Tag Archives: Trende

The Political Landscape Ain’t So Bad for the GOP

As usual, Sean Trende provides invaluable sober insights into the post-election self-flaggelation by Republicans as well as the “adapt or die” dishonest counsel from Democrats and weak-kneed Republicans. There are problem with the party, no doubt,but they also have a great many successes.  As a party we need to build on these successes and coalesce around a unifying message that brings Americans together rather than pitting one group against another.

Trende lays out the current post-2012 landscape and Republicans are in far better shape than the media dirge would have you believe:

  • Republicans are still almost at a postwar high in the House of Representatives, with only 1946 and 2010 resulting in a larger share of the chamber going Republican.
  • The Senate picture does show some signs of decline for Republicans, although it is still nowhere near the depths it plumbed from the late 1950s through the early 1970s.
  • Republicans have steadily increased the number of governorships they have held since their debacle in the mid-1970s. In fact, since 1876 there have only been six years where Republicans held a larger percentage of our nation’s governorships
  • If you look at the number of individual statehouse seats held by the party, once again, Republicans are near postwar high
  • These last two data points are especially important for the Republicans, since governorships and statehouse seats represent the “farm teams” for statewide and national office.

Keep fighting the good fight because there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful in 2014 and 2016.

Challenging the Polls: What is Everyone Fighting Over?

There have been some fantastic pieces the last couple of days analyzing the divergent polls and how partisans seem to be choosing whichever data supports their candidate and arguing for its veracity over the contrary. Today, a great many Republicans look at Mitt Romney’s lead in national polls and point to that as the reason for his expected election victory.  Democrats look at the state polling (since that is where the actual electoral votes come from) and say Obama still has the electoral college advantage regardless of any deficit in national polls.  Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics had a great non-partisan column on national polls versus state polls and how looking at each can lead to opposite conclusions:

The RCP Average currently has Mitt Romney up by 0.8 points nationally. He has held this lead fairly consistently ever since the first presidential debate. Given what we know about how individual states typically lean with respect to the popular vote, a Republican enjoying a one-point lead nationally should expect a three-to-four-point lead in Florida, a two-to-three-point lead in Ohio, and a tie in Iowa. Instead we see Romney ahead by roughly one point in Florida, and down by two in Ohio and Iowa.

That would give the Presidency to Mitt Romney.  But if you reverse engineer the state polls to a national turnout you arrive at a different conclusion:

Since the national vote is a collection of state votes, polls of all states should collectively approximate the national vote (since errors should be randomly distributed, they should cancel out). This is done by a simple weighted average…[T]here are several good arguments for favoring the state polling: (1) you have more polls — a much larger collective “n”; (2) you compartmentalize sampling issues — pollsters focused exclusively on Colorado, for example, seem less likely to overlook downscale Latinos than pollsters with a national focus; and (3) the state pollsters were better in 1996 and 2000, two years that the national pollsters missed (although the truly final national pollsters in 2000 got it right, suggesting that perhaps there was a late shift in the race)…After adding the totals up, the results were plain: If the state polls are right, even assuming Romney performs as well as Bush 2004 did in the states without polling, Obama should lead by 1.18 points in the national vote. Given the high collective samples in both the state and national polling, this is almost certainly a statistically significant difference. It’s also a larger margin than all but one of the polls in the national RCP Average presently show.

But national versus state polls isn’t the only debate. Actual poll results versus the data within those same polls may even be the more contentious (and valuable) debate this cycle. Enter Baseball Crank with a fantastic look at modeling election outcomes based on polls versus looking at the actual data that makes up the polls to forecast election winners:

Mathematical models are all the rage these days, but you need to start with the most basic of facts: a model is only as good as the underlying data, and that data comes in two varieties: (1) actual raw data about the current and recent past, and (2) historical evidence from which the future is projected from the raw data, on the assumption that the future will behave like the past.

[A]n argument Michael Lewis makes in his book The Big Short: nearly everybody involved in the mortgage-backed securities market (buy-side, sell-side, ratings agencies, regulators) bought into mathematical models valuing MBS as low-risk based on models whose historical data didn’t go back far enough to capture a collapse in housing prices. And it was precisely such a collapse that destroyed all the assumptions on which the models rested. But the people who saw the collapse coming weren’t people who built better models; they were people who questioned the assumptions in the existing models and figured out how dependent they were on those unquestioned assumptions. Something similar is what I believe is going on today with poll averages and the polling models on which they are based. The 2008 electorate that put Barack Obama in the White House is the 2005 housing market, the Dow 36,000 of politics. And any model that directly or indirectly assumes its continuation in 2012 is – no matter how diligently applied – combining bad raw data with a flawed reading of the historical evidence.

