about Florida (decent chance) and I'm wrong about Virginia (smaller chance). And then assume I'm wrong about ... Pennsylvania (not a chance!). Without Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania ... Obama wins with 270 electoral votes. At that point, Romney would still need to win some other Obama state.

No wonder Nate Silver's final run of his model has Obama as a 92% bet to win. Sam Wang says Nate is too conservative. He gives Obama a 98.2% chance of victory.

That's 1.8% of pure scary.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Polls Are Now Unequivocal

There is just no way out of it now.

Either a lot of pollsters are going to have a lot of egg on their face or Barack Obama will be re-elected.

Obama's lead in the national polls ( model) is now at its largest margin (Obama +1.2) since October 4, the day after the first debate. The effect of the first debate has generally been overstated as Obama's lead had started to decline before that and he had his largest margin in the Pollster model on September 21 (Obama +4.3). But the margin Obama has now is slim but real.

10 different national polls were released on Sunday and there is almost no variance. 3 have the candidates tied, 7 have Obama with a tiny lead from 1 to 3 points. Rasmussen now has the candidates tied nationally. Only Gallup has not released their poll yet though I'm not sure anything they release has much credibility at this point.

In the all-important state of Ohio, Obama's lead is now 3.2 points in the model. This is his largest lead since (say it all together now) October 4. 11 polls have been released in Ohio in the last few days. Only Rasmussen has it tied. 10 others have Obama winning by between 2 and 8 points. Tonight's PPP poll has Obama up by 5 points.

How about Romney's last-minute Pennsylvania gamble? Pollster has Obama up by 5.6 points. But Pennsylvania has not been polled as extensively as some other (actual) swing states. What if Romney pulls off a miracle there. Can he win?

Probably not. It has flown under the radar a bit but Virginia has been trending to Obama recently. His lead in the Pollster model is now 1.1 points and this on the heels of 6 polls released there in the last few days. Those polls ALL have Obama up by 1 to 6 points. If Obama wins Ohio and Virginia, he can lose Florida, Pennsylvania, and hell, let's give Romney Colorado too. It is still an Obama victory.

Bottom line: Romney needs the polls to be wrong. Could they be wrong? Yes. All of them? Not likely but yeah. It is possible. But pollsters are in the business of being right about this stuff. A Romney win now would represent polling failure of a widespread nature we've never seen. Pollsters have gotten individual states wrong at times in the past. But a whole bunch of states? It hasn't happened in the modern era.

Pew and the Polling Average

The final Pew poll is out today and it is very, very bad news for Mitt Romney. Obama is up by 3 among likely voters.

The polling averages are always the best indicator of where the race stands, especially relative to any single poll. But the Pew poll does have all the characteristics of a good poll.

1) Pew has a good historical track record
2) Pew has a very big sample; 2,709 likely voters were interviewed
3) Live interviews
4) Large numbers of cell-phone only voters were interviewed

This one poll can be wrong because of sampling error. The margin of error among likely voters is +/- 2.2 points which means the margin between Obama and Romney is highly likely to be within the range of Obama +7.4 and Romney +1.4. So there is room to interpret this poll as consistent with a small lead for Romney. But it is a narrow space.

The possibility of bias exists here too. But Pew's methodology is very, very solid in every way a pollster can control. Romney's hopes increasingly depend upon some "X factor" that pollsters are not currently able to identify.

Why Watch the Popular Vote?

The Electoral College elects the president and we all know Obama has an advantage there. But Nate Silver provides a layman's approach to the popular vote for election night.

Put Silver's current Electoral College estimate (Obama is about 85% to win) together with that and what does it tell us? It tells us the national polls are starting to converge with where the state polls are. Silver points out that the 15% chance Romney has is almost all riding on the state polling displaying systemic bias. Now the national polling average is approaching a 1-point lead for Obama (currently +0.6 for Obama). This was not the case a week ago. So now, the national polls AND the state polls are indicating a likely Obama victory.

In the next 24 hours, we're going to see a bunch of final national polls released including Gallup and Pew. NBC/WSJ released their final national poll this morning and they have Obama up 48-47. Gallup being Gallup, they will likely have some outlier result based on their odd likely voter screen. Pew had the race even a week ago.

A week ago, the discussion was all about why the national polls and the state polls were so different. Now they are not as different. Romney NEEDS pollsters to be wrong at this point ... a lot of them.

UPDATE: Pew has their final poll out and Obama is up by 3.

Could It Be ...

... that Dick Morris is wrong??? Obama is winning right now ... and the polls seem to continue to move in his direction.

Here's's national poll chart ...

There are 7 national tracking polls. Obama now has a lead in 5 of them between 1 and 3 points and the other two are dead even. All of this is statistically insignificant but virtually every tracking poll has moved a point or two or three in Obama's direction in the last four days or so.

Sam Wang now estimates Romney's chances of winning the national popular vote as 6%. I won't tell you what Wang says are the odds of Romney winning the Electoral College as it would hurt Romney's feelings. But Nate Silver now estimates Romney's chances as just under 15%.

This is not a lock. It's just an awfully good hand that Obama is holding right now.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Will Ferrell Weighs In

Yes, the founder of Facebook. He will eat anything you tell him to eat if you just agree to vote ...


Not that we needed some other indicator that President Obama leads right now but we've got another one this morning. One of the things you see when a campaign is losing is stories quoting anonymous sources about where it went wrong or what might have been or the dreaded, "what's the next step for politician X?"

And so it was this morning as Politico reported that Mitt Romney really wanted Chris Christie rather than Paul Ryan as his running mate. Who knows if the story is true but that doesn't really matter so much, does it? I can assure you, nobody in Romney HQ was plotting out the day saying, "We can really turn this thing around if we could just get a process story out there on how we sorta wanted someone else to be the VP but changed our minds at the last minute!"

Then there was the AP story this morning about how the people around Ryan are already planning what he'll do should the Romney/Ryan ticket lose. You can hear the Alka Seltzer tablets plopping into the glasses of water at Romney HQ now. My favorite part of the article was this:
That is why some of Ryan's biggest boosters are considering whether it wouldn't be better for Ryan to resign from the House. He could write a book — "saving America" is a theme often bandied about — or teach at a university.

After all, on the campaign trail, Ryan is as much lecturer as campaigner. Aides routinely set up giant video screens so Ryan can use visual aids to walk audiences through the minutiae of budget politics. Graphs and charts are as common as yard signs and American flags at some events, with Ryan settling into his role as explainer in chief.

