Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Obama is going to win

A month ago, I tentatively predicted an Obama win. I don’t believe in ‘jinxing’, so all I risk here is making myself look stupid. Obama is going to win. (I’m not the only one saying this: I’ve cunningly positioned myself inside a giraffe enclosure before sticking my neck out.)

First, and briefly, the national polls (all numbers via RealClearPolitics). Here are the averages of Obama’s leads in the Rasmussen, Gallup, Zogby and Hotline daily tracking polls for the last three weeks – he has consistently been ahead, and has stretched his lead in the last few days:

But it’s all about the Electoral College, of course. You need 270 votes to win. How are they both doing?

Obama has been ahead in all the states John Kerry won in 2004: Oregon, California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, DC, Maine, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Washington and Wisconsin. All these leads have been comfortable, although in the last week Pennsylvania has narrowed – let’s come back to it later, so without it that’s 231 electoral votes for Obama.

Of the states Bush won in 2004, McCain has been more or less solidly ahead in Idaho, Alabama, Tennessee, Alaska, Kentucky, Texas, Mississippi, S Carolina, Arkansas, W Virginia, S Dakota, Kansas, Louisiana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, Oklahoma and Georgia. In Indiana, Arizona, N Dakota and Montana, Obama has narrowed McCain’s earlier lead substantially. Obama had been leading narrowly in N Carolina but McCain has very recently edged back ahead. Missouri has been swinging back and forth for a month and is now neck-and-neck. Let’s give all of these to McCain (I’m being a touch generous to him here), for a total of 200 electoral votes in the bank.

Iowa has gone strongly behind Obama. New Mexico has gone fairly well for him, as has Nevada. That takes Obama to 248 electoral votes – 22 short of a win.

What’s left? Five states. Here they are, with electoral votes and averages of the latest polls:

  • Florida: 27 ev, Obama +1.8%
  • Ohio: 20 ev, Obama +3.2%
  • Pennsylvania: 21 ev, Obama +7.6%
  • Virginia: 13 ev, Obama +4.3%
  • Colorado: 9 ev, Obama +5.5%

Florida alone, or any two of the others, will do it for Obama. It looks good for him. He could well sweep them all.

So: what if the polls are wrong?

It would take a lot of polls, by a lot of different pollsters, being wrong for McCain to really be ahead. In 2004, the averages of the final polls were fairly accurate:

  • National: Bush +2.0 (result Bush +2.4)
  • Florida: Bush +0.6 (result Bush +5.0)
  • Ohio: Bush +2.1 (result Bush +2.1)
  • Pennsylvania: Kerry +0.9 (result Kerry +2.5)

Florida was notably off, but McCain needs the polls to be quite a bit wronger than last time. If they are, Obama still has a decent cushion: he can drop five points off his lead in every state and still win with Colorado and Pennsylvania. I truly don’t think that race is biasing the polls towards Obama, and I’m not sure what other new factor might.

Finally, there’s one other way the polls could be wrong. They might be understating Obama’s support. They mostly survey so-called ‘likely voters’, who are generally defined demographically based on previous turnout among various social groups. But if Obama’s candidacy really can get young people and African-Americans to the polls in better than the usual low numbers, then he’d be on for a landslide. And the signs are that turnout will be higher than usual.

Barring massive electoral fraud, Obama is going to win. I’m confident. But rather more than my reputation as a seer is on the line, of course. And my fingers are still crossed...

3pm Update: A few extra polls came out this morning. They put Obama ahead by 2% in Ohio, 9 and 10% in Pennsylvania, 1 and 3% in Florida, 4 and 7% in Virginia; N Carolina and Missouri are tied; and nationally, Obama is 8, 9 and 11% ahead.


Anonymous said...

Florida: Bush +0.6 (result Bush +5.0)

With that margin of error he really might be only ahead in two of the states he needs to win. Still, I think you're right although the story might be about how it's amazing that there's still any doubt. And it might not turn out to be a landslide, with all the stuff about mandates that entails.

And, of course, we all remember what The Simpsons taught us.

But I think talk of electoral fraud is silly. Would that be the same electoral fraud in the New Hampshire primary? If Obama loses and the second American Civil War breaks out it'll be your fault. Maybe you should turn around three times and spit on the ground, just in case.

Tom Freeman said...

Polling for primaries is much trickier than for general elections - the limited electorate and the likelihood of turning out among different sections of it is hard to gauge. And there is a much bigger polling consensus to upset this time.

I don't expect "massive electoral fraud"! Although, that said, the fact that elections are run by state party political appointees, who have a lot of leeway in what they can do, means there's a lot of scope for perfectly legal yet dodgy shenanigans (on both sides) all over the place. US electoral practice is not brilliant by developed-country standards.

Andrew R said...

