Early, early signs on election day

It is very early on election day and I leave to get some volunteers started at our polling place.  It is going to be a long day.  But there are some signs:

Dixville Notch has voted:  It is a tie:  5 to 5.  In 2008 they voted for Obama 15 to 6.  The population is down, but this is still New Hampshire and which is very close.   Read this any way you want to.

Nate Silver’s final numbers:

Electoral College –  Obama 314.6    Romney 223.4

Change of winning – Obama 91.6     Romney 8.4

Popular vote –  Obama 50.9     Romney 48.3

Mother Jones managed to catch up with 5 of the 11 people who asked questions at the town hall debate.  (Remember they are in the Hurricane Sandy zone.)

At the second presidential debate, a town hall forum held at Hofstra University, 11 undecided voters from Long Island asked President Obama and Mitt Romney questions on a range of issues, including unemployment, gun control, and equal pay for women. Mother Jones caught up with five of them, all of whom are still dealing with the aftermath of Sandy, and asked if they finally have decided. Results? Four of the five say they’re voting for Obama.

The one who isn’t for Obama is “Leaning Romney”.  The reasons are interesting.

What does this all mean?  We will know late tonight.  In the meanwhile I’ll leave the last word to Nate Silver

But Mr. Romney’s chances of winning the Electoral College have slipped, and are now only about 8 percent according to the forecast model — down from about 30 percent 10 days ago.

The most notable recent case of a candidate substantially beating his polls on Election Day came in 1980, when national surveys had Ronald Reagan only two or three points ahead of Jimmy Carter, and he won in a landslide instead. That year is not comparable to this one in many respects: the economy is much better now, there is not a major third-party candidate in the race, and Mr. Obama’s approval ratings are about 50 percent rather than 35 percent for Mr. Carter. And in 1980, Mr. Reagan had late momentum following the presidential debate that year, whereas this year the momentum seems to favor Mr. Obama.

All of this leaves Mr. Romney drawing to an inside straight. I hope you’ll excuse the cliche, but it’s appropriate here: in poker, making an inside straight requires you to catch one of 4 cards out of 48 remaining in the deck, the chances of which are about 8 percent. Those are now about Mr. Romney’s chances of winning the Electoral College, according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast

As any poker player knows, those 8 percent chances do come up once in a while. If it happens this year, then a lot of polling firms will have to re-examine their assumptions — and we will have to re-examine ours about how trustworthy the polls are. But the odds are that Mr. Obama will win another term.

Voters wait in lines for absentee ballots in Doral, Fla. on Sunday. (AP)

Why voting for Obama is important in blue states

If you are like me and live in a state that has already an insurmountable lead for President Obama’s re-election you might be tempted to vote third party, but it is still important for you to vote for Obama.  Why?  The popular vote total.  The pundits and headlines will continue to say the race is tied.  Forget the electoral college which in most estimates have Obama now over the 279 mark with some headed to 300.  No it is the popular vote where there is potential trouble.

Willard Mitt is too close for comfort. This morning Nate Silver puts it at 50.6 to 48.3 or a 2.3% margin for the President.  The margin of error is 2.1.  Much of the Romney vote comes from Red States and that is what is making it look close.  Unless Obama wins both the popular vote and the electoral college, the Republicans can complain about the results.  You know they will.  They are already beginning to blame Hurricane Sandy for the loss.

Of course, we won’t know until the votes are counted how things will turn out.  Polls can be wrong and folks like Nate depend on aggregating polls, but as an Obama supporter, I do feel hopeful.

Also it looks as if Elizabeth Warren will beat Senator Scott Brown.  Let’s hope that’s the last time I have to call him that!  And better yet, it is beginning to look like my old friend, Tim Kaine, will win in Virginia.

This shows President Clinton, President Obama and Tim Kaine.  This is an important sign:  The Democratic Senate candidate is not running from the President.  In a purple state.

So if you live in a blue state, don’t be thinking your vote for Obama doesn’t matter because it does.

Who is gonna win? Updated

Updated November 3.  There is another informal poll that is going for President Obama – the 7/Eleven poll.  As of this morning the President is ahead 50 to 41.  According to their press release, they have correctly predicted the last three elections.


Woke up this morning to see Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight updated just after midnight to give President Obama 299 electoral votes with a 77.4% chance of winning.  We all know that polls are volatile and that will shift, but we now have two non-poll polls that give the race to the President.

Politico reports

A group of people who have accurately predicted the winner of the popular  vote in the last four presidential elections thinks President Barack Obama is headed for a second  term: the American people.

