It’s election day and as Americans go to the polls a few things are clear. There are many predictions it’ll be a nail-biter. And nowhere can you see the parallel political universes with totally different believe systems, interpreting data and making assumptions in such differing ways, than in how partisans are calling the election. Nonethelss, there is a painstakingly hedged consensus that has gingerly emerged from many in the “old” and new the past 24 hours: it’s more likely that Barack Obama will be re-elected that Mitt Romney will be elected today. A sign of this: a slew of stories about if Romney loses and even a “premortum” given by one of the country’s top political scientists.
The media is generally hedging what seems to be the consensus on election day since a)the race is so close b)there is fear that by not hedging a Romney win would discredit some of the media and pollsters suggesting that the former Massachusetts Governor’s efforts may fall short. But if there is a consensus it is that Obama might pull off a re-election that looked bleak some months ago.
And when the votes are counted, partisans and the political class will have the answer to their number one question in this election:
Was The New York Times’ poll wiz Nate Silver vindicated or not?
Silver’s latest analysis: late Obama poll gains have give Romney longer odds for re-election, and raise Obama’s likelihood of being re-elected to 91.6%:
Mitt Romney has always had difficulty drawing a winning Electoral College hand. Even during his best period of polling, in the week or two after the first presidential debate in Denver, he never quite pulled ahead in the polling averages in Ohio and other states that would allow him to secure 270 electoral votes.
But the most recent set of polls suggest another problem for Mr. Romney, whose momentum in the polls stalled out in mid-October. Instead, it is President Obama who is making gains.
Among 12 national polls published on Monday, Mr. Obama led by an average of 1.6 percentage points. Perhaps more important is the trend in the surveys. On average, Mr. Obama gained 1.5 percentage points from the prior edition of the same polls, improving his standing in nine of the surveys while losing ground in just one.
Because these surveys had large sample sizes, the trend is both statistically and practically meaningful. Whether because of Hurricane Sandy, the relatively good economic news of late, or other factors, Mr. Obama appears to have gained ground in the closing days of the race.
The national polls now range from showing a 1-point lead for Mr. Romney to slightly more than a 4-point advantage for Mr. Obama. The FiveThirtyEight forecast of the national popular vote is within this range, projecting Mr. Obama’s most likely margin of victory to be two or three percentage points, approximating the margin that George W. Bush achieved in defeating John Kerry in 2004.
Averaging polls together increases their sample size — making them much more powerful statistically than any one poll taken alone. But the errors in the polls are sometimes correlated, meaning there are years when most of them miss in the same direction. Mr. Romney remains close enough to Mr. Obama that he could fairly easily win the popular vote if there is such an error in Mr. Obama’s favor this year.
Mr. Romney’s chances are less, however, of winning the Electoral College.
Silver predicts Obama will get 314 electoral votes to Romney’s 223.
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 cliché, 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.
GOP political maven Karl Rove completely disagrees. Via Andrew Malcomb:
“There were about ninety-six polls in thirty-one states over the last week, but only Wisconsin changed status on the final Electoral College map, shifting from “toss up” to ‘lean’ Obama.
“Barack Obama has 184 total ‘safe’ Electoral College votes with four states (47 EC votes) ‘leaning’ in his favor, and Mitt Romney has 180 ‘safe’ EC votes with two states (26 EC votes) ‘leaning’ his way.
“There are still eight ‘toss up’ states (101 EC votes) the day before the election, with the numbers in Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, Virginia, and New Hampshire unchanged from the previous week.”
“Without twelve toss up states (MN, NV, CO, IA, WI, MI, OH, PA, NH, VA, NC, AND FL), Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are tied at 191 each.
“I predict Mr. Romney will win FL (29), NC (15), VA (13), NH (4), OH (18), IA (6), CO (9) and Mr. Obama will get MN (10), NV (6), WI (10), MI (16), PA (20).
“This brings Mr. Romney to 285 Electoral College votes and Mr. Obama to 253.
“These are just my base predictions and I still think several of these states are too close to call.
“For example, while I put them in Mr. Obama’s column, I still believe NV, WI, and PA are in play and very winnable for Mr. Romney. If crowds at his recent stops in these states are any indication of his supporters’ enthusiasm, Mr. Romney will likely be able to claim victory in these states as well.”
But two other factors suggest the emerging consensus — if that matters at all after the final voters are counted, when THIS LADY will then have sung — is that Obama will pull it off: an increasing number of stories about why the Romney-Ryan ticket will have lost if the lost, what they may do after the election, and little tidbits filtering out about a less than bouyant mood.
Indeed, Samuel Popkin, one of the country’s top and most respected political scientists who wrote THIS BOOK that’s the new bible for political junkies, gave The Atlantic a pre-mortum on the Romney campaign. It’s worth look at some of what he said in detail as Americans go to the polls. His key assumption: Romney will lose due to a host of errors — and that there have been recent signs that Romney is about to go down.
Popkin writes that he’s doing a premortum now “because if Mitt Romney wins on Tuesday, it will be weeks before I understand where I went wrong. Nate Silver, Simon Jackman and Simon Wang do independent, sophisticated statistical integration of state and local polls, and all predict an Obama victory to be highly probable.”
SIGNS OBAMA WILL WIN:“Republican Governors Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, by praising President Obama, and New York’s formerly Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg, by endorsing him, are not leading their supporters to Obama; they are following them to protect their own political futures because they believe Obama will win. Bloomberg wants to preserve his centrist credentials, and there is no easier way to separate from Romney then by emphasizing the urgency of dealing with climate change. Christie governs a state in which the president is popular; his sudden admiration of Obama benefits both of them at the expense of Romney, who will have no way of paying Christie back if he loses. McDonnell was an early supporter of the Ryan budget, but now is backing away from the devilish details in that budget – like slashing FEMA.”