It's no accident he embraces the "wonk" label aggressively. It could make him an attractive figure as a guest lecturer or visiting professor.
Ah academia - the last refuge of failed VP candidates. I'm insulted and that means Romney has now lost the key swing demographic: liberal Jewish political science professors born in the northeast, now living in Los Angeles. I don't see a path to victory in Ohio without that group.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Someone has created a site where I can monitor the status of David Axelrod's mustache throughout the weekend.

It's a Close Election ...

... even billionaires are divided. Yesterday, Mike Bloomberg endorsed Obama. But today, Monty Burns endorsed Romney. The average billionaire will have to find their cues elsewhere I guess.

What You Should Worry About

The election is close and so everyone is nervous. Well, everyone except Dick Morris who is convinced that Romney will win in a landslide as Oregon is now in play (I'm not kidding).

Obama is leading according to the polls. It is roughly tied in the national poll averages and Obama has clear leads in the polling averages in enough swing states to put him over the top for re-election.

So, if you're supporting the President, you have just two things to worry about:

1) Something changes
2) The polls are wrong

Are either or both of these things possible? Absolutely. Are they likely? No. But let's take a closer look at each possibility.

Something changes. What could change in the final days? Some argue that nothing is going to change. Sam Wang, for instance, points out that the cake is now fully baked. He provides statistical proof for this and I find the phrase oddly compelling so I figured I'd repeat it. But it is always possible something could change. For one, a jobs report is going to be released in a few hours. Economists expect that the unemployment rate will tick up to 7.9%. That's probably not enough to damage Obama significantly. But it is an awfully close race and what if it ticks up to 8.0%? Are the optics of that sufficiently bad to do damage? Doubtful, but possible. (UPDATE: The jobs report was better than expected with 171,000 jobs added but the unemployment rate did tick up to 7.9% as more workers re-entered the workforce). What about the so-called incumbency effect? Many (mostly Republicans) argue that most of the undecided voters will break for Mitt Rommey because if they were voting for the President, they'd have been with him already. Is this likely? No. Mark Blumenthal picks that argument apart pretty well.

What about some other wildcard? Hurricane Sandy seems like the last, biggest wildcard and that does not seem to have done any damage to President Obama. Arguably, it has made him look good. Mitt Romney seems to think Pennsylvania is in play and he's headed there for a campaign stop on Sunday. Don't get me started on that. Overall, I think the jobs report is Romney's best bet in this category.

The polls are wrong. The polling data is much more clear than it appears to the naked eye. Sam Wang, Simon Jackman, Nate Silver, Drew Linzer, and others have modeled the probability that Obama does, in fact, have a lead according to the polls and the general consensus is ... "YEAH." But the key phrase in all that is "according to the polls." If the polls are all systematically biased in some similar kind of way, that lead would be a mirage. How often does this happen? Not often. But it is important to remember that polling is at least partially an art. In this era of low response rates, it is not quite as easy as before to ensure you have an unbiased sample. If Obama's lead (and he DOES lead in the key state of Ohio in the polls) were bigger, this would be less of a concern. But it is a small lead.

Of course, the possibility of error goes in both directions. If you watched the video of Stan Greenberg I posted a few days ago, you know there are those who believe the pollsters are undersampling Obama voters. In addition, the Obama campaign claims their superior ground game will help them out-perform the polls. Of course, the Romney campaign claims the same things. The reality is that pollsters are smart people and have staked their reputation on what they're doing. The odds are they are right. Systemic polling failure is possible ... but unlikely.

In the end, there is enough uncertainty to worry about both of these things: Something could change. The polls could be wrong. How much should you worry? As of tonight, Nate Silver has Obama as an 81% bet to win.

That's a high point in the post-Denver (first debate) campaign for Obama. And as Nate points out, you'd rather be holding Obama's cards right now than Romney's.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

National Tracking Polls vs. Full National Polls

A few days ago, I asked, "where are the national polls?" Many have pointed out that the national polls and state polls seem to be saying different things and I suggested that one possible explanation for the difference is that we weren't seeing many full national polls at all. Instead, we were awash in national tracking polls. And I questioned whether there is some difference between these full national polls and the tracking polls that could explain the disconnect between state polls and national polls.

Since then, several full national polls have come out. Let's compare these full national polls with the national tracking polls to see if they tell us something different. I've listed the last 20 national polls (full or tracking) below with the most recent dates in the field on top.

The differences here are not quite as large as they might appear at first ... but there does seem to be a little bit of a difference. If we just take a straight average of the polls on each side of the ledger, Romney leads by an average of 1.1 among the tracking polls and Obama leads by an average of 1.0 on the full national polls. But this is mostly because of a few outliers on each side. Let's throw out the biggest outlier on each side (Gallup among the national tracking polls and National Journal among the full national polls). What do we get then? Among the tracking polls, Romney still leads by 0.6 points on average and, among the full national polls, Obama leads by 0.2 points. It is a 0.8% difference.

That's not a lot but it is something. More notable than that to me is that Obama does not trail in any full national poll. It does seem to me there's something different happening with the tracking polls. If we look at just the full national polls, the split between the national vote and the state polling is just a little less large.

You probably saw that Nate Silver discussed the differences between the state polling and the national polls in a post earlier today. In that piece, he does not consider the issue I'm raising here and expresses some rationale for why he throws his lot in with the state polling. Whether what I'm talking about is a part of this story or not, Silver's argument is a good one and is good reason to think the state polling is more to be believed. But this piece may get us a small distance towards reconciling the two.

Romney's Pennsylvania Gambit ...

... is funny.

I woke up this morning to this nonsense about Romney trying to "expand the map" in Pennsylvania. It seems Romney Romney's super PAC has some extra money to burn so they're burning it in Pennsylvania with a media buys of about $2.6 million. The Obama campaign has responded by spending about $600,000.

In defending the move, the Romney campaign has said they think Pennsylvania is in play and Politico (et tu Politico???) reports that "some polls have shown tightening there." Oy.

I have written more posts railing about how Pennsylvania is not in play than I can count. Here's one. Here's another. You can search the blog for more.

I guess it would be helpful if there were some data that could help us determine whether Pennsylvania is in play:


It turns out there's been exactly one poll since February that has showed Romney in the lead. That poll was done by ... the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania. Interesting. Rasmussen polled Pennsylvania just a week ago and has Obama over 50% and 5 points ahead.

Perhaps you know all this but you worry because Obama spent that $600,000 in Pennsylvania. Believe me folks. The Obama campaign is not sweating Pennsylvania. They can't literally spend every dollar in Ohio. So why not spend a fraction of what the other side is spending to get a little bit of a counterargument on the air.

