Category Archives: Columns

8 Battleground Counties to Decide the Election

Addendum:  This is a re-post from September 20 that I think has held up pretty well.  The biggest difference I’d say is Florida is almost certainly out of reach for Obama so look at Scott County, Iowa as a good one tonight.  You can also scroll through the numerous posts on various Battleground Counties across the county.

[Begin Original Post] That headline is a bit of a stretch but reader Roland Tilden sends a link to a story by Smart Media Group’s Chris Palko who breaks down 10 counties he believes Romney must win to carry the election.   And since we love Battleground Counties almost as much as we love Battleground States, this was right up our alley. What is consistent about the counties selected is each is a big population center so that understandably impacts election outcomes and each was a Bush 2004 and an Obama 2008 county. Not coincidentally Mitt Romney’s original bus tour in June hit a great many of these counties and will almost certainly do so again this time.

The only thing I don’t like about the list is 2 counties are in North Carolina which is not a Battleground in my opinion. In Palko’s defense, this story was originally published in April so his choices are really excellent so far out. As for North Carolina, it’s a state Romney will win by 5-10%. And until President Obama actually campaigns in the state (he hasn’t in all of 2012 outside of his Convention), it’s very likely a GOP pickup with minimal effort from this point forward and not worthy of much attention beyond that acknowledgement.

We have profiled a number of these counties whose links I provide below.  Where there is a post specifically on one of the cities he mentions, I provided the link as well in addition to my “Battle for [State]” series for each state. With that said, here are the eight Battleground Counties (in reverse order of impact according to Palko) that will go a long way to deciding the election: Hillsborough County, N.H. , Prince William County, Va., Chester County, Pa., Jefferson County, Colo., Arapahoe County, Colo., Hamilton County, Ohio, Pinellas County, Fla., Hillsborough County, Fla.

#8: Hillsborough County  New Hampshire
2004: Bush 51 – 48 2008: Obama 51 – 48
Population: 400,721 Largest city: Manchester

Palko: Most of New Hampshire’s population is close to the Massachusetts state line, which Hillsborough County straddles. It contains a vital grouping of towns and cities including Manchester and Nashua, the two largest cities in the state. Both are swing communities, in the electoral sense.

Battlegroundwatch: This is the location of Mitt Romney’s summer home, the place where he launched his Presidential bid and where he kicked off his June bus tour. They have spent money on the air, these voters are Mitt Romney kind of Republicans and the state has had a Republican resurregence.  Ripe for the plucking but it will be a battle to the end.

#7: Prince William County Virginia
2004: Bush 53 – 47 2008: Obama 58-42
Population: 402,002 Largest community: Dale City

Palko: Prince William County is an exurban county about 25 miles southwest of Washington D.C. It’s on the edge between the traditional, conservative Virginia, and the more progressive suburbs outside the capital. Prince William has become very diverse in recent years, particularly in the I-95 corridor. A hard swing towards Obama was key for him winning Virginia.

Battlegroundwatch: I would have ranked this much higher and definitely in the top 3. This is Obama’s bread-basket: upwardly mobile suburban moderates who trended strongly for Obama in 2008 but whose support has softened in the difficult economic environment. This is where Romney will need to make his mark if he is going to stem the tide of Northern Virginia dominance by Democrats.

  #6 Chester County Pennsylvania
2004: Bush 52 – 47.5 2008: Obama 54 – 45
Population: 498,886 Largest city: West Chester

Palko: Of the four suburban Philly counties, Chester was the only one that Bush won in 2004. The tail end of the prestigious Main Line is in the county, but so is the disadvantaged city of Coatesville. In between, there are plenty of middle-class suburbs, and even still some farmland. This is one of the few counties in Pennsylvania showing substantial population growth, so its importance is increasing.

Battlegroundwatch: It was no accident that the “youthful” Paul Ryan (early-40s is still youthful, right?) and the Romney sons have hit this area hard .  Similar to the suburban growth outside of DC in Virginia, this area outside Pennsylvania is full of persuadable Romney voters.  To win the state, Republicans must begin performing well here and in neighboring counties and they’ll never crack this nut.

#5 Jefferson County Colorado 
2004: Bush 52 – 47 2008: Obama 54 – 45
Population: 534,543 Largest city: Lakewood

Palko: Colorado is a heavily polarized state divided between very liberal Dems in Denver and Boulder, and very conservative Reps in Colorado Springs and the rural areas. The balance of power is held by the handful of counties in suburban Denver. Jefferson County to the west of the city is truly a purple county closely mirroring Colorado’s overall results in the last two presidential contests.

Battlegroundwatch: Filled with one of my favorite stories this cycle about battleground Precinct 7202330176 in Lakewood, a neighborhood who has called all but one statewide race correct since 2000. The swingiest of swing voters, Jefferson has been a regular stop for both sides all election season. Crowd sizes have been huge for Romney and flipping suburban white voters will be the key like they were in 2008 when they flipped for Obama.

#4  Arapahoe County Colorado
2004: Bush 51 – 48 2008: Obama 56 – 43
Population: 572,003 Largest city: Aurora

Palko: Arapahoe County is to the southeast of Denver and, like Jefferson, it’s a purple county that determines which party wins CO. It contains most of Aurora, the second biggest city in the Denver area. The county, and Aurora in particular, has seen a major increase in its Hispanic population in the past decade. This development has made the county a bit more Democratic than its neighbors.

Battlegroundwatch: The key here are the unaffiliated voters who much like Jefferson County swung for Obama in 2008.  Economy is the key.  These are upper middle income workers who often commute to Denver but fall into the pure suburban stereo-type.  Issues like taxes and jobs resonate strongly with this crowd who has unfortunately seen its fair share of recent tragedies.

#3 Hamilton County Ohio
2004: Bush 52.5 – 47 2008: Obama 53 – 46
Population: 802,374 Largest city: Cincinnati

Palko: Cincinnati is one of the most Republican metro areas outside of the South, but the central city county of Hamilton is a swing county. Hamilton County is worth watching, in part, because African-American turnout will be crucial. Sustaining high African-American turnout can make or break Obama’s reelection hopes. [Obama was] the first Democrat since Lyndon Johnson to carry the county.

Battlegroundwatch: A great boon for Obama in 2008 in a state where he underperformed national margins, his win in Hamilton was a shocker.  This is Rob Portman country so look for the debate prep partner and VP short-lister to be featured prominently in efforts to flip this back. This once reliable GOP region must flip if Romney is to have any chance in Ohio.

#2 Pinellas County Florida
2004: Bush 49.6 – 49.5 2008: Obama 54 – 45
Population: 916,542 Largest city: St. Petersburg

Palko: The top counties are both part of Florida’s I-4 Corridor, which runs through the Daytona Beach, Orlando and Tampa areas. The I-4 is the most important region in this presidential election. In Pinellas County, St. Petersburg has some neighborhoods that are solidly Democratic, but most of the territory is split 50/50. Every precinct could make the difference between winning and losing.

Battlegroundwatch: I would have inserted Henrico Couty, VA here (bigger Battleground, Florida trending GOP). But Pinellas is an interesting county w/a lot of conflicting politics.  It was a strong Romney county in the primaries where he doubled his nearest competitor. Unsurprisingly Ann Romney has been featured prominently in this county next door to the Republican Convention.

#1 Hillsborough County Florida
2004: Bush 53 – 46 2008: Obama 53 – 46
Population: 1,229,226 Largest city: Tampa

Palko: The most crucial county this fall is on the other side of Tampa Bay from Pinellas, the runner-up. Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa and its immediate suburbs, is the only county listed with more than one million residents. Still, it’s a fairly accurate small-scale version of America. It has a solidly Democratic central city that includes large African-American and Hispanic populations, and some outlying areas that are heavily Republican. The immediate suburbs are closely split. Whoever wins Hillsborough County in November is most likely the next occupant of the White House.

Battlegroundwatch: If Mitt Romney doesn’t win Florida, he probably doesn’t win the election.  And if he doesn’t win Hillsborough County, he probably doesn’t win Florida. Home of the Republican Convention and probably more campaign attention than any in the state.  This target rich county at the base of the I-4 corridor, this county is as closely contested as any in the country.  Of the 1.95 million votes cast in presidential elections since 1992, Republican nominees won only about 14,000 more than Democratic nominees. The outcome in the Tampa Bay market has run within 2 percentage points of the statewide result in every presidential election since 1992.

Electoral Vote Prediction: What Will Happen Tomorrow?

About one week after this blog began its 5+ month odyssey (when I still could not walk and ate pain killers like they were candy) I wrote: “If the poll shows the Democrat with a slight lead, it’s tied.  If the poll shows the race tied, the Republican is winning.  And if the poll shows the Republican winning? well then the race is over.”

Sadly I thought by this point Romney would be up a point or two in the polls and could confidently predict a 330 electoral vote win. But Hurricane Sandy changed the dynamic of the race.  President Obama was “Presidential” for once and appeared in a bi-partisan light with a great assist from Chris Christie. Had his first term been more bi-partisan like he showed during the Hurricane he would have a far better shot at re-election. But his recent political deathbed conversion runs contrary to what this country has lived through over the last four years.  The most divisive President since the disgraced Richard Nixon can give a good speech and wears the genial veneer of a uniter, but his four-year record of division has left the country worse off from his choices.

You can’t swing a dead cat today without hitting a national poll showing the race a dead heat between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. But the polling today and political commentary reminds me so much of two mid-term elections: 1994 and 2010 — admittedly non-Presidential years.  The press consensus was a “status quo” election in 1994 while they mocked firebrands who were talking about a revolution. The result was historic drubbings in the House and Senate flipping control of both to Republicans. The same press more recently tried the same dodge in 2010 focusing on likely Republican failures Christine O’Donnell and Sharon Angle rather than the transformative Republicans like Kristi Noem, Tim Scott, Ron Johnson and Marco Rubio. The arrogant Obama consoled Democrats ahead of this mid-term saying the difference between 1994 and 2010 was that this time they had him. Of course Republicans famously delivered a “shellacking” at the voting booth.  My favorite gawd-awful pollster, Marist, had the Congressional race dead even ahead of the greatest drubbing ever. As the Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone wrote “you could argue that this is the best Republican showing ever.” Rather odd they seem to always underestimate Republican performance, don’t you think?

Today the press write 50 stories on Missouri’s Todd Akin and barely acknowledge Nebraska’s Deb Fischer.  If Fischer were a Democrat, the upstart Senator-in-waiting would be paraded around Sunday talk-shows like Cleopatra but you see nary a passing mention of Fischer taking down the formidable Bob Kerrey.  The Tea Party of 2010 was misrepresented, relentlessly smeared with false accusations of racist behavior and ultimately dismissed by the press until they kicked the door in. Instead of trying to coalesce into a national movement  they retrenched locally and have been planting the political mustard seeds in Battleground districts across this country.  You already see the fruits of their labors in the great voter registration changes and early voting of low-propensity Republicans. They don’t talk big or preen for the cameras, they just go about their business changing the entire dynamic of American politics. Today’s polls capture none of this and represent an electorate much the same as the dynamic 2008 Democrat wave when there is no evidence to support such enthusiasm or turnout.

Democrats still have to explain away Obama and his plan for the future because he has yet to offer one. The national polls say despite his poor first term record and lack of a second term agenda he is tied nationally but more importantly leading among the Battleground State polls. But as Bob Krumm writes: “The last two times that a Republican challenged a Democratic incumbent (1996 and 1980) the polls overestimated Democratic support by 5.1 and 7.2 points.  And ‘96 was not even in bad economic times.”  (h/t @JohnEkdahl). Add to that the majority of this blog relentlessly focused on breaking down state poll internals demonstrating time and again those same polls were over-representing Democrat voters and misrepresenting the various state electorates. When you combine these two, the reality is that yes, the polls are wrong and this is not a new phenomenon. The major difference in this election is the sheer volume and relentless use of these polls as political advocacy for a preferred candidate.

