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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Turnout Unskewed?

I haven't blogged much about the presidential "horse race" this year. However, I've read a large number of articles about the state of the race and am generally convinced by the data and analysis presented by Nate Silver, Drew Linzer, Sam Wang, etc. Using primarily state-based polling data, these analysts see a solid lead for Barack Obama. In this work, the President's well-established lead in Ohio is a key firebreak that Mitt Romney cannot easily overcome.

Many conservative websites point to the Gallup likely voter national polling (temporarily suspended because of Hurricane Sandy) and challenge Silver et al. Romney has been winning handily in Gallup LV polling. One writer on Red State called the President "toast" because of his apparent failure to appeal to independent voters in 2012. Some conservatives ridicule the "Moneyball" election analysts. If national poll averages suggest a 50-50 election, then this is best seen as a coin flip like 2000 (or 2004), not a likely Obama victory.

Silver, famously, put the odds at an Obama victory at roughly 2-to-1 for many weeks and that ratio is now creeping past 3-to-1 towards 4-to-1. Wang thinks the President's chances are over 90%. Linzer is also confident that Obama will win.

If you read Silver consistently (or Linzer or Wang), they have at one time or another explained why all the conservative arguments are wrong. They don't employ ideology or wizardry, they use math.

For example, some critics and skeptics argue that Obama cannot win because young people and other enthusiastic 2008 voters are disillusioned with his presidency and will not vote next week. This will significantly depress 2012 turnout and pave the way for enthusiastic Republican anti-Obama voters to tilt the election to Romney. Silver responds analytically:
Suppose, for example, that you take the consensus forecast in each state. (By “consensus” I just mean: the average of the different forecasts.) Then you weigh it based on what each state’s share of the overall turnout was in 2008, in order to produce an estimate of the national popular vote.

Do the math, and you’ll find that this implies that Mr. Obama leads nationally by 1.9 percentage points — by no means a safe advantage, but still a better result for him than what the national polls suggest.
What if turnout doesn’t look like it did in 2008? Instead, what if the share of the votes that each state contributed was the same as in 2004, a better Republican year?

That doesn’t help to break the discord between state and national polls, unfortunately. Mr. Obama would lead by two percentage points in the consensus forecast weighing the states by their 2004 turnout.

Or we can weigh the states by their turnout in 2010, a very good Republican year. But that doesn’t help, either: instead, Mr. Obama leads by 2.1 percentage points based on this method.
Ohio polls close at 7:30 pm ET, though anyone in line at that time can still vote. Conceivably, the election could be effectively over if Obama clearly wins this key state at an early hour. On the other hand, there are going to be a large number of provisional ballots in Ohio-- perhaps more of them than the margin between Obama and Romney.  Since those ballots are not counted for 10 days, we might wake up next Wednesday without a clear winner. I find that unlikely, but these are the range of alternatives.

I would note that Obama will likely retain the presidency without Ohio, Florida,  and North Carolina (all states in won in 2008) if he holds on to the appropriate combination of Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin. Silver finds that Obama has a 1 to 4 point lead in each of those states.

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