Let me leave you with this thought. In 2008, Obama beat McCain by just over 10 points in Pennsylvania. The whole nation has shifted a bit back towards the Republicans since then. Has Pennsylvania shifted by 10 points? No. Will $2.6 million in last-minute spending on Romney make it shift 10 points? No.

Romney has one hope for winning Pennsylvania and it is not $2.6 million in ads. Romney's only hope in Pennsylvania is ... systemic polling failure.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Rasmussen, Systemic Polling Failure, and "Truth"

There's quite a brouhaha spinning around the interwebs with conservatives complaining that Nate Silver is cooking the books in his polling model because he's a liberal shill. Here's the argument in its original full form. It is pure drivel. Silver himself had this brilliant retort today ...

But, anyway, the whole thing got me to thinking about the state of the polls and the state of the race. Conservatives are reading Rasmussen and Gravis and Gallup and celebrating what is sure to be a big victory for Romney next Tuesday. Liberals are reading ... well, everything else and are sweating the national vote polls that have it close (actually, if you take Gallup and Rasmussen out of the naional poll averages, Obama is very slightly ahead) but feeling pretty comfortable about the state-level polls that show Obama leading in more than enough states to win a majority in the Electoral College.

What is the state of the race and whose polls are right? The truth is we don't really know for sure which set of polls is right. But, if I had to bet, I'd say Rasmussen and Gallup are wrong (for different reasons). Let me lay out the case for each side and explain why I think Rasmussen has it wrong but it is important to acknowledge that ...

Rasmussen could be right. Rasmussen has been identified as a pollster that has a "Republican lean" but this is really a mislabeling of what they are doing. It suggests that the pollster is just putting his thumb on the scale and cooking the books. That's not what Rasmussen is doing. At least I'm pretty sure they're not. What Rasmussen does is to use "dynamic party weighting." They weight their sample of voters so that they get to a designated number of Republicans and Democrats in their sample. The party weighting is "dynamic" because Rasmussen comes up with the relative weights of Republicans and Democrats based on some recent previous period of polling. Effectively, Rasmussen is making an educated guess about what the partisan makeup of the electorate will be (nationally or in a state) and then they make sure their sample looks like that.

So is it possible Rasmussen is right? Absolutely, it is possible. If their dynamic weights are accurate, then their polls will be accurate. And the flipside is also true. If their weights are wrong, they'll be wrong.

So what's the case against Rasmussen? A couple of days ago, Nate Cohn wrote that, if the polls stay where they are up to Election Day, Mitt Romney's only hope will be "systemic polling failure." This means that the vast majority of polls must have done something (question wording, poor sampling, etc.) that led them all to the wrong answer. Nate Cohn is right about this.

Systemic polling failure does happen. To understand why it is unlikely, we have to understand what other pollsters are doing differently than Rasmussen to get such systematically different results. First, other pollsters are not weighting by party ID at all. To most pollsters, party ID is something to be discovered in a poll, not something to use to weight the sample. This is because party ID is a fluid construct. People tend to change their response to a party ID question based on how they feel about the competing presidential candidates or based on how enthused they are to vote for their preferred candidate. Other pollsters simply ask respondents who they are planning to vote for and then use likely voter screens (of different varieties) to determine who is likely to vote and who is a non-voter.

It is entirely possible that this methodology will lead to a sample that is not reflective of the population as a whole. One reason is simply statistical variation. Maybe you just happened to get a disproportionate number of Romney supporters in your sample. This happens but we know the precise likelihood it will happen and this problem is corrected for by the various polling averages out there. Only a very small number of polls will be outliers for this reason and, when they are averaged into the rest, they will not have a substantial effect on the overall average number. A second problem is some kind of problem with the way we are sampling. One problem along these lines is the undersampling of certain kinds of populations like cell phone users or Hispanic voters who do not speak English, either of which may not be called by pollsters for different reasons. Some pollsters do call cell phones and some call Spanish-only voters. Here's Stan Greenberg talking about why undersampling of cell phone voters is causing Obama voters to be under-represented in the public polls we see:

Other pollsters who are good at what they do, use some kind of weighting mechanism to try to get a representative sample without calling them. This is increasingly problematic but is done well by some pollsters (like PPP in my view).

The point is that these pollsters are either getting a truly representative sample or they are using demographic weighting (not partisan ID weighting) to make sure they don't have a problem with their sample. The fact that so many pollsters are coming to basically the same conclusions (for instance, that Barack Obama has a small lead in Ohio) is evidence that they are likely right.

Could Ohio (and other states) still shift? Yes, but it is getting very late.

Could Rasmussen be right and the other polls wrong? Yes. I don't think so but it could happen and, if it did, it would be exactly the kind of "systemic polling failure" Nate Cohn was talking about.

We'll know next Wednesday morning.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sundays Are Not Always Lazy

Sunday has been a very active day for polls coming out and it has been a very good polling day for the President. There was an Ohio poll that came out late Saturday night that had Obama and Romney tied at 49 and that can be considered bad. But everything else has been either good or trending in the right direction for Obama today.

A PPP poll just came out giving Obama a 4-point lead (51-47) in Ohio. That's not only a good number for the President, it is from a pollster that had him up by just 1 last week. PPP found that 36% of Ohio respondents have already voted and Obama leads 63-36 among them. Democrats are heavily unified in Ohio and there is no enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans. These are all tough, tough numbers for Romney if they are accurate (that's the big "if"). Similarly, PPP had Obama down by 1 in New Hampshire last week and today, they have him up by 2 (49-47). Rasmussen and Gallup each moved a point in the President's direction in their national trackers. Finally, Gravis Marketing has a poll out tonight showing Obama up by 1 in Ohio. This might seem like bad news ... except that Gravis has about as strong a Republican lean as anybody (see Simon Jackman's recent discussion of house effects). Add that house effect in to Gravis and their poll looks a heck of a lot like PPP's.

We'll see how the rest of the day plays out (more polls to come tonight) ... but it is a good day so far for the President.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Where are the National Polls?

We all see the divergence between the national tracking polls, which generally show Romney with a small lead on average, and the state-level polls, which generally show Obama with small leads in most of the key swing states on average.

How could these two things be true at the same time? There's actually two things going on here:

First, it is entirely possible that the President is winning by narrow margins in swing states like Ohio and Colorado but is losing by more in "solid Romney" states than he is winning in "solid Obama" states. That would translate into a national popular vote deficit but, potentially, an Electoral College victory. Most of the sites that create election-prediction models like Sam Wang's Princeton Election Consortium and Drew Linzer's Votamatic use state-level polls either exclusively or more heavily than national polls because the state-level polls provide more information that is useful. They are generally right to do this in terms of predicting what matters - the Electoral College outcome. But those national tracking polls are still unpleasant to look at ... which brings me to my second point ...