In those same polls Mitt Romney has consistently led by double digits among Independent voters while locking down Republican partisans. But Independents are not always the greatest indicator in Presidential elections. John Kerry won Independents nationally by ~1% and by double digits in Ohio ~19 points and still lost the election by 3 points. and Ohio by 2-points.  It is this statistic Democrats cling to while Republicans, including myself, scoff at tied polls with Romney leading with Independents by 20-points. George Bush overcame that Independent deficit because he had a historic turnout of Republicans that had never been seen before. Barack Obama also achieved a historic partisan advantage for modern elections in the 2008 turnout but also carried Independents by 8-points and won overall by 7-points. In 2012 his entire re-election is staked on achieving this again but under far less advantageous circumstances. The greatest difference between 2004 and 2012 is George Bush had a passionate following on the most prominent issue of the day–national security–while today Obama is at his weakest on the most prominent issue of the day–the economy–with passion inspired only in the cult of Obama. This is why Obama is so consistently capped at 47 or 48% in nearly every poll. His impassioned followers won’t abandon him but he attracts few others.

This means the only way Obama wins is a turnout superior to his historic 2008 election when his greatest assets, insurmountable early voting leads and enthusiasm unparalleled in American history, are absent. Maybe he’ll pull it off, but the evidence says he will not. Mitt Romney has run a competent campaign and caught fire in the first debate when President Obama’s lack of vision stood in stark contrast to the energized and vibrant Romney. Since that juncture the enthusiasm, initiative and momentum have all been on one side of the contest.  Today the Romney ground game does no worse than match the vaunted Obama ground game with evidence that Team Obama is desperately robbing Peter (cannibalizing election day high propensity voters) to pay Paul (boost weak early voting).

If political directors at ABC, NBC and CBS were told 6-months ago President Obama’s final days would be spent defending Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin (to crowds far smaller than even John Kerry) while Romney is drawing 30k in Philadelphia suburbs in near unanimity they would conclude Obama is losing the race. Today states like Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania show up in political discussions the way Indiana and North Carolina were in 2008. It doesn’t take much more to know which way the wind is blowing. The Obama campaign’s ground game is a strong operation and plenty of states will be won by less than 1% of the vote, much like 2000 and 2004 so his ability to pull of an election night surprise should not be underestimated. But too many fundamental problems exist for Obama: stubbornly awful economy, eroding trust on foreign policy, formidable opponent, enthusiastic opposition and potentially fatal concerns with the turnout of key demographics (Hispanics and youth) for him to likely win tomorrow.

All of this adds up to the following states falling into Romney’s column: Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. The only rain on Romney’s parade is his inability to carry his “home state” of Michigan but it will be close. The billions in tax-payer losses on the auto bailout at least bought Obama something.

Final electoral prediction, Romney 331, Obama 207. I guess the fundamentals of the race overwhelmed even Hurricane Sandy.

Special thanks to Matt Margolis at Blogs4Victory for the map.

The Folly of David Axelrod’s Turnout Model

Much of this blog is spent arguing — persuasively I hope — why the polling data and get out the vote activities favor Mitt Romney this election cycle.  But if President Obama wins re-election where could all of this analysis have erred?

Possibly the final remaining question that will determine the election outcome is whether Obama campaign manager David Axelrod is correct on the racial composition of the electorate being 72% White or whether he is fooling both himself and his acolytes in the media? President Obama regularly polls with national support among Whites as low as between 36 – 38%. If Axelrod is correct then Barack Obama has a good chance to eek out a close re-election. But if Axelrod is wrong on the electorate composition and Whites make up closer to 75% of voters then not only will Barack Obama lose this election, he could lose it badly with a final tally in the area of 338 to 200 electoral votes.

The entire Obama campaign is predicated on a voting public with a racial composition that in my opinion is highly unlikely to appear in 2012. The Obama campaign has revealed their assumption that White voters will only comprise 72% of the national voting public this year.  State percentages will vary but those models are not revealed publicly. The Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) is the final arbiter on racial make-up of an election. For months following an election, they pour through every precinct and get an accurate read on election statistics before releasing their results which unsurprisingly tend to differ from election night exit polls.

The racial breakdown in 2008 election according to the Census Bureau was White 76.3%, Black 12.1%, Hispanic 7.4%, Asian 2.5%, Other 1.7%.
The CNN exit polls which are still used regularly in news stories reported: White: 74%, Blacks: 13%, Hispanics 9%, Asians 2%, Other 3%.

When you look at the differences, Whites are underrepresented by 2.3%, Blacks overrepresented by 0.9% and Hispanics over-represented by 1.6%. In the last election Whites voted Republican (55 – 43) while both Blacks (95 to 4) and Hispanics (67 to 31) voted Democrat. When national polls reflect the CNN racial make-up they are over-sampling Democrat groups and under-sampling Republican groups.

As outlined previously, 1.7 million White voters (who voted in 2004) did not vote in 2008. This means from a racial composition stand-point the 2008 demographic breakdown is over-generous to the non-White groups and somewhat of an anomaly due to the missing White demographic who voted in 2004 but sat out last time. This is not an argument against the decreasing percentage of White voters in election, because the overall increase in the non-White voting population is very real. The problem with Team Obama’s assumptions, however, is they decrease the White vote -4.3pp to 72% this election cycle when there is no evidence to support such a steep decline.

Before 2008, the average decrease in the White percent of the popular vote was -1.4 percentage points (pp) since 1988.  This was not solely because of decreased interest from White voters in Presidential elections but due to the increasing number of non-Whites both in the population and participating in Presidential elections. The rate of change from election to election was a decrease of -0.4pp in the White composition of the voting public and most of that coming between 1992 and 1996 in another election when white Republicans were less than enthusiastic with their nominee. Something dramatic, however, happened in 2008. The number of whites as a percentage of the voting population dropped -2.9pp to 76.3% from 79.2% (Pew Research, April 30, 2009).

The doubling of the average decrease in White participation was a combination of 2 competing factors: first, non-Whites were excited over the prospects of the first viable non-White Presidential candidate and White voters of the opposition party were unenthusiastic over their candidate and did not participate in the election.  Without the combination of these factors the White vote percentage of the electorate would still have declined but the decline would not doubled. Compared to the recent rate of change of -0.4pp, the change in the decrease of White composition from 2004 to 2008 was -1.4pp, 3.5x greater than the modern trend.

The folly of the Obama campaign’s election assumptions is the 2008 perfect storm that doubled the election-over-election decrease in White participation at a pace 3.5x as great as the norm will repeat itself with another -1.4pp rate of change resulting in a -4.3pp decline to 72%.

This type of assumption is the same as a football team that has a record first quarter outscoring their opponent 35-0 and then game-plans they will repeat that every quarter scoring 140 points.  That is clearly not going to happen.

In the 2012 election neither of the two major factors from 2008 that conspired to dramatically decrease White participation are evident.  Every survey consistently reveals meaningful decreases in enthusiasm among non-White voters while White voters appear substantially more enthusiastic than 2008. To take a record turnout model from 2008 and extrapolate it to the next election and expect a repeat record decrease from the unusually low 2008 turnout is folly bordering on delusional.

Regarding the macro-trend in the US of an increase in the non-White composition of the population, the return of an enthusiastic white voter coupled with the decreased non-White enthusiasm should strongly mitigate the macro-demographic trend of very real increases in non-White voters overall.

But David Axelrod’s entire campaign is predicated on the above assumptions that expect a “White flight” that exists in no poll nationally or in any state. At a state level, it is due to differences of opinion like the above that both campaigns are reportedly seeing dramatically different electorates in Ohio with each campaign completely confident they will win the state. One of them is very wrong.

National polls often use 74% as the representative White vote in this election, but from a historic stand-point 75% is the more reasonable level which would be a -1.3% decline from 2008. With polls today consistently showing Obama’s support between 36-38% with this segment of the electorate comprising 75% of voters, it is easy to see how a tight race can turn into a blowout rather quickly. As for David Axelrod’s turnout model, he is talking his book when every ounce of data says he is blowing smoke. If Axelrod is right on the racial make-up of the electorate, President Obama probably wins re-election in a close race.  But there is little evidence that the 76.3% of White voters in 2008 when combined with a probable return of the missing 1.7 million whites will make up only 72% of the electorate Team Obama needs to avoid a sizable Romney win on November 6.

Washoe County Early Voting Shocker

The vaunted Obama Ground Game has been slain … at least for one day in Washoe County, Nevada.  Republicans outpaced Democrats in ballots cast on day 3 of early voting in the 2nd most important county in Nevada with Clark County clearly the top dog. Washoe made up 19% of the Nevada vote in 2008 and was  carried by President Obama 55 to 43 — a total of 22, 791 votes.  If Mitt Romney is going to win Nevada he must flip Washoe back into the GOP column which was won by George Bush in 2004, 51 to 47. If he can not do this, there is little reason to believe he will achieve success in the far more difficult terrain that is Clark County. Early voting was the secret weapon of the Obama 2008 campaign and in Washoe alone 11,987 more ballots were cast by Democrats than Republicans during this time which would have accounted for 52.6% of his final vote margin.

We will stipulate up front, when it comes to ballots being cast versus actual votes, there is a leap of faith involved. Neither candidate will secure 100% of their base  but for analysis purposes we will hold this as a constant. We do know the candidates get over 90% of their party’s vote so for simplicity we may refer to a ballot cast as a vote despite the very real crossover vote as well as the Independent vote, both of whom broke decidedly for Obama in 2008.

That said, the early vote in Nevada has been a tale of two elections.  The GOP in 2008 was nowhere to be found in Nevada and it showed in early voting as well as the election day ballot box. Not only did President Obama achieves an early vote advantage in Washoe County, on election day also outpaced John McCain in ballots cast that day. 2012 is a completely new ballgame and Washoe County is changing the narrative. In just the first three days of early voting, Washoe shaved 3052 ballots off the Democrats advantage versus 2008.  That’s over 25% of Obama’s entire advantage in the county during the last election. And worse for Obama, the trend from 2008 was a slow Republican start that steadily gains steam while the Democrats start strong and fade into the close.

This chart shows the 2008 % makeup of the two parties ballots cast versus the total over the 14 days of early voting:

As you see, there is an aggressive convergence between the two parties heading into the final day of early voting.  Democrats start strong but fade while Republicans gain steam. And this was in a campaign where an underfunded  John McCain had largely ceded the state in these final weeks.

This time the GOP is under no such disadvantages and it already showing in only the first days of early voting.   For the Monday October 22 early voting, Republicans cast more ballots than Democrats in Washoe County — an unheard of proposition considering the alleged indomitable strength of the Obama ground game as well as the disarray of the Nevada state  GOP party.  It looks like the shadow party, Team Nevada, has a few tricks up their sleeves…Here is how the same chart looks after 3 days in 2012:

Republicans begin the early voting season at a higher point than 2008 eating directly into the Democrat advantage as Independents were mostly constant election-over-election.  Opening with a 10.3 percentage point (pp) gap, the Republicans quickly closed the deficit taking the lead on Day 3 of early voting neutralizing Obama’s great advantage that went a long way towards him carrying Nevada in 2008. This is a watershed moment for Nevada Republicans who have seen their fair share of let’s say “unique” candidates as well as office holders recently.  If the GOP can keep anywhere near this pace of trend for the early voting season, President Obama may be in far deeper trouble in Nevada that his over-generous internal models predict.