Fifty-four percent of Americans think Obama will win the election, compared  to 32 percent who predict a Romney victory, according to Gallup polling released Wednesday but conducted  before Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast. Eleven percent have no  opinion.

This is down two points from a similar poll taken in May.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday found a similar result:  53 percent of registered voters believed Obama would win, compared to 29 percent  for Romney.

In the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 election, Americans accurately predicted the  popular vote winner. The gap between Obama and Romney is similar to the gap  between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000. Fifty-two percent of registered  voters thought then-Vice President Gore would defeat the Texas governor, while  35 percent thought Bush would win.

We all know that Gore did win the popular vote, but lost the Electoral College by one.

Barack Obama is seen at the White House. |AP Photo

There was a similar non-poll which has been running longer with pretty good accuracy.  I am talking about the Nickelodeon kids poll.  On October 22, the Washington Post reported

Nickelodeon’s Linda Ellerbee said Monday that the president captured 65 percent of the vote to beat Republican Mitt Romney in the network’s “Kids Pick the President” vote. More than 520,000 people cast online ballots through the children’s network’s website over one week earlier this month.

Since it began in 1988, the kids have presaged the adults’ vote all but once, when more youngsters voted for John Kerry over George W. Bush in 2004.Obama answered questions submitted by Nickelodeon viewers for a special earlier this month. Romney didn’t participate.
Does that last tell you anything?  No late night television, no answering questions from kids.  I think Mitt Romney is out of touch and that is going to help cost him both the popular vote – which will be close – and the electoral college.
Photograph from AP

About that Gallup poll

The most recent Gallup Daily Tracking polls have Mitt Romney up by 6 or points.  When I saw that I almost had a heart attack!  I mean how can that be when President Obama has a lead in all those individual state polls.  Then last night I read Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog post Gallup vs. the World and I calmed down.  I know that Romney supports are probably convinced that Nate manipulates everything so that Obama comes out ahead, but somehow I doubt that and you might want to actually read the post.  Silver begins

The Gallup national tracking poll now shows a very strong lead for Mitt Romney. As of Wednesday, he was ahead by six points among likely voters. Mr. Romney’s advantage grew further, to seven points, when Gallup updated its numbers on Thursday afternoon.

The Gallup poll is accounted for in the forecast model, along with all other state and national surveys.

However, its results are deeply inconsistent with the results that other polling firms are showing in the presidential race, and the Gallup poll has a history of performing very poorly when that is the case.

Other national polls show a race that is roughly tied on average, while state polls continue to indicate a narrow advantage of about two points for President Obama in tipping-point states like Ohio. The forecast has Mr. Obama as a narrow favorite in the election largely on the basis of the state polls. (You can read my thoughts here on the challenge of reconciling state and national poll data.)

Our database contains records from 136 distinct pollsters that have released at least one state or national survey at some point in this election cycle. Of those, 53 are active enough to have issued at least one survey since Oct. 1.

With so much data to sort through, it will usually be a counterproductive use of one’s time to get overly attached to the results of any one particular poll. Whether you look at the relatively simple averaging methods used by Web sites like Real Clear Politics, or the more involved techniques in the FiveThirtyEight forecast, the Gallup national tracking poll constitutes a relatively small part of the polling landscape.

After a lengthy explanation of how the data is used (I have to say it is long, but readable) Silver says

Over all, the Gallup daily tracking poll accounts for only about 3 percent of the weight [for the FiveThirtyEight calculation] in this stage of the calculation. The national tracking polls collectively, including Gallup, account for only about 10 percent of it. Most of the weight, instead, is given to the state polls.

Silver also recounts the history of the Gallup tracking polls (they have often missed the mark) and concludes

It’s not clear what causes such large swings, although Gallup’s likely voter model may have something to do with it.

Even its registered voter numbers can be volatile, however. In early September of this year, after the Democratic convention, Gallup had Mr. Obama’s lead among registered voters going from seven points to zero points over the course of a week — and then reverting to six points just as quickly. Most other polling firms showed a roughly steady race during this time period.

Because Gallup’s polls usually take large sample sizes, statistical variance alone probably cannot account these sorts of shifts. It seems to be an endemic issue with their methodology.

To be clear, I would not recommend that you literally just disregard the Gallup poll. You should consider it — but consider it in context.

The context is that its most recent results differ substantially from the dozens of other state and national polls about the campaign. It’s much more likely that Gallup is wrong and everyone else is right than the other way around.

Then this afternoon my other favorite wonk, Ezra Klein, also weighed in.