Second, it is really striking to me how few "full" national polls there have been in this campaign, especially in the final weeks of the campaign. There are at least 8 different national "tracking" polls that are released just about every day. But these are not the same as a regular poll. I can't claim perfect expertise on the impact (or not) of this phenomenon but it does seem to me there is some important effect of looking at only tracking polls as opposed to regular "full" national polls. Tracking polls take a smaller sample every night for 3 or 4 or 5 or even 7 (in the case of Gallup) nights. They put these together to create a national polling number. Then, when a new night comes on board, the sample from the oldest night drops out. What you end up with is a "rolling average" of the most recent nights. One potentially problematic aspect of this is that, because each night is a distinct sample and because the pollster wants to keep the demographics in the full sample correct from night to night, you have to weight some very small samples night to night before adding them to the sample. This would seem to introduce some error as opposed to doing a regular 2 or 3-night poll and then weighting the whole sample from there. In effect, you'd need to do less weighting as you'd have stronger sub-samples to work with.

Now, I'm just kind of spit-balling on all that and I could be wrong. But I do think that regardless, it is notable that there have been so few full national polls. Indeed, there has not been one full national poll that I can find since the third debate. I'd be interested to see one of those from a good pollster who does live interviews with cell phones included.

UPDATE: In a post today, Nate Silver speaks to the question of the split between the national tracking polls and the state-level polling. The bottom line is that he says the state-level numbers are suggesting leads for Obama in swing states like Ohio that are statistically very meaningful. Mark Blumenthal makes some similar arguments in

Friday, October 26, 2012

What a Fool Believes

You know that is flat-out the best Michael McDonald song.

Now that you're in a Michael McDonald mood, let's get to his latest work. The "other" Michael McDonald is the foremost expert on early voting and posted this fantastic review of early voting around the country.

There is a lot of discussion of early voting and its impact among pundits and media folks, not to mention pollsters. A lot of the polling, particularly in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio, has found that early-vote respondents are telling pollsters that they are voting very heavily for Obama. This has led some to think the President is running away with the election. It isn't that simple. If you're one of those Obama supporters who thinks early voting is going to singlehandedly crush Romney, McDonald's data is going to disappoint you. But, there is a lot of good news in what McDonald has to say.

His work is worth a full, careful read. But, the summary is this:
Everyone wants to know who is winning. In my commentary below I explain why I conclude Obama has narrow leads in Iowa and Nevada, Romney has a narrow lead in North Carolina, and in the remainder the early vote is not providing a clear direction yet. There is still ample time for conditions to change, but it will be increasingly difficult to do so as more votes pour in.

There are instructive patterns other than the horse race. The patterns of early voting in Florida and Ohio suggest that Obama supporters are successfully overcoming limitations in early voting enacted by those states' Republican governments.
To translate that, there just isn't any clear evidence yet that early voting is helping the Obama campaign in Ohio. BUT, there is clear evidence that the early voting is really hurting Romney in Iowa and Nevada. It is frankly very hard for me to see how Romney wins Nevada at this point and Iowa is looking like a very difficult state for him.

What that means is that, while Romney CANNOT win without Ohio, there are paths to victory for Obama that don't include Ohio. Wisconsin is likely going for the President if the polls are to be believed. On cue, the Romney campaign is trying to make a play in Wisconsin ... which is brilliant because, ya know, Mike Dukakis won Wisconsin so why couldn't another Massachusetts Governor do it? Adding Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nevada to the President's "solid" 237 electoral votes means he's at 259 with Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and New Hampshire still in play (we'll assume North Carolina is going for Romney for simplicity's sake). At that point, Obama would only need Florida OR Ohio OR Virginia OR the combination of Colorado and New Hampshire. The only state in that list where Obama is not currently ahead in the average is Florida.

Polls can be wrong. But, as we get closer to the election, the Romney campaign's hopes are increasingly pinned on that thin thread - hoping the state polls are wrong.

Take us home Michael McDonald ...

Charlie Cook is Kinda Wrong

I like Charlie Cook. He's a very smart guy knows as much about congressional elections as just about anybody. But he's just kinda sorta wrong in his read of what the debates did to the race. Here's part of his analysis:
A strong performance in that first debate would have probably closed the sale for Obama. Instead, his lackluster showing shifted a bunch of voters who had seemed to be drifting gradually in his direction back into neutral, with some reversing course and moving into Romney’s column. ... But this is a horse race, a very close one that can still go either way, and that was not the case before the first debate. The debates—and I would say all three of them—hit a reset button for Romney and put him back into this contest.
The notion that Obama could have "closed the sale" with a strong performance in the first debate is pure nonsense. Similiarly, the notion that "this is a horse race, a very close one that can still go either way, and that was not the case before the first debate" is also nonsense.

Step back and think about the logic of this. The idea Cook is selling is that Obama had a nice lead before the first debate (this is true but it was already starting to recede) and that he could have just held that lead and coasted if he had "a strong performance." This is just fantasy.

The race was already starting to tighten before the first debate. Contrary to what Cook and others think, Obama did not have a disastrous debate performance. If he did, that would be reflected in the polls with his job approval sinking. It isn't. In fact, his job approval has gone steadily up in October. What happened in the first debate is that Romney looked credible after several months of being bashed by Bain Capital ads, discussion of Romney's tax returns, the conventions, and Romney's 47% comments. In the wake of all that, by the end of September, a certain number of voters (a small number but enough to make a difference) who do not care for President Obama were unsure they could support Governor Romney. When these voters saw Romney in the first debate, where he seemed, in a word, presidential, they simply went where they were likely to go in the first place. Polling says they were moving in that direction already. The first debate accelerated that. But it was underway. Some of you may remember that this is exactly the logic I outlined way back in early March when I asked whether Romney would be a credible alternative.

Importantly, there was no possibility that a "strong performance" by the President in that first debate was going to "close the sale." That's just utterly silly.

And let me add just one point to this. You might ask, why does it matter if Charlie Cook has it wrong? What's at stake in this? For starters, Andrew Sullivan, who spent more than a week on the ledge with some insane ideas about what happened in the debate is going to open that window up again and will start threatening to jump. This is sad because I enjoy reading Sullivan's blog and now I'll have to avoid it for another week or so. Second, and more importantly, this nonsensical meme has now infected some of the smarter, more reasonable minds in the journalist class, like Charlie Cook. Whether Obama wins or loses (though it will be worse if he loses), we'll hear this nonsense about how the President looked down too much during the first debate and that's why Romney caught up. It just isn't true.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

That's ... Good?