The Washoe Model — predictive value low (at this point), illustrative value high

We previously created a crude model for early voting in Clark County and thanks to a helpful reader are able to construct a similar model using Washoe’s 2008 early voting numbers. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we simply mimicked the Clark model for Washoe based on the first day’s data. Using such limited data makes the models far less reliable for predictive purposes but still valuable to illustrate comparisons between the two elections.  The forecasting value is inherently low based on only one election’s data (2008) and one day’s voting (2012).  It is like extrapolating a heavily Democrat precinct’s data nation-wide in a Presidential election.  It tends to lead to wrong conclusions, right President Kerry?  But the model is very helpful for tracking purposes because deficits can signal signs of trouble while election-over-election advantages can indicate one party is making waves that could upset an election’s results. Over the next day or two we will tweak both models to make them more predictive than simply illustrative.

Washoe County had some similarities to Clark County in that after a slow start, Republicans gained steadily on Democrats throughout the early voting — only Washoe started from a higher base:

From this we see the average rate of change over the 14 days of early voting is a 3.85% average daily increase in the Republicans % of the Democrat vote almost reaching parity by election day. We use this as a basis for our growth assumption of Republican turnout relative to Democrats in our 2012 model. Although I use conservative estimates in my models to help offset the low predictive value we see quickly the Republican outperformance causes problems for the model on only day 3.

Democrat turnout estimate

Looking at the 2008 actual early vote #s, Democrat turnout after Day 1 in Washoe County averaged 86% of the day 1 result:

Plugging the 3.85% Republican growth assumption and the Democrat turnout at 86% of its first day total, our model is as follows:

If you look at the left-bottom row you will see that Day 2 of the model came close to forecasting the Republican % of the Dem vote.  The model expected the GOP to improve to 82% of the vote and the actual results were 81% of the Democrat vote.This success wouldn’t last long.

From day 1 to day 2  we see a sharp drop-off in turnout. This was unsurprising and consistent with 2008 since it falls on a Sunday.  The major difference was Day 3 when 2 important things happened — one predictable, the other not so much.  The GOP kicked it into overdrive and increased their turnout on Monday over 1000 votes.  This was consistent with 2008 when the GOP increased its Day 3 turnout nearly 1200 votes.  What didn’t happen was a bounce-back by the Democrats .  After a big splash on Day 1 and the expected Day 2 drop-off, Democrats only improved their turnout only 572 ballots day-over-day, dramatically lower than  2008 when their Day 3 turnout increased nearly 2200 ballots. This lead to Republicans outperforming the Democrats in early voting for the first time in either election — a preposterous proposition were you to predict turnout based solely on reputation.

Although aggregate numbers are up election-over-election, the poor day 3 turnout puts Democrats far below their 2008 pace while Republicans outstrip their 2008 pace by leaps and bounds which is where the model is of some help.  For Democrats to proportionally meet their 2008 turnout, they need to average 3985 ballots cast every day until election day.  Making matters worse for the Democrats, their turnout #s they were surprisingly steady with the noted exceptions of Sundays.  Over the 7 subsequent regular days following the Sunday drop-off Democrat turnout only fluctuated between 3100 and 3600 each day before ramping up in the finals days of the early vote. So far they have woefully failed to meet that level in the two days  since the early voting kickoff. If the Democrats are already performing below that band, they could be in for some trouble in the coming days if these new turnout results form new upper or lower bounds for them.

Republicans, on the other hand have nearly doubled their 2008 turnout over these three first days of early voting and clearly have momentum and history on their side. They have already cut 3052 ballots into the Democrats lead and if past in prologue, we can expect even more surprises in early voting returns from the Silver State.  As I said up front, the above model is more illustrative than predictive at this juncture.  As you can see it predicts net gains for Republicans of only 2727 ballots cast  but that was based on the GOP not catching up to the Democrats for another 4 days.  Unfortunately for my crude model, but good for the GOP, in 2012 the Nevada Republicans started strong and shocked most every election watcher surpassing President Obama’s vaunted ground game on only the third day. If this is a sign of things to come, Nevada’s 6 electoral votes may just end up in Team Romney’s column.

Election Night Surprise: Why Minnesota Will Turn Red on November 6

Minnesota has crept into the news cycle recently with senior campaign surrogates stumping in the state and campaign dollars flowing to a state once thought out of reach for Republicans this cycle. I received a lot of push-back over my conclusion regarding Minnesota’s competitiveness based on Rochester, Minnesota being a top 10 ad market this week. Upon closer inspection, however, the evidence keeps piling up that the Land of 10,000 Lakes should be on everyone’s radar for an election night surprise.

The latest is a poll released yesterday from SurveyUSA gives President Obama a 10-point lead over Mitt Romney, 50 to 40.  Romney leads by 3-points among Independents 45 to 42 with 4% are voting 3rd party and 6% are Undecided.  Shouldn’t a 10-point lead definitely mean it is not a Battleground? If you believe that, you must be new to this blog.  A 10-point lead would largely be safe at this juncture if the poll were an honest representation of Minnesota today (and remember other polls have it as close as 4). But this SurveyUSA poll is far from a fair representation of the Minnesota electorate.  Before I get too deep into this flawed poll I give SurveyUSA credit for making all of the data available unlike too many other polling firms.   This allows critics to make their own judgements on what is lying beneath the top-line numbers and justify their criticism with facts and figures and not just flippant calls of bias.

Party ID

The biggest issue with the poll is the Party ID.  I understand polling firm do not weight their polls by party ID, but when they re-weight their polls based on age, race, etc and the outcome of respondents is a party ID disparity that defies all logic and reason, that means something is deeply wrong with the sample group they gleaned their answers from.   This poll specifically has a disgraceful disparity between Democrats and Republicans surveyed. The Party ID is D +10 (Dem 37, Rep 27, Ind 30).  This compares to 2008 of D +4 (Dem 40, Rep 36, Ind 25) and 2004 of D + 3 (Dem 38, Rep 35, Ind 27).  First and foremost we see a Democrat advantage in the sampling 2.5x greater than that the 2008 peak of hopey-changey.  This is ludicrous for many of the enthusiasm reasons often cited:

Basically, for the above reasons there is a dramatically increased probability Republicans will vote with greater propensity in 2012 than they did in 2008 while the inverse is true for Democrats.  But that is only one of the reasons this poll and party ID are ludicrous.

The Changing Minnesota

Minnesota is no ordinary state politically. The most important thing to know about Minnesota is the state is rapidly changing in favor of Republicans and has been for years.  Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics did the seminal work in this regard. His state-by-state analysis of voting trends shows that over the last 8 elections the performance of Republican candidates in Minnesota has steadily gotten closer to the candidate’s national performance. That is, when a Republican Presidential candidate got 50.1% of the vote in 1980, you could expect them to get 43% in Minnesota.  In 2008, the under-performance versus the national shrunk to 1%, meaning had John McCain received 51% of the national vote, he could have expected to get 50% of the vote in Minnesota.

If we apply only the most superficial analysis of Minnesota today and we see Mitt Romney leading  in the national average by only a few points, let alone as much as 7-points, it would seem more than likely he would carry Minnesota based solely that lead and the 30-year trend in Republicans favor shown above.

Party ID Recent History

This brings me back to the Party ID issue. In 2008 Minnesota’s political affiliation change was unlike most of America. Between 2004 and 2008 we saw Battleground States experience wide swings in their party ID as citizens bought into the magnetic story of Barack Obama.  States like Ohio saw its Party ID swing 13-points in favor of Democrats; Nevada swung 12-points in favor of Democrats; North Carolina swung 12-points in favor of Democrats; Virginia swung 10-points; New Hampshire 9-points; and on and on all towards the Democrats.  Minnesota’s party affiliation, however, only swung 1-point towards the Democrats.  This was smaller than every party affiliation move among even the most remote of contested state.  This lack of change during the Democrat tidal wave of 2008 is a major component of hidden Republican strength demonstrated in the chart above.  Minnesota is, and has been, a state trending steadily Republican even in the face of the incredible Democrat wave seen in 2008.

Republicans have surged in local politics

But more than just a macro statistical argument, Republicans have made dramatic strides at the ballot box. Over the last four years Minnesota caught the 2010 midterm wave for the GOP and flipped both houses of its state legislature, and in dramatic fashion:

  • Republicans gained a State Senate majority of 55/45 which was a dramatic shift from the 31/69 disparity previously (based on percentages not actual seats)
  • Republicans also gained a State House e majority of 54/46 which was also a dramatic shift from the 35/65 split previously (based on percentages not actual seats)
  • At the Federal level, Republicans picked up one seat balancing out the Congressional delegation at 4 for each party

Despite all of these substantial moves in favor of the Republican party, polls like SurveyUSA’s D +10 turnout still show up and is the basis for people to argue Minnesota is out of reach this election.

But what if Minnesota is not D +10 or anywhere near that?

Below I breakdown the exact same SurveyUSA poll.  First, as they have it with D +10.  Second with the 2008 party ID of D +4 and then prospectively with an even party breakdown for all of the reasons outlined above.  I use with the same number of Independents for the 2012 estimate that SurveyUSA found in their poll although I suspect Independents will be even higher on election day. Pollsters, campaigns, or individuals can make their own assumptions, these are just mine.

This following needs to be clear up front:

  • Party ID does not equal 100% in the SurveyUSA poll so I make Other 6%. Also, the “Other” category in the survey was unusually high at 6% but instead of eliminating that I shaved 3% from the two major parties for 2008 and 2012 est. Also the Other voters overwhelmingly supported 3rd party candidates in the poll so their impact on this analysis is small.
  • The vote total also does not equal 100% because of Undecideds which are also 6%. Due to space constraints I put Undecideds and Other on the same line which can look, when reading from left-to-right, like there are 106% of voters.  But this is not Cook County, it is just labeled that way so you know where the numbers come from.  “Other” turns out to be +1% for each candidate and Undecideds are expected to break at least 2/3 for the challenger which is +2 for Obama and +4 for Romney. Note: adding in Undecideds to the SurveyUSA poll gives the candidates final totals of Obama 52 and Romney 44.

Calculating the vote

  • The vote totals are calculated through the following formula: (Rep Party ID x Rep Party support %) + (Dem Party ID x Dem Party support %) + (Ind Party ID x Ind Party support %) + (Other Party ID x Other Party support %) + (Undecided x Expected %) = vote total
  • For example, with  President Obama in the SurveyUSA Party ID section this breaks down as (27 x .06) + (37 x .93) + (30 x .42) + (6 x .17) + (6 x .33) = 51.7 or 52

Scenario 1: Survey USA Party ID 27 37 30 6 [6] Vote Total
Republicans % Democrats % Independents % Other % Undecided %
Obama 6 93 42 17 33  51.7
Romney 89 4 45 17 66  44.0
Scenario 2: 2008 Party ID 33 37 25 6 [6]
Republicans % Democrats % Independents %  Other % Undecided %
Obama 6 93 42 17 33  49.9
Romney 89 4 45 17 66  47.1
Scenario 3: 2012 Party ID est. 32 32 30 6  [6]
Republicans % Democrats % Independents % Other %  Undecided %
Obama 6 93 42 17 33 47.3
Romney 89 4 45 17 66 48.2

Our three scenarios produce the following results:

  • Party ID  D +10: Obama wins by 8
  • Party ID D +4: Obama wins by 3
  • Party ID even: Romney wins by 1

The point of running these scenarios is the initial read of an Obama 10-point lead based on a D +10 party affiliation is folly. With Undecideds factored in that lead drop to 8 even in this unrealistic scenario. If there is no party affiliation shift from 2008 despite the overwhelming evidence provided, Romney is only down 2.8 points with an unconsolidated base (think a visit might help?) as well as conservative estimates on Undecideds.  If, however, Republicans have burnished their brand and the enthusiasm issue is as meaningful as polling would indicate, the decades-long steady rise in Republican performance in Minnesota should deliver a victory for Romney on November 6.  Enhancing every one of these scenarios is the prospect of a decided national popular vote victory for Romney evidenced by the national tracking polls from Gallup and Rasmussen Reports. If that happens, deep purple Minnesota will turn red on election night. New Paradigm in Non-White Voter Participation Propels Obama IPO

