Presidential election minus 10 days

Since our previous episode we’ve had individual polls from red states Georgia and Montana showing Barack Obama narrowly in front, so they’re now included in the polling aggregates. However, John McCain leads in both due to the overall polling picture from the past few weeks. The other remarkable development has been an Obama blowout in Ohio, underscoring a picture of Democratic strength in the rust belt states.

Obama McCain Sample D-EV R-EV
Michigan 54.7 39.4 3005 17
Washington 54.9 40.1 3379 11
Maine 54.5 40.0 2185 4
Minnesota 53.3 41.8 3677 10
Iowa 52.6 41.7 3530 7
Pennsylvania 52.2 41.7 5505 21
Wisconsin 51.5 42.1 3490 10
New Hampshire 51.5 42.3 3305 4
New Mexico 50.5 43.3 2927 5
Colorado 50.8 44.3 3450 9
Virginia 50.9 44.7 3777 13
Ohio 48.7 43.0 4337 20
Nevada 50.0 45.4 3418 5
Florida 48.2 45.3 5021 27
North Dakota 45.5 44.7 1206 3
Missouri 47.4 46.5 4050 11
Indiana 47.4 47.0 3828 11
North Carolina 47.2 48.9 4564 15
Montana 44.8 48.7 2628 3
Georgia 45.6 50.0 3530 15
West Virginia 42.7 51.0 3622 5
Others 175 137
RCP/Total 49.9 43.9 363 175

So who’s going to win then? The polls of course leave little room for doubt. However, there are a couple of items of conventional wisdom floating around which suggest they might not be telling the full story, one way or another.

The Bradley effect. A compelling paper by Dan Hopkins of Harvard University examines the popular notion that polls overrate the performance of black candidates in biracial contests due to white voters’ reluctance to appear illiberal when interrogated by pollsters. Hopkins finds the effect was a serious factor into the 1980s, most famously when black Democratic candidate Tom Bradley failed to win the Californian gubernatorial election in 1982, but has ceased to be so. Pew Research charts a corresponding decline in the number of respondents willing to admit they would not vote for a black candidate, from 16 per cent in 1984 to 6 per cent. Hopkins notes a very sudden decline in the Bradley effect (he prefers the “Wilder effect”, after Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder) “at about the time that welfare reform silenced one critical, racialized issue”.

The reverse Bradley effect. Strictly speaking, a “reverse Bradley effect” would involve voters telling pollsters they were voting for McCain or were undecided when they were in fact set on Obama, which is plainly not on the cards. Far more likely is that turnout of black voters is being underestimated in pollsters’ determinations of “likely voters”, which in many cases go on whether they voted last time rather than what they say they will do this time. Whatever methods are being used to account for the certainty of higher black turnout, I’m pretty confident they are overly conservative. When a pollster is required to explain inaccuracy after the event, “I was going on past experience” makes for a more professional sounding excuse than “I made a wrong guess”. I haven’t studied this systematically, but the one example I have looked at has proved to be an eyebrow-raiser: the most recent SurveyUSA poll of Pennsylvania has 10 per cent of black voters among its overall sample, whereas this paper from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies tells us it was 13 per cent in 2004. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight provides support for this and related impressions in taking to task pollsters who have gaps of 4 to 6 per cent between results for “registered” and “likely” voters.

The late Republican surge. I recently heard it said that Republican candidates tend to come home strong in the last week or two of campaigning. Remembering how much of Bill Clinton’s lead vanished shortly before the 1992 election, I thought this sounded plausible and went burrowing through the archives for evidence. The following chart plots the last 15 days of polling at presidential elections from 1992 onwards, day 15 being the election result. I have used composites of polling obtained from Real Clear Politics for 2000 and 2004; Gallup tracking polls for 1996; and a list of various pollsters’ results I found in the New York Times for 1992.

The case of 1996 stands out, but this might well point to a general inaccuracy in the Gallup series I was using rather than a late surge to Bob Dole (unfortunately I could only locate one poll from the final week). Beyond that, the chart provides pretty thin gruel if you’re in the market for a McCain comeback in the last 10 days. The 1992 Bush recovery was less dramatic than I remembered it once I removed Gallup from the equation, which exasperatingly shifted from “registered” to “likely” voters in the final week, eliminating much of Bill Clinton’s lead at a stroke. If anything the trends from 2000 and 2004 point the other way.