According to Real Clear Politics, Mitt Romney is, on average, up by one point in the polls. According to both Nate Silver and InTrade, President Obama has a better-than-60-percent chance of winning the election. I think it’s fair to say that the election is, for the moment, close.

But not according to Gallup. Their seven-day tracking poll shows Romney up by seven points — yes, seven — with likely voters. But he’s only up by one point with registered voters.

It gets weirder: Dig into the poll, and you’ll find that in the most recent internals they’ve put on their Web site  — which track from 10/9-10/15  — Obama is winning the West (+6), the East (+4), and the Midwest (+4). The only region he’s losing is the South. But he’s losing the South, among likely voters, by 22 points. That’s enough, in Gallup’s poll, for him to be behind in the national vote. But it’s hard to see how that puts him behind in the electoral college.

If Gallup is right, then that looks to me like we’re headed for an electoral college/popular vote split. Last night, I spoke with Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup, to ask him if I was missing something. He said I wasn’t. “That’s certainly what it looks like,” he says.

But Newport was cautious in interpreting his numbers. Gallup’s poll cheered Romney supporters because it showed Romney gaining ground even after the second debate. But Newport didn’t see it like that. Remember, he warned, it’s a seven-day poll. “I think we’re still seeing leftover positive support for Romney and I don’t think we’re seeing impact yet from the second debate,” he says.

It turns out the Gallup’s likely voter model includes a measure of enthusiasm which might explain why the large swings and the differences from the other polls.  Nate Silver is right:  it is the likely voter model.  He is probably also right when he said on the Daily Show that we tend to follow polls much too obsessively.  But I can’t help myself.

And if you support Obama you can take comfort in the figures posted late last night on FiveThirtyEight:  Obama 291.6 electoral votes with a 70.6 chance of winning.

Polls and tonight’s debate

Governor Christie of New Jersey thinks Mitt Romney will ace the debate tonight and turn the race upside down.  Let’s see.  Romney has had other game changing opportunities over course of the campaign the biggest being the Republican Convention.  What happened there?  His biographical film wasn’t done during prime time coverage.  Clint Eastwood talked to an empty chair and went over his allotted time.  Romney’s speech did not mention Afghanistan or American troops and, overall, was not very inspiring.

Tonight Romney will get another turn at bat.  The polls are still relatively close (more on them in a minute), but can the debate actually move the polls?

Ezra Klein writes in his Wonkbook this morning

Wonkbook’s number of the day: 0. That’s the number of recent elections that we can confidently say were decided by debates.

Gallup, for instance, reviewed their polls going back to 1960 and concluded they “reveal few instances in which the debates may have had a substantive impact on election outcomes.” Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien, in “The Timeline of Presidential Elections,” looked at a much broader array of polls and concluded that there was “there is no case where we can trace a substantial shift to the debates.” Political scientist John Sides, summarizing a careful study by James Stimson, writes that there’s “little evidence of [debate] game changers in the presidential campaigns between 1960 and 2000.

That’s not to say debates can’t matter, or that these debates won’t matter. The race remains close, and there are examples — 1960, 2000 and 2004, for instance — where  debates made a race more competitive, even if they didn’t clearly change the outcome. Simply closing the gap a bit would be a big win for Mitt Romney, if for no other reason than it would keep Republican donors invested in his chances going into the campaign’s final weeks.

One caveat to keep in mind, though: It’s not necessarily “the debates” that matter. It’s the debates plus the way the debates get spun in the media. There’s good evidence, in  fact, that the media’s spin is actually more important than the debates themselves. For more on that, read this article by Dylan Matthews, which is the best primer you’ll find on what we do and don’t know about what matters in presidential debates. The graphs are great, too

So going into the debate tonight (I’m writing this at about 7:30 am) where do the polls say we are?

Last night Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog posted these numbers for November 6:

Odds of Obama winning:  84.7%

Electoral Votes:  318.6

Popular Vate:  Obama 51.4 to Romney 47.5

Silver wrote

There were nine national polls published on Monday, which are listed in the table below. On average, they showed Mr. Obama with a 3.5 percentage point lead over Mr. Romney.

That’s smaller than the leads we were seeing in national polls last week, which seemed to be concentrated more in the range of a five- or six-point lead for Mr. Obama. It also suggests a smaller lead than recent state-by-state polls seem to imply.

So has the race already shifted back toward Mr. Romney some? Perhaps, but this is less apparent from the trendlines within these polls.