The Gallup organization’s long awaited switch to the more accurate “Likely Voter” screen from the “Registered Voter” screen created a lot of fanfare but for many of the wrong reasons. President Obama whose job approval had been mired below 50% (awful for an incumbent this late in the game) received a 5-point bump to 53% in Gallup’s latest survey. This is hugely important because “a president usually pulls in a vote share roughly equal to his job approval rating.” This led to laudatory headlines like: “Obama’s First Term Approval Ratings Now Equal Clinton and Reagan.”  You can just feel that Reagan ’84 landslide coming for Obama can’t you?  Unfortunately for President Obama and his supporters, Alan Abramowitz at the Huffington Post dug into the numbers and found some unusual changes to the racial make-up of the poll the occurred during this switch:

Evidence from Gallup’s weekly presidential approval results indicates that the racial makeup of its tracking poll changed dramatically between the final week of September and first week of October — a change that coincides with the beginning of Gallup’s reporting of likely voter results in the presidential election. Although Gallup does not report the racial composition of its tracking poll sample in its weekly presidential approval results, we can estimate the racial makeup of the sample by extrapolating from the reported approval rating of the president among whites, nonwhites and all adults. The estimated nonwhite percentage of the sample for the past five weeks was as follows:

Gallup: % of Non-White Voters Surveyed

Changes in poll re-weighting like the above are what drive sharp criticisms from Republicans who, absent reasonable justifications by the polling organizations for such moves, allege bias when incompetence or unseriousness may be the more accurate aspersion. The race alterations specifically to Gallup’s polling assumptions have two fatal flaws: first, they fail to account for the missing White vote from 2008 and second, the steep increase in non-White participation maps out to a chart only a late-90s “dot com” CEO could love.

The Missing White Voter

The near-constant focus on the rise in non-White percentage of the electoral make-up ignores the fact that 1.7 million White voters stayed home in 2008. I addressed this issue at length in “The Reality of 2012 Voter Turnout: The White Voter” where we saw that in the 2008 election a -1.1% election-over-election drop in White participation led to an electorate make-up comprising record high levels of non-Whites totaling 23.7%. This drop in White participation was due various reasons — apathy towards Obama’s opponent, disinterest in expected loss, bad campaign message etc. The thrust of the argument was that while Obama campaign officials argue aggressively for polls with a racial composition at meaningfully greater minority levels than the 2008 historic turnout, there is another side of that coin and it works heavily against the turnout models of both the Obama campaign and of the vast majority of polls being published.

Gallup today, however, proceeds to publish a survey the Obama campaign could wish for only in their wildest dreams. In their survey, the non-White percentage of the electorate comprised 30.6% of the entire poll — a 6.6% increase over the record 2008 level (and 4.9% jump week-over-week).  This increase comes in the face of steep drops in enthusiasm among Hispanics and Asians as well as a reduced (albeit small) drop in enthusiasm/support among Blacks. The decreased enthusiasm invariably translates into a decreased propensity to vote.  In 2008 Obama had countless advantages — historic candidate, bad economy/financial crises, Bush fatigue, and an ill-financed opponent — that not only do not exist today but actively work against him — bad economy, chronic unemployment even worse among minorities, well-funded opponent and energized voters antagonistic towards Obama. Yet Gallup finds minority interest, voter registration and enthusiasm dramatically superior to 2008 when every measurable aspect is worse?  Impossible, unrealistic and unworthy of a serious organization.

The Non-White “hockey stick”

But ignoring the missing White  vote is not the only problem with Gallup’s implausibly high 30.6% non-White voter participation. How does Gallup’s 30.6% non-White participation fit in with recent historical trends?

Below we have the non-White percentage of vote in each Presidential election since 1988 according to the Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, May 2010.  From left-to-right there is a steady increase in minority participation especially since 1992.

Non-White % of Vote 1988 - 2008

The change in Non-White participation election-over-election beginning in 1992 has averaged a 1.7 percentage point (ppt) increase over those five elections which includes 2008’s historic jump of 2.9ppt over the 2004 level.

Gallup’s assumption today, however, is that in 2012 the non-White percentage will jump 6.9ppt over 2008’s historic level despite all of the disadvantages previously outlined.

1998 “Dot Com” CEOs would be proud of whichever salesman sold that “hockey-stick” 2012 change in non-White voter participation to the Gallup organization. The absurdity of the dramatic increase in non-White participation in the Likely Voter screen is compounded because of this demographic’s historic reticence to participate anywhere near near such levels. Gallup better get that “” IPO sold before November 6 because underneath this absurd racial make-up is a dwindling support for Obama among White voters likely to doom his re-election chances.  And if Obama has any more debates like his last, he’ll make the Facebook IPO look like the homerun of the century.

Although the sharp increase in Non-White participation helps goose up Obama’s job approval today to a stellar 53% (52.5% actually) it only achieves this because the non-White demographic approves of President Obama at a 77% level in the Gallup survey, largely consistent with historical trends and independent surveys. The White demographic approves of President Obama only at a 41% level — bad, and possibly fatal. Because the above outlined changes are wholly unjustifiable, all they serve to do is mask the reality that President Obama’s job approval remains below 50% which imperils any incumbent’s re-election. If we adjust the non-White participation to more acceptable levels (76/24 White/non-white split used in nearly every national poll), Obama’s job approval drops back below the 50% threshold his campaign is desperate to avoid.

Gallup does a great disservice to polling with changes like those outlined above. Although the racial re-weightings are nearly impossible to justify I’m sure Gallup has their reasons. If nothing else they should buoy the Obama supporters  because otherwise Obama supporters may become even less enthusiastic come election day and not even show up.

Gallup National Poll Tied at 47 and How Undecideds Will Vote

Gallup runs a 7-day rolling average poll for the national election which helps smooth out any one day anomalies.  But with the Presidential debate being such a seminal event, Gallup split their 7-day poll into pre- and post- debate results and the post-debate results are very bad for President Obama.

Registered voters’ preferences for president are evenly split in the first three days of Gallup tracking since last Wednesday’s presidential debate. In the three days prior to the debate, Barack Obama had a five-percentage-point edge among registered voters.

Comparison of Registered Voters' Presidential Preferences, Before and After First Presidential Debate, 2012

There are a number of reasons why this is horrible for Obama rather than Romney:

First and foremost, Undecideds break 65-85% for the challenger as elections draw to a close absent a disqualifying event for the challenger. Here is a study by lefty blog MyDD showing 72% of Undecideds break for the challenger in prior Presidential elections.  Here was their view in October 2004:

There have been four incumbent presidential elections in the past quarter-century. If we take an average of the final surveys conducted by the three major networks and their partners, we find that in three of these the incumbent fell short of or merely matched his final poll number, while exceeding it only once, and then by just a single point (Ronald Reagan). On average, the incumbent comes in half a point below his final poll result.

Year  Incumbent  Final Poll %  Actual Vote %
1996  Clinton	   51	       49
1992  Bush	   37	       37
1984  Reagan	   58	       59
1980  Carter	   42	       41

The numbers for challengers look quite different. In every case, the challenger(s) — I include Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 — exceed their final poll result by at least 2 points, and the average gain is 4 points. In 1980, Ronald Reagan received 51 percent, fully 6 percentage points above his final poll results. Looking at just Gallup, Mystery Pollster delivers even more bad news for incumbent Presidents:[T]he final Gallup projections (sans undecided) show an intriguing pattern: In the presidential elections since 1956 that featured an incumbent, Gallup’s final projection of the incumbent’s vote exceeded the incumbent’s actual vote six of eight times. The only exceptions were Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George H.W. Bush in 1992, and then by only 0.2% and 0.7% respectively. On average, Gallup’s projection of the incumbent’s vote has averaged 1.3 percentage points greater than the actual result.

This was all in the lead up to incumbent George W Bush’s re-election and as we have shown, Undecideds decisively broke for John Kerry.  The difference in that election was Bush banked an unusually large and unprecedented turnout from his partisans which is what Obama is trying to replicate.

Undecideds break for the challenger for a number of reasons but mostly it has to do with the incumbent which is why Obama’s support hasn’t (and won’t) change. Obama has been the President for four years and he spent two years running for President (we really need to shorten that cycle) so the public knows everything it needs to know about who Obama is, who Obama was, and who Obama will be if given a second term.  And the American public is willing to fire him evidenced by his sub-50% support.

The thing about Obama’s support level is it has been at this level throughout the general election and it never moves. This is because the public has assessed his performance and found him wanting.  They’re willing to fire Obama and until the recent debate they weren’t willing to hire Mitt Romney. Romney’s strong debate performance was the first time Romney really “made the sale” to the public and they have been buying what he is selling ever since.  The key will be to sustain that momentum through election day.

In a 47 to 47 dead-heat election that leaves 6% up for grabs but if 2% go to third parties, that really leaves only 4%. That’s not a lot of votes to gain or in Obama’s case, not a lot of votes you need to make certain don’t show up since they are most likely going to your challenger.  Although Obama mostly cannot “win” those votes he can fight hard to convince them not to vote for Romney (i.e. stay home).  That is why he puts forth no vision for the future via a 2nd term agenda and just attacks, attacks, attacks Romney.  He’s not going to persuade anyone not already in his camp and needs those remaining people to simply not vote or vote 3rd party.

Mitt Romney needs to continue “making the sale” since the transaction isn’t complete until election day, but as it stands the momentum and history is strongly on his side and against the incumbent, especially in a 47 to 47 election with less than a month left.

Hiding the Decline: What Polls Over-Sampling Democrats Mask

The over-sampling of Democrats in today’s polls most likely hides a sharp decline in support for President Obama among White voters. If President Obama’s support level among White voters dips a single percent or two below 40, his road to re-election would be in jeopardy. The national polling results today showing President Obama with support levels among Whites between 40-44% likely over-sample support for President Obama by 4% to 8% among this demographic. Poll re-weighting by race achieves an accurate demographic make-up for the United States in 2012 but almost certainly a wholly unrealistic split between self-identified Democrats and Republicans. Because the accurate re-weighting of polls by race often achieves political splits that are not credible, polling organizations give rise to accusations of bias when in reality better selected sample inputs would most likely achieve more credible end results but also meaningfully worse results for the President.

Problems with polls

The majority of polling critiques this election cycle focus almost exclusively on the amount of Democrats versus Republicans surveyed with the observation invariably there are far too many Democrats in the sample. There is much in dispute around this complaint because most polling organizations do not weight polls by the party identification of respondents. Polling organizations argue the disproportionately high amount of Democrats sampled draws a sharp inference there are more Democrats in the overall electorate, not just in the sample size. While it is possible and even probable there are a few more self-identified Democrats in the American electorate (the average in elections since 1984 is 3% more Democrats), the great dispute is the unusually large disparity of Democrats showing up in today’s polls, often as much as 7 to 12% higher than Republicans among the respondents. There are many reasons to challenge this conclusion which I will discuss later, but if we assume these polls have too many Democrats, an interesting phenomenon appears among which Democrats are oversampled.

Most polling methodologies, including how polls are weighted once responses are collected, mirror the Gallup Organization who has been the standard bearer in the US for over 75 years. According to the organization, “After Gallup collects and processes survey data, each respondent is assigned a weight so that the demographic characteristics of the total weighted sample of respondents match the latest estimates of the demographic characteristics of the adult population available from the U.S. Census Bureau. Gallup weights data to census estimates for gender, race, age, educational attainment, and region.” Based on explanations like this there is little reason to suspect intentional political bias in the disparate party weighting, especially when they do not re-weight polls by party identification. Importantly, though, they do re-weight polls by race. This gives rise to some curious issues regarding support levels for the President today.