Front-runner decline. The aforementioned paper on the Wilder/Bradley effect by Dan Hopkins informs us that polls “typically overstate support for front-runners”, which is demonstrated in the scatter plots under “Figure 3” (see right at the back). These suggest a candidate like McCain who is on about 42 per cent is probably being underestimated by as much as 2 per cent, while a candidate like Obama on 50 per cent is probably being represented accurately – unless he’s black, in which case he will suffer a Bradley effect of a bit over 1 per cent.

Advertising. The Washington Post informs us that the cashed-up Obama campaign is fielding “as many as seven commercials for every one aired by Republican Sen. John McCain”.

My guess is that point one will be comfortably countered by point two; point three is worth little if anything; point four might help McCain close the gap by 2 per cent, but some of this gloss should be taken off after accounting for point five. In sum, there seems little reason not to take the polls more-or-less at face value. That being so, my final prediction is that Obama will win every state where my polling aggregates currently have him ahead except North Dakota, where the result is derived from two small sample polls, one from an agency of little repute. The margin in Florida is narrow enough that front-runner decline might be expected to account for it, but I find it hard to believe Obama would fail to carry so marginal a state when he’s up by eight points nationally. That makes it 375 electoral votes for Obama and 163 for McCain.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

1,057 comments on “Presidential election minus 10 days”

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  1. It’s no longer a question of an Obama/Democrat win, it’s now a question of how much of a Democrat landslide it will be in the US congress. Obama, and a Democrat majority in both houses. Can’t wait!

  2. William, I’m taking liberty to put your 375 into my list of EV guesses. I can see you have Missouri a win. Can you please tell me what state you think will put him over the top in vote counts? I also said 375 but I’m basing my guesses on the RCP map so might change mine between now and the election 😉

  3. more details have leaked out on Obama’s grandma healthwise. count on the media to dig it up even if the Obama camp won’t confirm or deny officially …

    Family friends say Mrs Dunham is suffering from cancer, among other ailments, but Obama advisers, told by the senator not to release any details of her condition, declined to confirm or deny those reports.

    She is known, however, to suffer from osteoporosis and poor eyesight.

  4. [
    Former Bush Press Secretary Voting for Obama — Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary who sharply criticized President Bush in his memoir last spring, told CNN Thursday he’s voting for Barack Obama.

  5. Well certainly one would have to admit it is far more likely, going by the polls, that Obama will win. It’s hard to conceive of a situation that doesn’t involve arbitrarily dismissing the polls where he won’t.

  6. RCP explaining today how their particular polls are figured …

    October 24, 2008
    A Note on the Polls
    I’ve received several emails from people asking about the polls. The national polls do seem pretty variable, so I thought I would toss in my two cents on them.

    First, we need a short primer on basic statistics. Real Clear Politics offers an unweighted average, or mean, of the polls. As long as there is more than one poll in the average, we can also calculate the standard deviation, which is one of the most important concepts in inferential statistics. The standard deviation simply tells us how much the polls are disagreeing with one another.

  7. It looks very good now for Obama, and the trend in the national average is definitely going his way. Rasmussen’s latest release says 48% are now certain to vote for O, 40% for M, and a national O lead of 52-44. His party weighting for next week has the Dems up 40.0-32.8; this has been trending Dem since the financial meltdown.

  8. [It’s hard to conceive of a situation that doesn’t involve arbitrarily dismissing the polls where he won’t.]
    Glen should be here to do just that very soon.

  9. ShowsOn

    I agree about Mike Moore and Errol Morris. They make very different films but I really enjoy them both.

    Bowling for Columbine was excellent as was Roger and Me. I was one of the few people in Oz who watched The Awful Truth when it first came out. MM really just uses any device to make a point. I don’t watch them for the truth.

    Errol Morris is in a completely different category. I haven’t seen SOP yet, but he made the best doco I’ve ever seen called The Thin Blue Line (set to beautiful Philip Glass music). Mr Death (about a Holocaust denier who built electric chairs!) and Fog of War were superb too. I haven’t seen his “best” one which is almost impossible to find. It’s called “Gates of Heaven” and is about pet cemetaries.