If you compare the nine surveys released on Monday against the last time they were published (in all cases, the comparison poll postdates the Democratic conventions), only four showed a shift toward Mr. Romney. An equal number, four, showed Mr. Obama gaining ground instead, while one poll remained unchanged.

In all cases but one, the shift was extremely modest — within one percentage point in one direction or the other. The exception was a new CNN national poll, which had Mr. Romney closing his deficit from six points to three points.

On average, however, the polls showed only a 0.2 percentage point gain for Mr. Romney — not a meaningful shift in either a statistical or a practical sense.

That is what I had when I went to bed last night.  I woke up to the NPR poll results.  The headline says

On Eve Of First Debate, NPR Poll Shows Romney Within Striking Distance

but the text says

The latest poll by NPR and its bipartisan polling team [pdf] shows President Obama with a 7-point lead among likely voters nationally and a nearly identical lead of 6 points in the dozen battleground states where both campaigns are spending most of their time and money.


More than 80 percent of respondents said they planned to watch the first televised clash Wednesday and one in four said the debate could influence their vote.

If you are a Romney supporter that may give you hope.  But remember, Governor Christie, he hasn’t come up to snuff at any big moments yet.  Maybe that means the debate is the time.

But for me, the most interesting thing to emerge from the NPR polling was this question.

On The Economy:

Now, thinking about the nation’s economy, do you believe the economy…

On The Economy

Source: NPR/Democracy Corps/Resurgent Republic

Credit: Padmananda Rama and Alyson Hurt / NPR

Almost half of those surveyed think the economy has bottomed and is starting to improve.  The economy was supposed to be Romney’s issue.

I’ll let Nate Silver have the last word.

But let me leave you with two themes that are at least reasonably well in line with the consensus of the evidence.

First, although it’s unclear whether Mr. Obama’s polls have already begun to decline, it’s more likely than not that they will tighten some between now and the election. The Nov. 6 forecast prices in some tightening while the “now-cast” does not, so sometimes they’ll have a different take on the polls.

Second, you should continue to watch the divergence between state polls and national polls.

As of Monday’s forecast, Mr. Obama was projected to win 22 states totaling 275 electoral votes by a margin of at least 4.7 percentage points — larger than his 4.1 percentage point projection in the national popular vote.

That speaks to a potential Electoral College advantage for him. But it’s important to watch the states that are just on the brink of this threshold, like Nevada and Ohio, or those where the polling has been varied, like New Hampshire.

Without Nevada, for instance, but with the other 21 states, Mr. Obama would be projected to a 269-269 in the Electoral College — which he would probably lose in the House of Representatives.

And his odds there will be a tie:  0.5%.

If you are an Obama voter you can be cautiously optimistic going into the debate tonight.

Fear of polls

It doesn’t matter whether you support Romney or Obama.  When a new poll is released you start to parse it.  Who did the poll?  Are they a Democratic or Republican leaning pollster?  How is it different from the last poll you saw?  What do the pundits say?  Does the result make me happy or anxious? 

This morning RealClear Politics had these numbers:

Average:  Obama +3.2

Electoral College:  Obama 227   Romney 170  (270 needed to win)

Intrade:  Obama  60.4    Romeny 38.2  

Nate Silver, my poll guru, had some advice the other day.  If you are a political junkie, read the whole article, but here are some of the highlights for me.

1. Be patient. Many of the poll-watching habits you learned for the primaries you will need to unlearn for the general election.

In the primaries, it is often worth paying a tremendous amount of attention to how recently a poll was conducted. Because voter opinion shifts rapidly in primaries, a poll that is even two or three days old might have substantially less information value than one that was released today.

That just isn’t true in the general election, when there are fewer swing voters, the candidates are better known, and voter preferences are more rigid. Instead, polls have a much stronger tendency to revert to the mean, and what is perceived to be “momentum” is often just statistical noise. In October, it might be worth sweating just a little bit if there seems to be a two- or three-percentage point shift against your preferred candidate. Right now, it probably isn’t; a poll released on April 20 isn’t going to be much better in the long-run than one released on April 10.

2. Take the poll average. This ought to be obvious, but you should generally be looking for a trend to show up in several different polls from several different polling firms before you start to view it as newsworthy.

5. Pay attention to likely voters versus registered voters. It is worth looking at whether the poll is conducted among registered voters, likely voters or all adults.

In the past eight presidential election cycles or so, the Republican candidate has done a net of about two percentage points better on average in likely voter polls than in registered voter polls.