Racial demographics and voting preference in the US

In the 2008 election, the racial breakdown of the national voting public was 74% White, 12% Black, 9% Hispanic, 2% Asian, 3% Other. When a survey is conducted polling organization re-weight the respondent answers to ensure the each of these groups has accurate representation in the final results. Most national polls reflect this reality usually within a 1% variation for any group.

If you look how each one of these groups vote, you find outsized rates of support for Obama among the non-White groups: Blacks ~95%, Hispanics ~70, Asians ~65%. These levels of support for Democrats are consistent with most modern elections although President Obama has been able to boost these levels slightly above historic averages. In aggregate, non-White support for Obama is roughly 80% in nearly every survey. At the same time Obama, like Democrat Presidential candidates before him, struggles with the White vote. In these same polls, Obama typically averages 40-44% support among White voters. His 2008 support level was 43% and it is widely believed by the Obama campaign among others that he needs support of at least 40% Whites to win the election.

Low potential for over-sampling non-White support for Obama

If we consider the idea that polling today has large over-samples of Democrats, the consistently high percentage of support for Obama among non-Whites makes it almost impossible to over-sample minority groups. First there is not a lot of room for support increases and second, data on the voting trends in non-White groups is often achieved through demographic specific polling of solely Blacks or Hispanics for example. Hence, any over-samples in the non-White demographic would meaningfully alter the already high levels of support for Obama and reveal itself as inconsistent with independent polling. Additionally, any over-samples in the non-White demographic would almost certainly change the racial make-up of the survey and set off red-flags to anyone scrutinizing polls. Therefore it is highly unlikely over-sampled Democrat polls contain an excess amount of non-White voters.

White Democrats

This leaves only White Democrats as the over-represented respondent in these polls that arguably over-sample Democrats. If the average in election turnout since 1984 is 3% more Democrats and these polls have 7 to 11% more Democrats, that means the polls specifically have 4 to 8% more White Democrats surveyed in their likely voter results. The problem for the Obama campaign is if his support level among White voters (74% of the voting public) is between 40%-44% and that support is based on a sampling that over-states his support 4 to 8%, his real level of support is probably closer to 36% or 37%. This is meaningfully below the campaign’s own magic level of 40% and is a huge danger zone for any Presidential candidate no matter how much anyone may spin the demographic changes in today’s America.

Hiding the decline

The issue with the suspect polling internals and media embrace of the figures is the consistent lead for Obama would be immediately challenged if his support levels dropped dramatically among the outlined racial groups. Support levels of 60% among Hispanics (9% of the voting public) or 80% among Blacks (12% of the public) would jump off the page to poll watchers. The same holds true for support levels of 36/37% among Whites (74% of the voting public). It would be near impossible for Obama to win the Presidency with support levels like the ones I just outlined. Unfortunately support for President Obama among White voters has declined from 43% in 2008 to apparently as low as 36%-37% in today’s polls absent unrealistically high levels of self-identified Democrats. With White voters making up 73-74% of the electorate and support levels in the upper 30s, it is inconceivable President Obama has the advantage these polls lead readers to believe. But the results largely go unchallenged in the media despite the impractical internal party identification make-up.

Polling bias and Party identification

When we reflect on accusations of bias in polling based on party identification, it seems hard to justify when most organizations do not adjust their polls based on this metric. These organizations do, however, run the risk of confirmation bias where the media and polling firms have a predilection towards one candidate and upon achieving results they agree with fail to challenge outlier data like unrealistic Democrat turnout levels in 2012. Inconvenient poll compositions like the fantastical party identification of respondents shake the credibility of desired outcomes but no explanation is given for such oddities. This leaves more fair-minded poll watchers uneasy with the factual reporting on data with obvious internal issues while partisans react more strongly with bias accusations not substantiated based on the available data. The over-sampling of Democrats may not be showing the bias of polling organizations but it is likely hiding the decline of dwindling White support for Obama.

This only raises the question of where the polling firms are getting their samples from — possibly heavy Democrat districts — because the end results are party identification breakdowns unrealistic in today’s electorate. In 2008 seven percent more Democrats than Republicans identified themselves as such on election day, well above the historic average of 3%. This was a big change from 2004 when party identification was evenly split between the Democrats and Republicans. But there were many reasons for the strong Democrat turnout that do not exist today. The top of the ticket was a historic candidate (first Black President), America had war and Bush fatigue, the financial meltdown created an anti-Republican wave, and his opponent wasn’t the strongest (good biography, bad and underfunded candidate). These factors led to a strong Democrat self-identification advantage at the voting booth in 2008. But in the 2012 election, none of the advantages outlined above are there for Obama and many of those factors are now largely working against the President: 8%+ unemployment for three years, sub-2% GDP, 23 million unemployed, Arab Spring blowing up and casting the historic vote in 2008 is yesterday’s news. Additionally the Romney campaign ground game has exceeded the McCain campaign across many metrics as much as 10- to 15-fold.

Despite the stark changes in each of these factors, polling outfits thus far have consistently sampled an election turnout often greater than candidate Obama’s 2008 best-in-a-generation advantage.

That means something else is going on. But the polling organizations shrug their shoulders and have been found to say the losers in the results are just crying sour grapes. This is even though their sample outcomes have party identification splits unrealistic beyond any stretch of reason. Sadly no credible defense is given for the unusual party split in these results which gives rise to charges of bias whether intentional or accidental. If the polling firms believe today’s electorate will exceed the incredible 2008 advantage Obama achieved they should make the argument to justify results that contain suspect internal data. But they would also have to explain why the 2008 election gave Democrats massive majorities in the House of Representatives yet today’s electorate will likely return massive majorities in the House to Republicans. It defies all logic. But very likely due to “confirmation bias” the media and polling organizations report favorable results for President Obama without challenge.

There are many explanations for odd internal data in polls as well as the built in accuracy issues that come with the very nature of polling. As Michael Barone writes, “it’s getting much harder for pollsters to get people to respond to interviews. The Pew Research Center reports that it’s getting only 9 percent of the people it contacts to respond to its questions. That’s compared with 36 percent in 1997.” But consistently unrealistic sample outputs give rise to greater scrutiny from the polling outfits and media organizations who report the results uncritically for whatever their reasons may be.

Why the Q-poll is a qrock — New York Post

If you’re feeling motivated, please visit the actual column linked here. Leave a comment on the Post’s website regarding the column (if available), email the NY Post link to the universe and tweet it out from the New York Post website as many times as you like if you have a twitter account.  It’s all I’ll ever ask of you. — “Keith”

Why the Q-poll is a qrock


Yesterday’s Quinnipiac Poll results were great news for President Obama: The Q-poll has him ahead by substantial margins in three battleground states — up 9 points in Florida, 10 in Ohio and 11 in Pennsylvania. Take a closer look: These numbers seem less like a scientific effort to measure how the campaign is going, and more like a drive to push it in that direction.

Simply put, the Quinnipiac surveys oversample Democrats; they only make sense if we believe that President Obama’s supporters are going to turn out in even greater numbers (relative to Republicans) than they did in 2008. Questions about the partisan makeup of poll samples have been rampant this election season, and Quinnipiac (which recently partnered up with CBS and The New York Times for polling) is at one extreme of that debate.

The 2008 election was a banner year for Obama and Democrats in general. The top of the ticket was a historic candidate (now our nation’s first black president); America had war and Bush fatigue, and the financial meltdown created an anti-Republican wave. Plus, Obama’s opponent, despite a great biography, was a poor candidate — a foreign-affairs and military expert running when the economy was the issue. John McCain’s campaign also had far less cash to spend.

All these factors helped yield to a strong Democratic advantage at the voting booth — where more voters identified themselves as Democrats than Republicans by a remarkable 7 points, 39 percent to 32 percent. This was the best advantage for Democrats in over a generation; in polling shorthand, we refer to it as D +7. For comparison, the 2004 split in party ID was perfectly even at 38 percent apiece (the GOP’s best showing in any recent presidential contest), and the average split in modern elections is D +3.6.

But Obama’s advantages are clearly less strong this year. He’s given us 8-plus percent unemployment for three years, economic growth below 2 percent and 23 million unemployed — and now the American flag is being burned across the Muslim world. Plus, Mitt Romney’s ground game far exceeds McCain’s 2008 effort.

But the Q-poll is having none of it. Like some other polling outfits, it is consistently and systematically insisting that Election Day turnout will favor Democrats as much or more than Obama’s 2008 best-in-a-generation advantage. In the Q-polls released yesterday, the spread between Democrats and Republicans each exceeded Obama’s 2008 advantage.

In Florida, the 2008 actual result was D +3; yesterday’s Q-poll had it at D +9. In Ohio, it was D +8 in 2008, D +9 in the Q-poll. And Quinnipiac gave us D +11 in Pennsylvania, versus a 2008 result of D +7. Mind you, each of these states has seen dramatic changes in party preferences since 2008 — electing Republican governors, flipping the state legislatures to GOP control, etc. Quinnipiac and others have given us polling that reflects a Democratic edge exceeding 2008 all year — including in last week’s Q-polls on Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Doug Schwartz, the director of Quinnipiac Polling, recently addressed these criticisms, citing the change from 2004 to 2008 to justify his sampling: “A good example for why pollsters shouldn’t weight by party ID is if you look at the 2008 presidential election and compare it to the 2004 presidential election, there was a 7-point change in the party-ID gap.” Um, so why is Schwarz assuming that the trend from 2004 to 2008 will continue in 2012?

Again, we have a president mired in a weak economy — with the economy remaining voters’ top issue (no survey even shows a close second). And Obama’s 2008 voting coalition is less enthusiastic in 2012, especially Hispanics and the youth vote.

But Quinnipiac uses 2008 as the norm — and then adds in even more Democrats, because, says Schwartz, there are “more people who want to identify with the Democratic Party right now than the Republican Party.” Yes, more people identify with Democrats — that’s why national polls should reflect a sample that’s D +2 or D +3, and state polls should reflect a sample between the 2004 and 2008 electorates — not the unusually and likely unrealistically large Democratic advantage that Quinnipiac is awarding President Obama.

Like to The New York Post column:

Point of Clarification on my 2012 Turnout Piece and the White Voter

An issue has popped up a couple of times in the comments section of my 2012 Voter Turnout post so I wanted to be clear about a few things. First, I am most definitely NOT saying John McCain would have won in 2008 had the White voter turned out at 2004 levels. 2008 was Barack Obama’s year and all the votes mentioned in my write up simply would have made the Presidential race marginally closer and likely only flipping Indiana and North Carolina. I was space constrained (this was originally considered for print publication) so I knew my discussion of vote differentials in 2008 could easily be misconstrued that I was implying John McCain would have flipped many or all of those states mentioned. He would not have.

The thrust of my write up addresses demographic assumptions for 2012 and I use those vote differentials to show just how close many states were and how many votes are missing from one segment of the population (White Voters). Those voters are not evenly distributed across all 50 states just as they are not concentrated in the enumerated Battleground states. It is simply an illustration that small changes in registration (which are occurring), increases in enthusiasm (which is showing up in polls) and turnout (which remains to be seen) could have big impacts with the largest segment of voters (White voters). And when you see the vote differentials and how many voters we already know are missing, suddenly the gap between Obama’s 2008 win and today’s contest gets a lot closer.

Ohio is a perfect example. The aggregate vote totals between the two major parties in the two most recent Presidential contest is strikingly similar:

2004: 5,600,929 votes cast
2008: 5,607,879 votes cast

Per CNN elections website:
2004 Bush (2,859,764) — 51%
Kerry (2,741,165) — 49%

2008 Obama (2,933,388) — 52%
McCain (2,674,491) — 47%

In 2004 non-Whites made up 15% of the Ohio vote and in 2008 non-Whites made up 17% of the Ohio vote. But if the aggregate vote totals are the same, that means 2% of White voters in Ohio who voted in 2004 did not vote in 2008. If the White vote in 2004 totaled 4,760,790 (85% of the aggregate) and 2% stayed home, that’s 95,216 voters who are overwhelmingly likely Republican voters. Barack Obama’s entire margin was 258,897. Give 80% of the stay at home vote to Republicans (76,172) and you’re ~30% closer to flipping the state before you flip one 2008 Obama supporter. For discussion purposes, those figures all assume a static White population in Ohio which is true for neither Whites or non-Whites.