ARGUMENTS NOW COMING FROM TEAM ROMNEY: “First note that the rationalizations and finger-pointing are already leaking out from the Romney campaign and the Republican Party. I believe the leakers are engaged in “myth-making” to overstate the importance of one or more of three factors: Tropical Storm Sandy, the first debate, or the personal failings of Governor Romney. ”
He goes through each myth in detail, clinically displaying which each one is not true. Then he writes:
To put it bluntly: either the Romney campaign never had a chance, or they blew it through early strategic choices. I believe that, while it is never easy to take on an incumbent, the Romney campaign lost whatever chance they had because of early mistakes.
Whenever you hear politicians say an election is not about the party, you can be sure it is about the party. The Romney campaign had some serious shortcomings but their major errors were made in the primary, when they miscalculated how much red meat they could feed their voracious base and still win in November. Either they overestimated how damaged Obama would be by the bad economy or they overestimated how much damage Romney could sustain in the primaries and still recover. Either way, the underlying fault lies with the Republican Party’s increasingly radical policies, which placed Romney in the perilous position of reconciling the concerns of the independents needed to win the general election with the demands of primary voters who had been promised the moon.
The business school star who excelled at strategic planning at Bain has failed to plan ahead on his own campaign. James Carville’s famous credo, “the economy, stupid,” helped keep the 1992 focus on the economy, which was possible only because Bill Clinton had developed reasonable policies on crime, welfare and abortion that protected him against an ambush on social issues on his way to battle on the economy. If an army knows the grounds on which they want to fight, they need to suppress enemy fire on the march to their preferred battlefield.
This is why I believe some of the strategists are overstating the bump after the first debate.
From the day he clinched the nomination, I kept wondering why Romney didn’t distinguish his political identity from his party’s, just as Bill Clinton showed he was willing to challenge special interests within his party by publicly criticizing Sister Souljah’s lyrics in front of Jesse Jackson
A politician’s personal character is a moral firewall; it reassures people about a candidate’s past record or the unsavory planks of his party’s platform. People do assume that wealthy people like Romney are smarter and work harder than most others. They also, as Pew research has revealed, consider the very rich more greedy than others. I confess to being totally unable to explain why Romney waited so long to talk about his church and community service, or why someone who wanted to be president wouldn’t have closed his Cayman Islands and Swiss bank accounts before he became a candidate.
And after an additional point (go to the link to read it all) he closes with this:
The civil war in the Republican Party has already begun. I expect the big push for Republican rebranding to occur at the state and local levels, where governance is critical to anyone with long-term national ambitions. Look for Republican governors to fight for programs they need to govern. (Senators build identities and raise money on issue positions, not performance, and are far slower to change.) I believe that Governors Christie and McDonnell went farther than necessary in their praise of President Obama because they wanted to distance themselves as fast as possible from a Republican budget that would slash funding for FEMA and turn disaster relief over to the states.
After Vice President Walter Mondale lost the 1984 election, the Democratic Party, led by governors in the Democratic Leadership Council, moved toward the center because enough Democratic politicians recognized that the fundamental problem was the party, not the candidate or his campaign. Let’s see if enough Republicans can see through the rationalizing myths to save their party in the same way.
What’s notable: Popkin, like Silver, is confident enough about the outcome to put his reputation on the line to make such a definitive statement before the ballots are even cast.
I’d also argue this fight picked by Team Romney does not reek of confidence in an electoral triumph.
Meanwhile, in a post written earlier this week, CNN’s John Avlon has noted that polls showed independents seemed to be breaking more for Romney and centrists (moderates) more for Obama:
The final polls are out and behind the national horserace is a fascinating dynamic – Mitt Romney is narrowly winning independent voters while President Obama is winning centrist voters by a nearly 20-point margin.
For example, here in the must-win battleground state of Ohio, the final CNN/ORC poll showed Romney edging Obama among independent voters by two points, 48% to 46%. But among moderate voters, Obama is crushing Romney by 21 points – 57% to 36%.
This is significant because in past elections independents and centrist voters have been largely synonymous–overlapping cohorts, reflecting the belief of many independents that the two parties are too polarized and disproportionately dominated by their respective special interests. But what I think we’re seeing this year is the extended impact of the tea party – a growth in the number of independent conservatives that has moved the overall independent voting block slightly to the right. In turn, centrist voters are more likely to vote for Obama precisely because of the polarizing impact of the tea party and the intransigence of many conservative congressmen when it came to working in a good faith spirit of principled compromise with the Obama administration.
National polls also bear this dynamic out. In the final Pew poll of this election, Romney is winning independent voters by a three point margin, 44% to 41%. But Obama is winning centrist voters by a 21-point margin – 56% to 25%. One reason for this split can also be found in the poll – the least popular group in Washington is congressional Republicans who have just a 28% approval rating. This makes the case for possibly giving Republicans unified control of Washington again a tougher sell to swing voters.
This split is one reason the election is so close – and it might also account for why Obama has a narrow lead in many swing states. Romney’s surge after his strong performance in the first debate was due to reassuring moderate voters that he was one of them – not a “severe conservative” but a centrist Republican governor of a blue state with a commitment to bipartisanship. But in the wake of his leadership in Superstorm Sandy – earning the praise of Republican governor Chris Christie and the endorsement of independent New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg along with Colin Powell – Obama has been able to regain his momentum among moderates in the polls.
Meanwhile, America waits for this woman to sing… And until she does, all analysis is speculation…
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.