6. Keep paying attention to Mr. Obama’s approval ratings. In the early stages of general election campaigns, a president’s approval ratings have often been at least as accurate a guide to his eventual performance as the head-to-head numbers. Thus, for at least the next couple of months, I would pay as much attention to Mr. Obama’s approval ratings as his head-to-head polls against Mr. Romney.

It is probably slightly better to look at Mr. Obama’s net approval rating — his approval less his disapproval — than the approval rating alone.

11. Read the polls in the context of the news. Polls don’t just shift on their own; they change because people are reacting to changes in their circumstances and to different news events.

Political reporters have beats and deadlines and need to turn stories around every day. But most of the day-to-day squabbles that the campaigns have don’t matter to most voters. If there is a shift in the polls, it is much more likely to be real rather than illusory if it follows something like an Israeli air strike on Iran or a stock market crash than something like this or this.

The other caution is that even when major news events do shift the polls, they sometimes have a half-life with the effects fading over time. These events may produce long-term and permanent effects on how voters see the candidates, but they often overshoot the mark in the close term. Recent examples include the uptrend in Mr. Obama’s approval ratings after the death of Osama bin Laden or the downtrend following the debt ceiling negotiations, both of which persisted for some weeks but then faded.

My conclusion:  This is going to be  close election.  Closer than in my opinion it should be.


First results from New Hampshire

As expected, Mitt Romney has won the New Hampshire primary.  The question that remains at 9 pm is what his margin will be.  Right now he has about 37% of the vote with 34% of the vote counted.  Interestingly it is Ron Paul, who will not be the Republican nominee, who is second.  Jon Huntsman is third.

Two interesting facts I ran across today.

First, Glenn Kessler the Washington Post fact checker on Mitt Romney’s job creation record gave his claim of 100,000 jobs three out of four Pinocchio’s.

By all accounts, Romney was a highly successful venture capitalist. While running Bain Capital, he helped pick some real winners, earning his investors substantial returns. High finance is a difficult subject to convey in a sound bite, so Romney evidently has chosen to focus on job creation. 

This is a mistake, because it overstates the purposes of Bain’s investments and has now led Romney into a factually challenging cul-de-sac.

Romney never could have raised money from investors if the prospectus seeking $1-million investments from the super wealthy had said it would focus on creating jobs. Instead, it said: “The objective of the fund is to achieve an annual rate of return on invested capital in excess of the returns generated by conventional investments in the public equity market and the private equity market.”

 Indeed, the prospectus never mentions “jobs,” “job,” or “employees.”

When Romney made a run for the governorship, the Boston Globe reported in 2002 that he had not been involved in the details of many deals toward the end of his Bain experience: “These days, Romney can say he hasn’t inked a deal in many years. Even during the end of his tenure at Bain, from 1994 to 1999, he played the role of CEO and rainmaker rather than delving into the details of buyouts.”

 Interestingly, when Romney ran for the Senate in 1994, his campaign only claimed he had created 10,000 jobs. In one ad, a narrator said: “Mitt Romney has spent his life building more than 20 businesses and helping to create more than 10,000 jobs. So when it comes to creating jobs, he’s not just talk. He’s done it.”

Now, apparently, those 10,000 jobs have increased tenfold, apparently in part because of Bain investments in which Romney had at best a tangential role.

The Pinocchio Test

 Romney certainly has a good story to tell about knowing how to manage a business, spotting opportunities and understanding high finance. But if he is to continue to make claims about job creation, the Romney campaign needs to provide a real accounting of how many jobs were gained or lost through Bain Capital investments while the firm managed these companies — and while Romney was chief executive. Any jobs counted after either of those data points simply do not pass the laugh test.

Three Pinocchios



With Gingrich and Perry ready to pounce on Romney in South Carolina, I don’t think it is over.   I think the vetting of Willard is just beginning.

The seond item comes from Nate Silver who is live blogging for the New York Times at 8:57

Turnout in G.O.P. Primary Tracking Well Below 2008 Pace

Although the polls made pretty good predictions of the election outcome tonight, forecasting turnout is harder. So far it looks like rumors of a record Republican turnout in New Hampshire were greatly exaggerated.

With 85 of 301 precincts reporting, 52,191 voters have cast a ballot in the Republican primary so far. That projects to about 185,000 votes statewide, as compared with about 240,000 votes in the Republican primary in 2008.

The drop-off in turnout looks worse for Republicans since a higher fraction of voters – about half this year, compared to 37 percent in 2008 – are independents. That means that turnout among registered Republicans could alone be off by nearly 40 percent from 2008.

More on the campaign tomorrow.