When you see President Obama campaigning in states he won by 14% in 2008 like Wisconsin, giving great evidence that as much as 10+ percent of his 2008 vote has flipped, in Ohio alone if Romney flips ~6% of Obama voters when combined with the missing White vote he erases Obama’s entire lead. This is before factoring in a potential for both increased White population, registration and turnout between 2004 and 2012 — the keys to any election day. Democrats rightly counter this also fails to incorporate increases in non-White population, registration and turnout since 2008. All true but Whites still make up 80+% of Ohio voting population so its a demographic where smaller percentage changes have meaningfully greater impact and the enthusiasm argument (i.e. actually showing up at the polls) overwhelmingly favors Republicans based on all polling up through today.

The Reality of 2012 Voter Turnout: The White Voter

The largest divergence among conservative and liberal polling critics this election is the debate over who will actually show up at the voting booth this November. Differences between the amounts of Democrats versus Republicans included in the poll are frequent. But embedded in each of these assumptions are questions on the racial make-up and how that varies from election to election.  Democrats consistently talk about the “coalition of the ascendant” where the fastest growing segments of the population are minorities. As such they make up an ever-increasing segment of the voting population but also vote overwhelmingly in favor of Democrats.  With a shrinking white population and a growing minority population Democrats argue demography as destiny and count on political majorities for the coming generation. That may be true if everything in life moves in a straight line (it doesn’t) but is that true today?

This is the bone of contention between the competing Presidential campaigns and critics of today’s polls.  Democrats want to argue the steep increase in minority percentage of the voting electorate from 2008 election was a fundamental shift in the electorate whereas Republicans want to argue the steep increases were a one-off bounce. Both agree on the general direction of the trend.  Neither agree how severe that trend will be in 2012. This disagreement is the basis for Democrat over-confidence and lopsided polling today in an election where the two candidates are most likely within 1-2% of one another.

What’s missing in all this analysis is who did not show up in the 2008 election: White voters. Looking back at those results, every voter turnout rate by race (relative to eligible population) was up versus 2004 except the white vote according to Pew Research (April 30, 2009). Blacks were up +4.9%, Hispanics were up +2.7%, Asians were up +2.4%.  But the percentage of White voters who showed up at the polls relative to who was eligible dropped -1.1% (Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, May 2010).  This has nothing to do with minorities making up more or less of the electorate.  This is simply saying from 2004 to 2008 White voter registration (which actually dropped 104k) and actual turnout of White voters (which increased 500k) did not keep up with voting age White population increases.

Within this drop of White voter turnout, over 3x as many men as women comprised those voters staying home in the election. This happened for any number of reasons ranging from a disinterested national party to a disorganized Presidential campaign to a demoralized voting block–all are true. But the bottom line is one of the advantages Barack Obama enjoyed in 2008 was that a meaningful percentage of white voters simply stayed home in 2008.  Side note: for anyone who wants to pin the depressed turnout on racism, wouldn’t the opposite have occurred in 2008 if racism really were a motivating factor in the white turnout?

Where this trips up the Obama campaign.

In 2008 Democrats achieved incredible levels of voter registration and turnout of this “coalition of the ascendent” such that Blacks, Hispanics and Asians made up 24% of the voting electorate — all historic highs.  Bolstering the appearance of Democrat advantage are countless media stories reporting on Mitt Romney’s struggle appealing to minority groups. Little attention is paid to Barack Obama’s (and Democrat candidates before him) difficulty appealing to White voters who made up 74% of the electorate. Such historic minority levels for the composition of the electorate are predicated on a demoralized and ineligible (meaning unregistered) white population much like in 2008, as demonstrated above.

If John McCain achieved a white voter turnout rate equal to George Bush in 2004, that would have meant 1.7 million more White votes.  While all of these votes would not have gone to McCain (nor were they all in battleground states), a super-majority of these voters likely would have voted Republican considering the make-up of the missing voter (white male — Obama’s worst demographic) and the motivated nature of the Obama voter in 2008 (i.e. if they were Obama supporters, only a scant few percent would have stayed home). Those missing votes would have been more than enough to flip the results in any of North Carolina (14k), Indiana (28.5k,), Nevada (121k), Iowa (146k), Colorado (195k), Virginia (234k), Florida (237k) or  Ohio (260k) where Obama’s victory margin (in parentheses) is based on a 43% vote share of a decreased turnout.

Today Barack Obama receives approximately 40% of the White vote in polls but often dips below this level especially when polls fail to massively over-sample Democrats. The President is also facing an increasingly enthusiastic bloc of White voters motivated to vote against him (this shows up in every survey) based on his poor record in office. Additionally, Republicans have aggressively targeted the above mentioned states with voter registration efforts reversing or seriously muting the registration advantage Obama enjoyed in 2008. Net gains for Republicans voter registrations in Nevada (53k), Iowa (140k), Colorado (91k) and Florida (240k) all speak to a very different and Republican electorate in those states. On top of registration, voter contacts from the Romney campaign surpassed 26 million eligible voters across the battleground states to date.  This is as much as 10-15x as much as the McCain 2008 campaign. This does not dismiss the aggressive and active Obama re-election effort but it simply points out that compared to 2008 he is no longer battling an unarmed opponent.

All of this is to say when David Axelrod or similar Obama campaign talking heads argue aggressively for polls with a racial composition at meaningfully greater minority levels than the 2008 historic turnout, there is another side of that coin and it works heavily against the turnout models of both the Obama campaign and of the vast majority of polls being published today.

Addendum: Please see this clarification regarding the White vote potential impact on 2008 and 2012. John McCain would not have won in 2008 if the White vote had shown up in 2008 as they did in 2004. But a motivated White vote makes erasing Obama’s leads in the above mentioned states far easier than people are being led to believe.

Making the Case Against Polls Over-Sampling Democrats — Today’s Must Read

Time after time we see polls with funny results invariably in favor of President Obama and get our panties in a bunch that the results have no value while Obama advocates masquerading as journalists trumpet the results as confirming the inevitability of Obama winning this election .

But what is our reason for holding on to this belief when poll after poll says we are losing, even if ever-so-slightly? Jay Cost smartly made the quantitative case. Today I am going to make the substantive case.

First is the set-up: Barack Obama’s 2008 performance.  As we have outlined countless times, in November 2008 the Democrat turnout machine had a banner day when actual voters at the polling booths out numbered Republicans by 7 percentage points (note other exits have it as high as 8-points).  The representative electorate self-identified as the following: Democrats: 39%, Republicans: 32%, Independents: 29% or D +7. Very impressive following 2004 when the split between the parties was dead even (37 to 37).

In 2008, ahead of the election, Rasmussen Reports, who the Left loves to decry as partisan, had party affiliation at Dems +7, Dem: 41, Rep 34, Ind 25 — just as it was on election day. Others showed similar but greater Democrat advantages than what showed up on election day. For example, the generic ballot according to Pew Research showed Democrats with a +10 point advantage 38 to 28 . The generic ballot from Gallup had Democrats +12, 53 to 41.

There were many factors that gave Democrats such an advantage: historic viable candidate (Obama), war fatigue, financial meltdown, divisive incumbent, and inept opponent (McCain — good biography, bad candidate) all factored into a strong Democrat performance in 2008. Today none of those advantages are there for Obama and many of those are now largely working against Obama: 8%+ unemployment, sub-2% GDP, 23 million unemployed, Arab Spring blowing up, historic vote is yesterday’s news.

All of this adds up to a steep change in his own base’s enthusiasm which means Obama’s huge advantages at the voting booth in 2008 will be greatly diminished in 2012, the only question is by how much.  This is why President Obama has spent his entire campaign and Convention on hot-button cultural issues to fire up his base (Quite honestly can anyone outline his 2nd term agenda?).  His coalition for victory in 2008 relied heavily on voters who typically do not show up on election day like they did in 2008. The problem today is that survey after survey comes to the same conclusion:”Democratic Voting Enthusiasm Down Sharply From 2004, 2008.” This is why I title some blog posts: “What happens if Obama’s voters don’t show up?” The simple truth is that the pendulum of party affiliation has swung back from the strong showing in 2008 to a more balanced electorate in 2012.  This is what you see in the weekly generic tracking poll from Rasmussen Reports where either party has a 1-2 point advantage  depending on the week.  President Obama got a bump from his Convention so a 2-point advantage for Republicans shifted to a 2-point advantage for Democrats last week (it’s first lead since January).  The overall trend is unchanged — a very closely divided electorate.

This closely divided electorate is in no way shape or form represented in the relentless drumbeat of polls we get today from NBC, CNN, Fox News, Quinnipiac, ABC, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Marist, etc.

But what happens when you re-weight polls to reflect the last election when all the current data tells you voter preference has sharply changed?  You get stories like this one in 2010:

NEWSWEEK Poll: Democrats May Not Be Headed for Midterm Bloodbath

Obama’s approval continues to slide, but Bush’s legacy still haunts the GOP.

As Democrats prepare for considerable losses in the November elections, there’s reason to believe the party in power may not be headed for the bloodbath it might expect. According to a new NEWSWEEK Poll, President Obama’s approval rating—47 percent—indicates that the party is better off this year than Republicans were in 2006, when the GOP lost 30 House seats, and than the Democrats were in 1994, when they lost 52 House seats. Obama’s approval has fallen 1 percentage point since the last NEWSWEEK survey in June, but the White House has gained ground on several specific issues, specifically his handling of the economy, which has risen to 40 percent (from 38 percent) over the past two months.

Newsweek found a  45-45 tie  for Congressional preference ahead of the 2010 mid-terms. But when you look at the party vote breakdown, Democrats are winning 90% of the Democratic vote and Republicans are winning 94% of the Republican vote BUT Independents favor Republicans by 12 points: 45 to 33 – sound familiar?  It’s impossible to have a tied race when both sides lock up their bases and one side is winning Independents decisively.  So Newsweek re-weighted this poll to reflect the 2008 party identification for Democrats with a 7-point advantage to create a tied race ahead of what became a historic bloodbath at the Federal and State level the likes of which Republicans had never seen before.

This is exactly what is happening today.

In yesterday’s NBC/WSJ/Marist poll Romney led with Independents in both Ohio and Virginia but was losing decisively in both polls. We see this in nearly every state poll.  In the ABC/Washington Post national poll on September 11 Romney led Independents by 11-points but by oversampling Democrats they made the race virtually tied. In the CNN/ORC September 10 poll Romney led among Independents by 14-points but was losing the top-line result by 6-points. These are not surveys of the electorate, they are advocacy pieces pushing an agenda.

Te reality is very simple.  Major blocs of Obama voters are less enthusiastic and increasingly unlikely to show up at the polls in anywhere near the fashion they did in 2008.  This is true for Hispanics and the youth vote while the African-American vote has largely returned to historic voting patterns (90% support for Democrats). At the same time Republicans are greatly enthusiastic about voting in no small part due to the divisiveness of President Obama. The generic Congressional ballots and party affiliation surveys reflect a near 50/50 divided electorate between the parties more reminiscent of 2004 than 2008. Today’s polling, however, for whatever their stated reasons may be continue to report polls more representative of the 2008 electorate than anyone can reasonably argue will be the case. All the “micro-targeting” in the world won’t make up for a 5-6 percentage point shift in the electorate.