Today was one of those mixed, weird days in the polling. Obama had a very good day yesterday (Wednesday) and I said then that it would interesting to see if he could build on that with another good day on Thursday indicating a nice, little bounce out of the 3rd debate.

It didn't happen ... kinda.

What happened Thursday was sort of confusing. A few of the national tracking polls seemed to move slightly in Romney's direction. ABC/WP was the worst of it (since I think they generally know what they are doing) and that tracker now has Romney ahead 50-47. Rasmussen also has Romney up 50-47. Reuters/Ipsos now has Romney up by 1, 47-46. PPP has moved back to a tie after having Obama up by 1. I could go on. But you get the picture. It seems like Romney had a good polling day in these national tracking polls.

So, Obama getting a nice little bounce out of the 3rd debate is bunk, right? Well maybe. If you look at the state polling numbers today, they are largely good for Obama. PPP released a bunch of polls today and all were good for Obama. They've got Obama up by 4 in Colorado, up by 6 in Wisconsin, up by 2 in Iowa, up by 5 in Virginia, and they've got Obama tied in North Carolina. Those are all good numbers for the President. But that's just one pollster. What else?

NBC/WSJ has a tie in Colorado (which is not a bad result) and Obama up by 3 in Nevada. Fox has Obama down by 2 in Virginia but JZ Analytics has Obama up by 2 there. Grove Insight has Obama up by 2 in Florida and up by 3 in Colorado.

So, these state polls are pretty good overall for Obama ... and the national polls are pretty good overall for Romney. What do we make of it.

I don't know either.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Grab Your Magnifying Glass and Take a Look

It was a very solid polling day for Obama and I think I see little green shoots of a tiny Obama bounce coming off of the 3rd debate. The evidence is limited but it is in enough places that it seems real.

PPP's tracker put Obama ahead 49-48 and PPP's Tom Jensen pointed out:

Four polls came out looking at likely voters in Ohio today. Rasmussen had it tied at 48. The other three had Obama up by 2, 3, and 5 points respectively. The poll that had Obama up by 5 (Time) was conducted on the 22nd and 23rd, the night of the debate and the night after.

Two polls were released today looking at Virginia and both had Obama leading (though both are questionable for different reasons). Two polls were released today looking at Nevada and Obama was leading in both. One was Rasmussen and one was PPP. Obama is leading in Nevada folks.

Finally, the Gallup tracker lurched back towards Obama today. I discussed (and largely dismissed) this earlier. But, in the context of these other polls, it may be a sign of a little bit of movement.

Were there any counter indicators today? To put that another way, what were the worst numbers for Obama in any polls released today? There was a Rasmussen poll that had Obama down 2 in New Hampshire (though there was another poll that had Obama up by 3 there). ABC/WP didn't budge today and Romney leads by 1 nationally in their poll ... and that's about it. Those are the good numbers for Romney today.

Put all that together and mix until you see a "sticky" consistency and what do you get?

It is one day. And it isn't a big move towards Obama. It is very small actually. Most importantly, everything I describe above could VERY easily be statistical noise. We'll know more tomorrow. But it was about as good a day of polling as Obama has had since before the first debate.

Gallup: Is it a Dessert Topping or a Floor Wax?

Is today's Gallup release good news for Obama or just utterly crazy nonsense ... or could it be both???

It's a dessert topping AND a floor wax!!!

All of Gallup's metrics moved in Obama's direction today. He narrowed the gap from 5 to 3 among likely voters. He moved from a 1-point deficit to a 1-point lead among registered voters. And Obama's net job approval went from +6 to a staggering +11. What a day!

There's certainly no bad news in there. But how good is the news? We first have to remember that Gallup's trial heat tracking poll is a 7-day rolling sample while their job approval poll is a 3-day rolling sample. This means that every day, a previous day is dropping out of the sample but in the trial heat numbers it is from 8 days ago while in the job approval numbers, it is from 4 days ago. I mention this because the uptick can easily be explained by a really good day for Romney rolling out of the sample OR by a really good day for Obama on Tuesday (the 23rd). How do we know which it is? We don't know for sure but the fact that both sets of numbers got better suggests that Obama had a good day in Gallup's sample yesterday rather than just 2 different bad days for Obama dropping out of the sample. But the truth is we really don't know in the absence of additional information.

But, hey, this release from Gallup could also be a floor wax! Gallup is so off-the-rails insane with their numbers, it is impossible to say what is going on. For example, let's start with Gallup's numbers on the surface. They've got Romney ahead by 3 among likely voters but Obama has a net job approval rating of +11. Sorry, but no. If Obama's job approval is 53% on Election Day, he wins ... and it isn't close. Part of the problem here is that Gallup has a 7-day rolling sample for their trial heat in the first place. This is fairly absurd. Then, there's the problems with Gallup's likely voter model which has a very, very bad recent history. But forget the likely voter screen. Until today, Gallup had the President trailing among registered voters by as much as 3 points. Virtually every pollster has Obama ahead among registered voters.

So, is Gallup a dessert topping or a floor wax? Is it good news or just insane rantings? It's both!!!

Post-Debate Interviews Trickling In ... Nothing

We do not yet see any effect in post-debate interviews that are trickling into polls.

PPP's latest tracker includes one day (out of three) that are post-debate interviews. Obama and Romney were tied on that one day but the tracker ticked in Obama's favor as a recent strong day (Saturday) for Romney dropped out of the tracker.

Rasmussen's tracker also showed no change from yesterday as a full day of post-debate interviews rolled into their poll. Obama is still down by 4 there.

Rasmussen also released a new Ohio poll which is either good or bad news depending on what you believe about Rasmussen. They have Ohio tied at 48. If you take that poll at face value, it is not good news for Obama. If you believe Rasmussen has a Republican lean (Simon Jackman has some data on this out today), then Obama is right where we figured he is ... ahead by 2 or 3 points in Ohio.

Put all that together and you've got ... nothing. For those joining us late ...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Has Obama Given Up in North Carolina?

Paul Begala more than suggested last night that the President is not going to win in North Carolina and that he is giving up there:

But this is not borne out by the Obama campaign's spending. The Obama campaign ran more than 3,000 ads in North Carolina last week according to data reported by John Sides. Indeed, David Axelrod and company pushed back hard against the idea that they've given up in North Carolina this morning.

As I've pointed out many times, North Carolina is not central to the President's path to 270. It is also clear he's behind there by a little bit, probably 2-3 points.