As far as the Electoral College goes, fivethirtyeight is predicting 341 votes - that's based on crunching all the polls from all the states. If McCain's going to win, it'll be because several polls in several states are badly wrong.

The biggest oddity for me in US electoral practice is that voter registration is not automatic, nor handled by the state. It's a purely voluntary process, involving varying numbers of bureaucratic hoops. Hence the lawyers lining up challenge voter registration in marginal districts.

Hannah said...

I am 22 and I'd like to capture my thoughts before America either elects a president who its first 26 presidents could have legally owned, or brazenly subverts the very ideals it was founded upon by manipulating numbers in a final embarrassingly overt goosestep towards corporate totalitarianism.

I am nervous. And not night-before-the-swim-test nervous or even night-you-lose-your-virginity nervous, it's a low rumbling primal panic which I can only liken to Star Wars panic. Disney panic. The edge-of-your-seat-terror that makes you wonder if Skywalker's doomed after he refuses to join Darth Vader and drops down into the abyss, if the wicked octopus or grand vizier or steroid-pumping-village-misogynist is going to wed/kill/skin the dashing prince and then evil people in dark funny costumes are going to take over the world... if it wasn't a movie of course.

And tonight it's not. It's not a movie and yet I feel like Obama might as well be wearing an American flag cape while a decaying McCain, in a high-tech robotic spider wheelchair wearing an eyepatch and stroking an evil cat, gives orders to a sexy scheming Palin who marches back and forth through their sub-terranian campaign lair in four inch thigh-highs and full-body black leather catsuit bossing around the evangelical ants with a loooooong whip... umm... is this just me?

Anyway, the point is that things feel weird folks. I have friends who have peed in waterbottles to keep from interrupting a Halo-playing marathon who got off their asses/couches to volunteer for the Obama campaign not once, but many times. Friends so cheap their body content is at least 1/3 Ramen Noodle who donated a good deal of their hard-earned cash to the campaign. People have registered to vote in record numbers, and yet, something just doesn't feel right. I think we should stop congratulating ourselves for just voting. To vote is a privilege which people have died for, and I think there's a whole lot more to be done for the country than to simply help win an election every 4 years.

Hundreds of millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of man-hours spent on both sides by good-intentioned people who want to make a difference in an historic election, so many resources and voices and energies devoted to a single day. After tomorrow, half of that is going to have been a waste. And I can't help but wonder what could have happened if all that muscle had been put towards something else, and what will happen to its momentum after the election has come and gone. Shouldn't we be donating our money to good causes whenever we can? Helping people who don't have? Dedicating some of our time to contribute to making the country which provides for us a better place? Of course a power shift is a hugely significant step on the path to great reform, but worrying about this election has been a wakeup call for me:

Even if Obama wins, we have not "won." This isn't a movie and we can't toss every greedy lobbyist oil fatcat bigot down a reactor shaft. I think if we dedicate ourselves to the ongoing welfare of the country as much as we have to the outcome of this election, we'll have a much better shot at coming closer to the overwhelming good the liberals hope Obama will usher in, but which no mere mortal could fully realize alone.

Which brings me to the other side. I've heard a lot of people claim that if McCain wins, they're leaving. I heard the same thing about Bush's reelection, and his unelection before that, and nobody seems to be leaving. And that's fine. Because as much as I complain about certain political happenings, atrocities, etc., I really do like it here and I suspect most other people do too. We have New York and Hollywood, purple mountain's majesty and sea to shining sea, we created jazz and country music and baseball and cars and lightbulbs and computers and that movie with hundreds of animated singing Chihuahuas! I mean who among the shivering Plymouth pilgrims ever imagined ordering hundreds of animated singing chihuahuas onto a magical box from an invisible information superweb?

The point being, if things don't turn out the way I want tomorrow, I feel compelled, as a college-graduated adultish-type-person, to take a stand. And if I'm going to leave I'm going to leave. But if I'm going to stay I'm not going to sit around whining like I have for the past 8 years. It's like when I don't clean my room because it's dirty and then I blame the dirt. So in my very indecisive way, before you and your screen, I'm declaring my intention to make some kind of stand in the event of -(Ican'tevensayit)-, and encouraging you to consider making one too...

Jump the ship or grab a bucket?
Wasn't everything so much easier back when the worst possible affront to your values was a PB&J sandwich cut diagonally with crust?

Anyways, I guess what I'm saying is that if we're going to stay on board, we should probably be generous with our time and resources when times are tough even more than when the hero saves the day. Because what if he doesn't? And what if he can't? If we're serious about real change, election day should only be the beginning of "Yes we can," not the end.

Hannah Friedman

Matt M said...

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I reckon he'll win it. :-)

Now let the crushing sense of disappointment, sliding gradually into bitterness, begin!