In 2008 you had a greatly fired up Democrat Party show up at the polls in droves while Republicans were dejected over a disappointing candidate and horrible confluence of events in the Fall of 2008.  Today Barack Obama has to own the failed economy, the dissatisfaction with his signature achievement Obamacare and meet a rejuvenated Republican Party.  The electorate in November 2012 will look dramatically different than current polling indicates which will leave more than a few “independent” journalists wiping away tears with printouts of these worthless polls.

What if Mitt Romney had waited?

The media has been in overdrive all day feverishly writing every story from any angle that squarely puts the focus on Mitt Romney and not the fact that Obama’s foreign policy experienced a colossal failure with 2 embassies being attacked an ambassador being murdered and three other fatalities on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in American history. This was because Mitt Romney boldly stepped forward into the leadership void of President Obama’s silence, and issued a statement condemning violence and castigating an apology for hurt feelings of murderous extremists written by Embassy officials in Egypt in response to the uprising.

But what if Mitt Romney had waited for President Obama’s press release 24 hours after the attacks and press conference that following morning at 10:30am?

What would be the press focus?  Would they focus on the tragic murders? Would they focus on the extremism being fomented by groups like the Muslim Brotherhood? When politics arose, would they focus on the policy failure?

We know the answers to those rhetorical questions because outside a few exceptions like a Jake Tapper or John Dickerson the media will always play a “heads they win, tails you lose” game with Republicans, especially when their chosen candidate is both at risk and is suffering the worst foreign policy failure of his Administration, an allegedly impenetrable strength in his re-election efforts.

The first wave of stories would be how “no drama Obama” remains cool in the face of tragedy.

The second wave of stories would be how Mitt Romney was caught flat-footed because he waited so long to reply.

The third wave would be how Romney is scrambling to catch up to always fleet-footed Obama.

The fourth wave would be how each act by Romney falls short in comparison to “no drama Obama.”

The fifth wave would be how in Romney’s first test on foreign policy, he was found wanting — recycling the earlier “flat-footed”stories and how his actions/statements fall short of the grandiose Obama. A negative feedback loop always in play with Republicans.

The sixth wave of stories would be how inept the Romney campaign was to miss the golden opportunity to fill the leadership moment inherent in  the cautious “no drama Obama” You can hear the quotes: ‘Can you imagine Axelrod or Carville/Clinton not pouncing on this opportunity?’ ‘Those pros never would have waited for the President to speak.’ ‘They would have jumped right in to defend America under attack.’ The embedded hypocrisy of this last wave is not lost on me but the double standard absolutely applies to Romney while “no drama Obama” relies on his re-election team in the mainstream media to carry water on his behalf.

At no point would the media have appropriately focused on the policy failure, just as they are not today. Every election the media decries the nature of campaigns not being about policy, ideas or issues.  Here was a colossally big issue of policy where the media circled the wagons to cocoon the inept and failed foreign policy of President Obama.  On the anniversary of 9/11 two US embassies were attacked and desecrated.  One US Ambassador was murdered along with three other US personnel.  In each of the countries the US was instrumental in bringing democracy and freedom to its citizens. This is a story about failed ideas of the Obama Administration leading from behind.  This is a story about a policy that distances America from our greatest ally in the region Israel while embracing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who are openly directing the actions in Egypt. This is a story about issues going to the core of President Obama’s unwillingness to support democracy movements in enemy-state’s like Iran while tossing aside allies like the Mubarek regime in Egypt in favor of extremists like the Muslim Brotherhood.

This is a story from beginning to end fraught with every substantive issue imaginable about the foreign policy of the current President yet the media wants only to talk about press releases, timings of press releases and hope for regret from a Presidential challenger who stood tall for American values in the face of Islamic extremists.

Why the Obama Campaign is Super Nervous — Today’s Must Read

Nervous nellies on the Right have their panties in a bunch over a couple stories I won’t link to about alleged Romney people lamenting how strong Obama is and how there is no way Romney can win.  This story has the same ring of truth like the Politico story with 36 anonymous GOP insiders lamenting how selecting Paul Ryan lost the election.  Each of these stories has no basis in reality but are definitely planted stories by major advocates of one political campaign — guess which one? So instead of letting your friends grasp their blankey a little tighter, let’s take a reality check on repeatedly debunked stories on Team Obama’s irrational over-confidence, changing polls, and the electoral college.

I’ve blogged a few times about the seemingly absurd level of confidence emanating from senior Obama campaign officials. I have no problem with them believing in their candidate but they genuinely do not believe they can lose (which is a fatal flaw for anyone in a dogged election battle). Polling in the race remains air tight both nationally and among the Battleground States. The Real Clear Politics average of polling is invariably the most accurate gauge of any state race or the national contest. So I decided to assess the electoral map coming out of the Conventions.

As we have pointed out over-and-over again, the vast majority of this polling has been of both registered voters and for a voter turnout quite similar to the 2008 Democrat wave election when party ID shifted from dead even in 2004 to a seven point advantage for Democrats. Both of those factors skew heavily Democrat which when accounted for tell a very different story than the “sky is falling” crowd.

Registered Voters

Nate Silver of the New York Times 538 blog analyzed registered voter polls versus likely voter polls in 2010 and found registered voter polls produced results 4-points higher in favor of Democrats than the far more accurate polls of likely voters. 2010 was a strong Republican year and without Obama on the ballot it is understandable why the 2010 figures don’t perfectly apply to 2012 polls. For these reasons a 4-point adjustment seems a bit much with a Presidential ballot likely to increase Democrat enthusiasm to vote versus off-year elections. As such, for my own purposes, I adjust registered voter polls 2-points in favor of the Republican to reflect the quantified differences between registered voter polls and the more accurate likely voter surveys.

The shift from registered voter surveys to likely voter surveys had the expected impact and, as of today, President Obama leads five of the Battlegrounds by ~1% easily within the margin of error for every survey: Iowa +0.2, Virginia +0.6, Ohio +0.7 (ex-PPP poll because how many times do you need to see their bias before you ignore them too), Wisconsin +1.4, Florida +1.7. And if I backed-out PPP from every state, Romney would be even closer if not winning some of these states but let’s move on.

This is where it gets really interesting.  A two-point swing would move each of the above mentioned states into Romney’s column and hand him the Presidency without winning Colorado, Nevada, Michigan or New Hampshire (let alone even considering Pennsylvania).

Party Identification in Polls

This has been a sticking point throughout this election season. The typical polling service constructs and adjusts its polls to reflect the electorate as it was on election day in November 2008. They do this for consistency sake but not for accuracy sake. In an exhaustive post worth everyone’s read anytime this topic comes up, Jay Cost at the Weekly Standard completely debunked anyone believing the current polling reflects the electorate who will show up on election day in November. His bottom line is that the election in 2008 had a legitimate partisan advantage of more self-identified Democrats showing up at the polls than Republicans by 7 percentage points — a great showing for Democrats.  Today, his highly educated opinion is that Democrats advantage will shrink to only 3 percentage points (read his post for the well argued explanation).  I personally think the advantage will be no greater than 2 percentage points but no matter.  The key is the big drop in democrat enthusiasm and self-identification that is true in every single poll no matter how biased the source.

With that, if we see only a 2% shift towards Republicans and not even the 4-5% shift Cost and myself believes will occur Romney wins Iowa, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida. That’s based on the electorate right now.  Before Romney’s ~$200 million war chest gets unleashed.  Before Obama has to debate and defend economic policies with sub-2% GDP, 23 million unemployed, and a $16 trillion deficit. Before the real battle for undecideds begins (which is right now). Therefore, with just the slightest adjustment for a voter identification turnout in November that will certainly be more favorable to Romney than current polling reflects, the electoral map looks like the following:

Mitt Romney: 282 Barack Obama: 256

Paul Ryan on Medicare: ‘We will win this debate’

One of the major strategic reasons for the Romney campaign selecting Paul Ryan as the Vice President was his ability and willingness of to take the fight to the Obama campaign on substantive issues in contrast to their divisive campaign of “slash and burn.”  The Obama campaign and his surrogates in the media instantly concluded that Ryan’s seriousness in dealing with the nation’s fiscal issues would drive voters away from Romney in Battleground states due to his medicare overhaul.  Of course, for that to be true, the Democrats would have to repeated lie about Ryan’s proposals and the media would need to uncritically repeat those lies despite the fact that this is the Romney campaign and it is his proposals they are running on. But no matter, you can’t let little things like that tie you up when you have no record to run on and Obama’s only hope is to “kill” Romney such that voters find him unpalatable in November.

Some interesting things have been happening however. The often compliant media has developed a bit of a spine and Wolf Blitzer refused to let Democrat National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz repeatedly lie about Ryan’s plan. And Romney campaign surrogates who had been passive in the past playing a mind-boggling “prevent defense” in a general election campaign they weren’t even winning suddenly unleashed a factual fury on live TV that has to scare “in-the-tank” news anchors everywhere. That was John Sununu at his finest.

Enter Paul Ryan. Bold, articulate and primed to fight the Obama campaign lies head on:

Paul Ryan spoke about the issue of Medicare for the first time since being tapped as Mitt Romney’s running mate, telling a crowd of about 3,000 people Wednesday night at his alma mater, Ohio’s Miami University, that the conversation is one that Republicans welcome. “The president, I’m told, is talking about Medicare today,” said Ryan, who graduated from the school in 1992 with a B.A. in economics and political science. “We want this debate. We need this debate. And we will win this debate.” As Republicans have done in recent days, Ryan took aim at Obama for $716 billion in Medicare Advantage savings over the next decade as a result of the national health care law. Ryan argued that the White House “raided it to pay for Obamacare.”

“The president’s campaign says this raid of Medicare to pay for Obamacare, which leads to fewer services for current seniors, is an achievement,” Ryan said. “Do you think raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare is an achievement?” “No!” yelled the crowd at the Miami University Engineering Quad, which was a mix of students and older supporters. “Well, neither do I. … It’s not right. He knows it. He can’t defend it,” Ryan said.

This is only the beginning of the medicare fight and Ryan’s focus thus far has been first Romney’s plan to turn the economy around (Iowa), second Obama’s failed energy policies (Colorado) and third Obama’s failed economic policies (Ohio).  Now the medicare fight is only beginning and Ryan is expected in Florida to attack this head on. Let’s see when the Obama surrogates in the media begin to admit:

a) Romney is the candidate for President
b) It’s Romney’s plan they are running on, not Ryan’s
c) When Obama chose Biden no one accused Obama of wanting to partition Iraq into three tribal countries (Biden’s plan)
d) Obama cannot run on an economic record so he has no answer to Ryan’s economic critiques and even the Washington Post writes that Romney’s criticism of Obama medicare cuts and dishonest Obamacare accounting is accurate

Republicans should never expect a fair shake from the media but they can challenge the media to be less dishonest and bring the fight to the Obama campaign. The actions of the Romney campaign and the selection of Paul Ryan indicates they are more than prepared to have this medicare fight to secure the solvency of this country.  It’s a fight the country needs to have and it’s a fight someone as dogged as Paul Ryan can win.

Game on.

Misrepresenting the Bush Tax Cuts

Barack Obama launched his Presidential campaign into the Bush tax cuts debate with plenty of misrepresentations fully repeated by a compliant media.  MSNBC’s First Read asks: “Have the Bush tax cuts worked?” and provides incredibly specious corollaries between the tax cuts and economic performance:

“Here’s an entirely different question: Have these tax cuts worked? Have they promoted economic growth? Have they created lots of jobs? The Bush-era tax cuts have been in existence for 11 years now. During that time period, George W. Bush presided over the weakest eight-year span for the U.S. economy in decades; the Great Recession took place; and job creation during Obama’s presidency has been lackluster. In this renewed debate over the Bush tax cuts, we’re going to hear Republicans claim that not extending them — especially for the wealthy — will hurt the economy. And we’ll hear the same from Obama when it comes to extending them for the middle class. But what evidence is there that these tax cuts have truly benefited the U.S. economy?”