So should the President give up on North Carolina? I don't think so.

Even though North Carolina is not likely to be the state that puts the President over the top, it is absolutely critical for Mitt Romney to win it. There is a law of diminishing returns in running ads everywhere else. Running more ads than you currently are in Ohio is not going to get you very much. So why not run ads in North Carolina and run an active campaign there if only to put some pressure on Mitt Romney? It is not so far out of reach that the Romney campaign can afford to pull resources from there and put them somewhere else. That's the reason to keep the pressure on in North Carolina.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Post-Debate Reaction

It was pretty clear to me that Obama got the better of the debate. Whether it will make any difference is a different question. I do think the debate performance (and, more importantly, the spin about it) has the potential to get the Democratic base a little more fired up. What does that translate into? I don't know. Probably not much.

One person whose stock rose unambiguously though is Seth Masket's. He gets the award for tweet of the night:

The Last Debate

It sounds so final.

I am of two minds about tonight's debate. I can make a plausible argument as to why tonight is more of an opportunity for Romney or Obama.

Why Romney is going to gain ground after tonight's debate: ABC/WP has a poll out this afternoon suggesting Romney is just about as trusted on the issue of terrorism as the President. Romney has made gains on just about every characteristic across the board in recent weeks. Unlike most, I do not think Obama's poor performance was the cause of the change in the race after the first debate. Rather, I think it was that Romney looked credible. And, given the bad electoral environment for the President (right/track, wrong/track, economy, etc.), some voters who didn't support the President but couldn't get behind Romney before ... did. So what does this mean for tonight? Foreign policy is Romney's big weakness. If he appears credible and looks like a President, he can gather more support by dealing with a key weakness.

Why that's wrong: There's nobody left for Romney to win over. There's almost no undecideds left and Romney's base is at its enthusiasm peak. I don't see it getting better for him. So, even if Romney performs really well tonight and even if he's judged to have "won" the debate (whatever the heck that means), there's no potential for a bounce there.

Why Obama is going to gain ground after tonight's debate: Because he's the President. I know this sounds a bit trite but it has real meaning. He ended the war in Iraq, he's drawing Afghanistan to a close, and he got bin Laden. These are all things voters strongly approve of. He has a record to run on here that is actually quite good and he simply needs to remind voters of it. Moreover, Romney has stumbled multiple times on foreign policy including as recently as the last debate. His performance on the world stage has not been good and, on top of that, he's selling some positions that are tough to sell. Romney will talk tough on Iran and, to the extent that that sounds like pushing for another war, it will not resonate with a lot of voters.

Why that's wrong: The first two debates have proven Romney to be a very adept debater. And I don't mean that in the "spin room" sense to set him up for high expectations. I simply mean that he comes to every debate prepared with a game plan and he executes well. The concerns I've raised above are not news to him as his team has raised them I'm sure. They have a plan for everything I've outlined and Romney will be prepared. Finally, there also aren't a lot of undecideds ready to jump to the President's side. There is an enthusiasm gap the President can make up by energizing Democratic voters ... but foreign policy isn't what they're interested in. Indeed, we may see fewer Democratic voters tuning in tonight than in the previous two debates (just a theory).

So what will happen? I think the effect of the debate is going to depend much more on what Romney does and says than what the President does and says. If he makes a big mistake like his mistake on Libya, that could hurt him. If he shines and stands toe-to-toe with the President on the President's turf (foreign policy), I think this debate could help Romney. If I were betting on these outcomes, I'd say Romney having a good night is the 2:1 favorite. And that has me a bit nervous tonight.

One Poll Makes you Happy ...

... and one poll makes you sad. That's where we are this morning. Let's start with the poll that makes me sad.

NBC/WSJ released a national poll yesterday that has Obama and Romney tied at 47. This poll worries me a bit for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, NBC/WSJ is a good poll (Peter Hart and Bill McInturff), they do live-interviews, and they call cellphones. Second, it worries me because Obama's number is 47. As Chuck Todd points out, if it was 49-49, that wouldn't be so bad for the President. But 47 is not really the topline number you're looking for as an incumbent. Now, all of that said, this is the first national NBC/WSJ poll since late September (before the first debate). That poll had Obama ahead by 3 (49-46) so this is not a massive shift by any means and is technically in a range that could simply be statistical noise.

So what poll makes me happy this morning? Quinnipiac has a poll out this morning that has Obama ahead in Ohio 50-45. Quinnipiac is also a good pollster and they also do live interviews and this poll had a very large sample (over 1,500 likely voters). Like the NBC/WSJ national poll, Obama's 5-point lead here is down from where it was in a Quinnipiac poll of Ohio in late September (it was 53-43 then) but Obama still leads by a healthy margin. Perhaps more important than any of that, if you go back through all the polls of Ohio, the last time Romney led in any poll there was in a Gravis Marketing poll (they've got a strong Republican lean from what I can tell) conducted just after the first debate and Romney led by just 1 point in that poll. The bottom line is that Ohio looks good for the President.

What if both of these polls are perfectly accurate? If so, I think it would be likely that Obama would win the Electoral College and lose the popular vote by just a hair.

But there's still two weeks to go and tonight's debate may yet move the needle in one direction or another.

UPDATE: As if on cue, ABC/WP unveiled their new tracking poll today and they have Obama up 49-48. This is not a great result for Obama. But it is better than the NBC/WSJ poll. Obama doesn't need to get to 51. He needs to get to 50. And getting there is easier when it is 49-48 than when it is 47-47. Am I reading too much into one poll? You bet I am. That's what happens this time every 4 years. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nevada, Wisconsin, Ohio ... Oh My

There's a lot of good articles floating around in the last couple of days about how close the national polls are and how President Obama has an advantage in the state level polling in swing states. A particularly good piece was posted on Huffington Post by Simon Jackman of Stanford outlining a statistical model of both the present national vote/EV split and the history of this split (statistically-speaking).

It got me to thinking about how to express Obama's advantage in the simplest terms, so here it is: Wisconsin, Nevada, and Ohio.

Now let me flesh that out a bit. Take a look at the map below. It shows what I believe to be the state of the race in the most general terms.

Every red state and blue state on the map is highly likely to go to Romney (red) or Obama (blue). Put another way, I don't think there is a single red or blue state on that map that any reasonable person would dispute.