Nate Silver’s much-celebrated model is, like other poll averages, based simply on analyzing the toplines of public polls…My thesis, and that of a good many conservative skeptics of the 538 model, is that these internals are telling an entirely different story than some of the toplines: that Obama is getting clobbered with independent voters, traditionally the largest variable in any election and especially in a presidential election, where both sides will usually have sophisticated, well-funded turnout operations in the field. He’s on track to lose independents by double digits nationally, and the last three candidates to do that were Dukakis, Mondale and Carter in 1980. And he’s not balancing that with any particular crossover advantage (i.e., drawing more crossover Republican voters than Romney is drawing crossover Democratic voters). Similar trends are apparent throughout the state-by-state polls, not in every single poll but in enough of them to show a clear trend all over the battleground states.

If you averaged Obama’s standing in all the internals, you’d capture a profile of a candidate that looks an awful lot like a whole lot of people who have gone down to defeat in the past, and nearly nobody who has won. Under such circumstances, Obama can only win if the electorate features a historically decisive turnout advantage for Democrats – an advantage that none of the historically predictive turnout metrics are seeing, with the sole exception of the poll samples used by some (but not all) pollsters. Thus, Obama’s position in the toplines depends entirely on whether those pollsters are correctly sampling the partisan turnout.

Battlegroundwatch clearly falls into the Baseball Crank category of looking at the internals and taking the conclusions wherever they lead us.  Following this methodology Baseball Crank concludes thusly with which we have no disagreement:

I stand by my view that Obama is losing independent voters decisively, because the national and state polls both support that thesis. I stand by my view that Republican turnout will be up significantly from recent-historic lows in 2008 in the key swing states (Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado) and nationally, because the post-2008 elections, the party registration data, the early-voting and absentee-ballot numbers, and the Rasmussen and Gallup national party-ID surveys (both of which have solid track records) all point to this conclusion. I stand by my view that no countervailing evidence outside of poll samples shows a similar surge above 2008 levels in Democratic voter turnout, as would be needed to offset Romney’s advantage with independents and increased GOP voter turnout. And I stand by the view that a mechanical reading of polling averages is an inadequate basis to project an event unprecedented in American history: the re-election of a sitting president without a clear-cut victory in the national popular vote. Perhaps, despite the paucity of evidence to the contrary, these assumptions are wrong. But if they are correct, no mathematical model can provide a convincing explanation of how Obama is going to win re-election. He remains toast.

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.

A New Battleground: Minnesota?

It’s not as far-fetched as you might think. Sean Conroy takes a stab at this in Real Clear Politics laying out the following argument:

  • George W. Bush came within 2.4 percentage points of winning there in 2000 and within 3.5 points of taking it in 2004. [Though not as close as Wisconsin which was <0.5% each time]
  • Obama ended up winning it by a comfortable 10 points [Note: that’s 4 less than his Wisconsin win and only 1 better than Colorado — both admitted toss-ups]
  • In Obama campaign manager Jim Messina’s view, Minnesota was listed as a “lean-Democratic” state — in the same category as Nevada, Michigan, and Pennsylvania

Not mentioned in the piece, but far more important, is that Minnesota has grown meaningfully more conservative over the last 30 years. The incomparable Sean Trende’s state-by-state analysis of voting trends shows that 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.

This has held true in Minnesota’s last three elections with the Republican in Minnesota nearly mirroring their national performance. If the state continues its 30-year trend it is reasonable to expect Mitt Romney to match or surpass his national performance in Minnesota this year — putting the state in play, for all intents and purposes.

Two big caveats:

  • The Romney campaign has not opened a field office in Minnesota, and the state is not one of the dozen battlegrounds where the Republican National Committee currently has staffers in the field
  • Minnesota Democrats say they are taking nothing for granted–Obama’s operation in Minnesota is being helmed by Jeff Blodgett, who successfully managed the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s Senate campaigns

You can’t win if you do not compete and maybe the Romney campaign should consider making a few trips West or North during its guaranteed numerous campaign stops in Wisconsin and Iowa, respectively.