First Read (and the media in general) never state what the goal of a federal tax policy should be nor do they cite the actual facts of the Bush years on those goals. Federal tax policy should do two things: spur economic activity and bring in revenues to the government. As we found out during the Obama years, the government cannot create jobs. The government can only create an economic environment within which jobs are created.  So what was the Bush tax cuts’ impact on the economy?

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Advisors

George W. Bush entered the White House during a recession following the bursting of the technology bubble.  President Clinton handed the baton off at an economic low point and Bush’s first year had anemic growth (compounded by the 9/11 attacks). The broadest measure of economic activity is Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Here are the annual Gross Domestic Product from the government’s Bureau of Economic Advisers:

2001: 1.1%
2002: 1.8%

Now the reduction in marginal rates impact on growth begins in 2003.

2003: 2.5%
2004: 3.5%
2005: 3.1%
2006: 2.7%
2007: 1.9%
2008: -0.3%

Looking at these figures it is clear economic activity grew over the four years following the Bush tax cuts. The economy began slowing with the bursting of the housing bubble and ultimately collapsed at the end of 2008 with the global financial crises.  Only the most specious reasoning could tie to a 2003 reduction in marginal tax rates to the global financial crises but the President, Democrats and a compliant media do this regularly.

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Jobs Report Looks More Like 1992 Than 2004

There have been plenty of articles talking about how the Obama campaign is hoping for a repeat of 2004 (close but successful re- election in a recovering economy) but fears a repeat of 1992 (referendum on the incumbent over too slow of recovery). Today’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics paints a very gloomy jobs picture in an all-too-slow recovery:

The economy added 80,000 jobs in June, according to today’s monthly report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but they weren’t enough to lower the nation’s jobless rate of 8.2 percent. June is the fourth month of flat growth.

There is no way to spin this report as anything other than a really bad report.  But within the context of Presidential politics, it is curious to see where Obama rates within the two campaigns this cycle has been compared to: 1992 and 2004.

Any one data point, good or bad, can be dismissed as an anomaly but monthly averages and trends tell a much more fair story. The average monthly jobs created this past quarter was 75k/month. In 1992, the average in the second quarter was 114k while the average in the second quarter of 2004 was 213k.

1992 2004 2012
2Q  Jobs Avg: 114k 213k 75k

At the same juncture in each of the comparative election cycles President Obama is dramatically underperforming his peers. What is more troubling for the President is the trend line. Looking at a chart of his year-to-date monthly jobs reports, we see the figures converging downward with 1992 rather than steadily improving (like 2004) or accelerating upward (like 1984).

From this juncture through the election day in 1992 the monthly jobs report averaged 106k jobs gained. The great difference between 1992 and today is the Bush 41 economy was steadily improving from weak and negative jobs reports in the first quarter while the Obama economy is steadily declining from reasonable and comparatively better jobs figures in the first quarter. Also, Bush 41’s first quarter GDP was 4.5% in a year of 3.4% GDP growth. President Obama’s first quarter GDP was 1.9%, his second quarter GDP is expected closer to 1.5%  and the full-year GDP is expected remain below 2.0%

Monthly Jobs Results Jan-Jun 1992 versus 2012

The Obama campaign would like to maintain the argument  that this election is more similar to 2004 than 1992, but  to do so would be to dismiss a great many things. First and foremost, the 2004 election was about national security (remember John Kerry’s convention? Hint: Obama was there).  There was little to no discussion about the economy (honestly, does anyone remember a meaningful economic dispute during that campaign?).

Add to the fact that, as shown above, the 2004 jobs picture was dramatically better than the 2012 malaise and you see the Obama hope for a 2004 repeat fades quickly. For the remainder of 2004, the monthly jobs report averaged 169k jobs gained. That level of job growth is still weak, mind you, but far surpasses reasonable expectations for the Obama economy.

But jobs aren’t the only difference. In addition to jobs,GDP in the first quarter of 2004 was 2.7% in a year where annual GDP was 3.5%.  As discussed above, Obama’s 2012 GDP almost certainly  will not exceed 2.0%.

Following all the recent jobs report, the weak manufacturing report earlier this week signalling domestic economic contraction, and the global economic slowdown, a rapid pick-up in jobs into the election driving a repeat of the 2004 election is simply not in the cards.  Unfortunately for the campaign in Chicago, more and more of the economy and re-election prospects for President Obama are looking like a repeat of  1992.

Obamacare Ruling Impact on 2012 Battleground States

First and foremost, the ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is a major victory for President Obama.  No political spin can or should take away from that fact.  This was a thoroughly litigated case with some of the best legal minds weighing in on all angles in an attempt to invalidate this law.  They failed and Obama deserves his victory lap.

He should, however, savor that victory lap because the President still has one more major hurdle to clear for validation of his law — the upcoming November elections. And today’s ruling may meaningfully impact his chances in unwelcome ways.

There is a genuine risk for President Obama that today’s victory could be an empty one. Fierce resistance to the original passage of Obamacare was one of the major drivers in the 2010 mid-term elections. In those elections Democrats at all levels were annihilated by the Republicans and the Tea Party. Antipathy towards Obamacare (and a weak economy) went far beyond headline victories like the Republican’s sixty-three seat gain in the House of Representatives and net seven-seat gain in the Senate.

Even greater gains were made at the state level across the country and most specifically among today’s battleground states.

In 2010, Republicans took eleven governorships from the Democrats, including 6 battleground states (Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Kansas, Oklahoma, Maine, Tennessee, and Wyoming) and one governorship in a battleground state previously held by an independent (in Florida).

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Romney’s Course of Attack Now Clear

Below is an excerpt of a column I submitted for publication:

After today’s ruling Mitt Romney has a clear line of differentiation with President Obama that is consistent with the GOP message in 2010:

These were the major factors that led to historic gains for Republicans in 2010.  These arguments remain true today and should all be articulated against Obama for the remainder of this election.  The states mentioned above have already declared their support for such arguments and many others can be expected to join in if Mitt Romney can effectively state his case to the American people.

Enough With the Fallacy Reagan Could Not Get the GOP Nomination Today

It is a fallacy and exercise in sophistry to claim today Ronald Reagan could not get the nomination of the Republican Party because of the party’s allegedly extremism. To argue groups driving today’s Republican elections like the Tea Party are as extreme to reject a Ronald Reagan for President is to conveniently deny the true Ronald Reagan.

It was thirty-two years ago when Ronald Reagan was first elected President in 1980. The Ronald Regan of 1948 (i.e. thirty-two years prior to 1980) would not have gotten the Republican nomination in 1980. The opinions and policy prescriptions he would have espoused then would have little relevance to the Soviet threat of global nuclear annihilation (modern rocketry was in its infancy). Let alone the ever changing needs of the world’s most dynamic country thirty-two years later. Heck, the actual Ronald Reagan could not even get the Republican nomination in 1976!  It would be laughable today to brand the Republicans of 1976 “too extreme” because they rejected Reagan. No, the very complaint against Reagan in 1976 was that HE was too extreme.

The difference between Ronald Reagan of 1948 and Ronald Reagan of 1980 was as the facts changed, so did his opinions.  Ronald Reagan evolved with the times then as he would today. The undeniable over-arching concern of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency was global nuclear annihilation by an external threat — the Soviet Union. Today, the undeniable over-arching concern is the global fiscal annihilation by an internal threat–irresponsible governments. This is the very same threat currently bringing the entire continent of Europe to its knees.

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A Vice President Rubio Would Help a President Romney Immigrate to Washington

Florida Senator Marco Rubio should be selected to be Mitt Romney’s Vice President on his Presidential ticket this Fall. Turning around the failing economy and increasing jobs will remain a priority for the country throughout the election season, but comprehensive immigration reform is also an important priority among Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike. Marco Rubio has the fiscal conservative bona fides to support the Romney economic plan but more importantly he brings unparalleled expertise and credibility on immigration reform expanding Republican appeal to voters unhappy with the Obama Administration’s neglect on this issue.

Senator Rubio has already outlined many principles of a forthcoming comprehensive approach to reforming immigration that deserves both a fair hearing in the Hispanic community but also in the halls of Congress. Importantly, Democrats have crafted legislation on immigration (the “DREAM Act”) that remains extremely popular with Hispanics garnering upwards of 90% support–a support level Republicans must conceded warrants serious evaluation in any attempts at comprehensive reform.

Mitt Romney has demonstrated openness to a diverse set of opinions on this topic through his recently announced “Juntos con Romney” team comprising many DREAM Act supporters including a bill co-sponsor.  “Juntos con Romney” is charged with attracting crucial Hispanic voters who are expected to possibly determine the outcome in closely contested states like Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.

At the same time, Governor Romney supports secure borders and Federal enforcement of the borders–positions extremely popular with non-Hispanics. A Romney Administration can also be expected to fill the void of Federal neglect on enforcement and not outsource border security to private citizens.

With Marco Rubio on the ticket, comprehensive immigration reform can be expected to be a priority in a Romney Administration where everyone is invited to the table and everyone’s voice will be heard on an issue important to all Americans.

The Obama Administration fears both Rubio and his efforts at immigration reform evidenced by White House attempts to dissuade reform activists from even sitting down with Rubio – how’s that for open dialogue? At the same time, Obama friendly media outlets have run incredibly dishonest hit pieces on the popular Senator to little effect.  Clearly Mr. Rubio is on to something that scares this White House – something Mitt Romney should capitalize on.

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Why North Carolina is NOT a Battleground State

This blog is about Battlegrounds States and only Battleground States.  It is quite interesting that Barack Obama is below 50% in California and honestly it is a definite sign of weakness in the President’s re-elect chances.  However, the 2012 election battle will not be fought in California and even if through some miracle of tidal wave results Mitt Romney were to carry California, the 270 threshold necessary to win the Presidency will have long since been breached by carrying one of the identified Battleground states.

Which brings us to North Carolina.

The argument to call it a Battleground state is straight forward and not without merit.  Barack Obama won the state in 2008.  The DNC convention is in Charlotte, NC in late August/early September affording the Obama campaign almost limitless free media in the state during the run-up and through the convention. This should create plenty of momentum for Obama in the North Carolina.  And most importantly for a Battleground state, BOTH campaigns are currently in the state battling it out with TV, radio and internet ads — quite possibly the very definition of a Battleground!

All of this is true and I would expect nothing less of either campaign at this juncture — a full five months from the election.

But it is the mere fact that both campaigns are in North Carolina today but likely will not be there one month from now that gives me comfort that North Carolina is truly NOT a Battleground State.  The reasoning behind each campaign’s presence are completely opposite — Obama wants to see if he has a chance, Romney wants to put it to bed.  Each campaign is also approaching these spends from dramatically different positions of strength — Obama is overcoming a state party circular firing squad, Romney is outpacing a McCain campaign that never showed up in 2008.

Unlike the vast majority of Battleground polling you see showing Obama with a 2 – 5 point lead, the Real Clear Politics average in North Carolina is Romney +2.5. Critical analysis of the Battleground polls showing Obama leading reveals those races are more likely a dead heats or Romney is leading as in the case of Nevada.  Critical analysis of polling in North Carolina reveals Romney with a likely 6 – 8 point lead. It’s like the old saying about mainstream media polling: “If the poll shows the Democrat with a slight lead, it’s tied.  If the poll shows the race tied, the Republican is winning.  And if the poll shows the Republican winning? well then the race is over.” For example the Civitas poll showing Romney up 2 versus Obama last week had a party ID breakdown of Democrat 45, Republican 33 and Independent 22 or D +12 — a completely unheard of oversampling of Democrats. I fully expect polls in the coming days to confirm these increased margins.

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