Obama has 237 electoral votes effectively "in the bank" and Romney has 191. There are 9 "battleground" states totalling 110 electoral votes. I've ranked these 9 battleground states below in order of their probability of going for Obama according to Nate Silver's blog:

WI - 79.0%
NV - 73.1%
OH - 70.3%
IA - 65.9%
NH - 62.6%
CO - 52.9%
VA - 46.9%
FL - 32.6%
NC - 15.0%

Notice the three at the top of the list; Wisconsin, Nevada, and Ohio. By the way, Drew Linzer also estimates that Obama would win these three states today predicting the President would get 51.7%, 52.0%, and 51.1% respectively in Nevada, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

Now you can see why I've been saying since ... forever ... that Ohio is the whole ballgame. Let's assume Obama wins the three of those battlegrounds he's most likely to win; Wisconsin, Nevada, and Ohio. Here's the new map:

Obama is now at 271, 1 more than what he needs to win. It isn't just that he needs 3 states out of 9. It is that he needs the 3 states that he's most likely to win. Unless Romney can pick off at least one of these states, he can't win.

Gallup's Likely Voter Screen

I wrote the other day about Gallup's tracking poll and how it is out of step with every other pollster. This morning, Gallup's tracking poll release has Romney ahead by 7 (not a typo) among likely voters and ahead by 3 among registered voters.

Whatever is going on with Gallup, this is not just a problem with their likely voter screen. They've got Romney up by 3 among registered voters! Compare that with the latest NBC/WSJ poll just out this morning. They've got Obama and Romney tied at 47 among likely voters but Obama is up by 5 among registered voters (I will have more to say about this poll later in the day).

So, what is going on with Gallup? Given that they have such a different result among registered voters, it means there is something different in their sampling. They are simply reaching a different mix of respondents.

Alan Abramowitz (whose work is really great) has a good theory. Gallup does not release information on the racial composition of its samples but it appears they are over-representing white voters:
Although Gallup does not report the racial composition of its likely voter sample (or any of its other samples), based on the results presented in their October 16 report on the standing of the presidential candidates among whites and non-whites, one can use interpolation to estimate the racial composition of the likely voter sample. The results show that about 80 percent of Gallup's likely voter sample consisted of non-Hispanic whites while about 20 percent consisted of non-whites.

Gallup's estimate that only 20 percent of this year's likely voters are non-white is far lower than the 26 percent non-white share of voters found in the 2008 exit poll or even the 23 percent share found in the 2004 exit poll. It is actually very close to the 19 percent share found in the 2000 exit poll. So according to the Gallup tracking poll, the racial composition of the 2012 electorate will be similar to that of the 2000 electorate despite the dramatic increase in the nonwhite share of the voting age population that has occurred in the past 12 years.
It is probably the case that the non-white portion of the electorate is likely to be much closer to the 2008 number than the 2000 number. Indeed, there is every possibility there will be fewer whites in the electorate in 2012 when one thinks about where growth in the electorate is occurring. For now, it is probably best to simply ignore Gallup's numbers as they are radically out of step with every other pollster's numbers.

UPDATE: By the way, IBD/TIPP has their new tracker out this afternoon and they have Obama ahead by 6 points among likely voters. This seems equally odd and I don't know exactly what's up there. It is a bit less relevant because they don't have the reputation that Gallup does and therefore, they affect the conversation far less. The one thing I do see in their poll that is very different is their numbers on male voters (Obama leading by 1). That's not right, I can assure you but how they got there is anybody's guess.

Rasmussen's Weighting

As it happens, Mark Blumenthal wrote about Rasmussen's weighting yesterday just around the same time I was writing my blog post. It was a piece about the national polls generally and Blumenthal noted Rasmussen's importance as the one firm that has done state-level snapshots before and after the second debate and the fact that they show slight gains for Romney. But Blumenthal explains these gains are related to the "dynamic" party weighting Rasmussen is using:
Rasmussen is one of the few pollsters to routinely weight its samples so they match predetermined targets for the percentage of likely voters that identify as Democrats or Republicans. The catch, as Rasmussen Reports confirms to The Huffington Post, is that its weighting targets are now adjusting on a weekly basis to match the average party identification for likely voters measured on their last six weeks of calling (after weighting for demographics, but not for party). So the party weights for the past recent week may be slightly different than the party weights the week before.

More important, the weight targets for Rasmussen's national samples grew slightly more Republican in mid-October. Although the data are published on pages available to paid subscribers only, Rasmussen indicates that the national interviews for the week of Oct. 8 to 14 gave Democrats a 1-point edge over Republicans (38 to 37 percent). The party balance for the two prior weeks, Oct. 1 to 7 and Sept. 24 to 30, was a 3-point Democratic advantage (39 to 36 percent).

In the past, Scott Rasmussen has explained that the state-level party weighting targets are derived, in part, from national numbers and the "national shifts appear to provide a good indicator" of mid-year changes at the state level.

A 3-point shift toward a more Republican identification would more than explain the one-point shift to Romney in the five states Rasmussen surveyed this week.
Now, here's the thing. IF you're going to weight by party, the shift that Rasmussen appears to have made does make some sense. There was reason to believe, in the wake of the first debate, that a poll should have a few more Republicans in it and a few less Democrats than before. But then, this is why weighting by party ID is a bad idea in the first place.

Anyway, what this tells us is that Rasmussen is shifting their party ID weights slightly over time but they are always doing so in response to last week's polling. And that's problematic. If you are looking for a snapshot of where the public is today (the point of a poll), using their mood from last week as a determinant is really problematic.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Let's Say Rasmussen is Right

Rasmussen is not a terrible pollster but you have to understand what Rasmussen is doing in order to interpret their results.

First, Rasmussen is a robo-pollster. They don't do live-interviewer polls and this means they also don't call cell phones. This is one reason why Rasmussen has a bit of a Republican lean. In general, Nate Silver has argued Rasmussen has about a 2-point Republican lean. Their national tracking poll currently has Romney ahead by 1 point (49/48). So, a 2-point lean would put Rasmussen right about where some other national polls are.

Second, Rasmussen weights by party ID. This has two implications for how we read their polls. First, Rasmussen's polls are going to be less volatile than other polls. When something happens that changes public attitudes about the race, poll respondents don't just change their response on which candidate they support. They also sometimes change their response on their party identification. If you have a fixed number of Republicans and Democrats you're looking for in your poll, you are not going to pick up that shift even though it is real.

How does this play out? Since late September, most pollsters have shown a shift towards Romney in the national polls and, more recently, a tiny shift back towards Obama. Rasmussen's national tracking poll has remained within a very narrow range between Obama ahead by 2 and Romney ahead by 2. For the last couple of weeks, Rasmussen's tracker has been within an even more narrow range between a tied race and Romney ahead by 2. These same things are true at the state level as well: Rasmussen polling is very stable and has a slight Republican lean.

So, let's say all of Rasmussen's polls are right. Who wins? It looks like Obama wins.

Rasmussen's "Electoral College Scoreboard" has Obama ahead in states totalling 237 electoral votes and Romney ahead in states totalling 235 electoral votes. 7 states are listed as tossups. But Rasmussen has done polling in these tossup states (very recently in most of them). Here's what those numbers show:

CO - Obama +1
IA - Obama +2
NH - Obama +1
NV - Obama +3
OH - Obama +1
VA - Romney +3
WI - Obama +2

All of these polls are very close but Obama is winning in more than enough of them that if Rasmussen is right, Obama wins. If Nate Silver's arguments about Rasmussen's lean is right, Obama wins a bit more handily.

Again, we come to the same place: Is it close? Yeah. Is Obama winning right now? Yeah.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Romney's Binder Is Full of Women

At least it is according to Chris Cillizza. I saw Cillizza's article yesterday and meant to write about it but didn't get the chance. I like Chris Cillizza and I think he generally has some smart and interesting things to say about electoral and legislative politics. But not this time.

He reviews data from the ABC/Washington Post poll and finds that Mitt Romney "doesn't have a woman problem." Cillizza finds that over the last 3 polls (a fair measure) Romney has been trailing the President among likely female voters by 7 points on average. Cillizza asks us to assume Romney loses among women by 7 ...
That would be a better showing among women than John McCain made in 2008 (lost women by 13), George Bush made in 2000 (lost women by 11) and Bob Dole made in 1996 (lost women by 16). It would be roughly equal to the eight-point margin that George H.W. Bush lost women to Bill Clinton in 1992.

So, for all of the chatter about Romney’s women problems, he is currently positioned to do as well or better than every Republican presidential candidate among female voters save one: George W. Bush in 2004 who lost among women by just three points to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.
Cillizza is arguing that Romney "doesn't have a woman problem" because he's doing as well or better than ... the last 4 Republican nominees to lose the national popular vote. This is the literal equivalent of arguing that the Cubs are doing just fine this year because they're on pace to win more games than the Houston Astros ... who also had a miserable season.

There's another problem with this insane logic. Cillizza points out that McCain lost women by 13 and Romney's doing better than that so he "doesn't have a woman problem." But here's the problem. McCain lost nationally by 6.5. Romney is doing 6 points better among women by this metric so let's say he's doing 6 points better nationally. That leaves Obama ahead by 0.5 points. And given Obama's advantage in key swing states, a national popular vote win almost definitely means a win for Obama in the Electoral College.

But wait, there's more. Here's a different way to calculate what a 7-point deficit among women means. In 2008, the gender gap was 12 points. Barack Obama won by 13 among women and by 1 among men. If you assume a 7-point deficit among women and hold the gender gap constant, then Romney wins by 5 among men ... and loses the election by about 1 point. But the most recent ABC/Washington Post poll has Romney losing by 7 among women and winning by just 1 among men. In other words, Romney seems to have a "man problem" too! He's losing by 3 overall in that poll and it is because he's underperforming among men.

Here's the bottom line. There are slightly more female voters than male (Thank God!). Romney doesn't want to be in a situation where he's losing in the high single digits among the larger group AND there is a smaller gender gap.

Cillizza is right about one thing. Romney is not in a worse position than the four most recent Republican nominees to lose the national popular vote. Like the Cubs, he will not come in last. But he ain't on track to make the playoffs either.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

State-Level Polling

More evidence of trouble with that Gallup poll comes in the form of state-level polling that is WAY out of whack with Gallup's national numbers. This afternoon, NBC/WSJ/Marist released two state-level polls that are VERY bad for Romney. The President leads in Iowa by 8 and in Wisconsin by 6. Folks, there are two possibilities on these numbers:

1) They're wrong
2) Romney is in very deep trouble

It is entirely possible they're wrong. I would actually be surprised if Obama was ahead by 8 in Iowa right now. I do think he's ahead in both of these states but my guess would have been something more like 4-5 points in Wisconsin and perhaps a little less in Iowa.

If these polls are accurate, here's why Romney's in trouble:

1) States don't usually move by themselves. They reflect national trends a lot of the time. If Obama is ahead by 8 in Wisconsin, he's winning by something like 4-6 points in Ohio and he's winning in Virginia and so on.

2) If the Obama campaign knows they have leads like that in those states, they can move at least some of their resources from those states towards Florida and Ohio and Virginia, etc.

3) Obama's lead is the same in Iowa as it was a month ago. There has been no movement or whatever movement there has been has cancelled itself out. Obama was winning in September and this would mean he's winning now.

4) Early voting appears to be as big a disaster for Romney in Iowa and Wisconsin as it is in Ohio. 34% of likely voters in Iowa say they've already voted and Obama is winning among these voters 67-32. The poll reports that Romney is winning among likely voters planning to vote on Election Day but not by nearly enough. Similarly, 156% of likely voters in Wisconsin say they've already voted and Obama is winning there 64-35. But the race is about even there among those planning to vote on Election Day. So, Obama appears to be winning right now in these states and locking in large numbers of votes right now.

Anyway, coming back to that Gallup Poll, the situation is simple: The two sets of numbers (Gallup and NBC/WSJ) are not consistent or the result of statistical noise. Nate Silver agrees and advises that people "be careful" with the Gallup numbers.

There is something very different going on in the sampling and one of them (Gallup or NBC/WSJ) is just dead wrong. I don't think Gallup is right.

Gallup Getting Freaky

I've mentioned in the past that Gallup is not the gold standard in polling it once was. One reason is that Gallup's tracking poll has played a bigger role in defining their brand than before and there are problems with any tracking poll.

One problem is that Gallup's tracking poll includes 7 days of data while some of their other numbers (like their approval rating data) includes just 3 days of data. So, there is very often an asymmetry.

But there's other problems. As of this moment, Gallup has Mitt Romney ahead among registered voters by 1 point and they have Romney ahead among likely voters by 7 points. Both of these sets of numbers are outliers among other polls but so is the gap between the two. Romney will surely do better among likely voters than among all registered voters but a net 6-point difference between likely voter numbers and registered voter numbers is a bit on the high side.

PPP just released their tracking poll and they have the race 48-48 among likely voters (didn't see registered voters numbers but surely they have Obama slightly ahead among registered voters) and Tom Jensen indicated that Obama did a tiny bit better on the last night of the tracker (the one night that was fully after the second debate).

All of that "feels" about right to me and is more in line with where most other polls are at this point. I wouldn't get too freaked out by Gallup's tracker.