    Werner Herzog is brilliant too. Check out “Grizzly Man”.

  10. Apologies for somethign of a double post, but for those wondering if the money markets will turn around and McCain make a “narrowing” there are good reasons to believe the answer will be “No”.

    First it seems the bank bailout package is not being used very well:

    Second, it may not be enough! ($2 trillion not $700 billion needed)

  11. Arizona is getting tighter – could it be a mighty upset win to Obama on November 4?

    MCCAIN 44
    OBAMA 40
    (just posted on Daily Kos)

  12. I never realised till just a while ago that Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the US was the “first” Republican President.

    He had a pretty tough gig. If Obama gets in, he will be looking at a pretty tough time of it too.

  13. We’ll never know, but it’s interesting to wonder what the result of this election might have been without the economic melt down.

    The Repubs probably would have been able to fight it on who would make the best Commander-in-Chief. It would certainly have been a lot closer..

  14. Darn

    Obama would probably have won. Don’t forget we still had Palin to help us over the line.

    What is more interesting to think is how Obama vs Hillary (running as an Independent) vs McCain would have gone.

  15. Oh dear, Insiders is so lame. Barry Cassidy doesn’t even realise that Obama doesn’t even NEED Ohio and Florida at this stage to still win. Andrew Bolt doesn’t know Obama’s age, or anything else.

    Oh, and next week they are going to have Dolly Downer on to talk about U.S. politics! LOL 😀

  16. [Errol Morris is in a completely different category. I haven’t seen SOP yet, but he made the best doco I’ve ever seen called The Thin Blue Line (set to beautiful Philip Glass music). Mr Death (about a Holocaust denier who built electric chairs!) and Fog of War were superb too. I haven’t seen his “best” one which is almost impossible to find. It’s called “Gates of Heaven” and is about pet cemetaries.]

    Morris is just brilliant. You can get Gates of Heaven in this set, along with The Thin Blue Line, and a film called Vernon, Florida about various eccentrics who like collecting things:

    Gates of Heaven starts out about a pet cemetery that fails, so all the pets have to be dug up and moved to a new cemetery. But as with most of Morris’ films, it isn’t SIMPLY about the superficial topic. It is more about what it means to be alive, and to see something die.

  17. William Bowe, many thanks for the elegant and cogent analysis.

    I’ve been checking out the trendlines for the battleground states at (Strong Obama 255 EV as of today).

    For the 5 “Lean Obama” states worth 51 EV, all of these battlegrounders have trendlines widening in Obama’s favour over at least the past month (even Ohio). Can you tell us whether the trendlines are a weighted aggregate (ala Sam Wang @ Princeton) or are the polling numbers integrated with demographic and other detailed state variables (Nate Silver @ fivethirtyeight)?

  18. I disagree with William about the reverse Bradley effect. I’ve heard it suggested from more than a few quarters that what he describes as “plainly not on the cards” could well not only offset the actual Bradley effect, but potentially go a bit further: i.e. voters in traditionally Red states who don’t want to publicly admit that they’re voting for a liberal candidate. Remember that we haven’t seen some of these states in play in forty years – it’s not unreasonable to assume that there’s going to be stigma attached to voting for the Democrat for president.

    Diogenes: It’s a pretty stupid scenario. On one hand, she could assume the mantle of Ted Kennedy in the Senate and set herself up for a second run in 2012 if Obama lost, or potentially in 2016 anyway. Or, on the other, she could hand the presidency to McCain and become a total pariah with much of the Democratic base. Was never going to happen outside of Fantasyland.

  19. [Oh dear, Insiders is so lame.]

    ShowOn I only caught the end bit on the US elections – did I really here them sounding as though MCain has a chance because things are “tightening” in Florida??

    Do theese guys even bother to check the RCP no-toss up count??

    And Downer? Geez Barrie. C’mon try harder!!!

  20. Jliem! That is an Interesting list of newspaper endorsements!

    Do people take note of the newspaper endorsements or is it like here more a conversation piece?

  21. [ShowOn I only caught the end bit on the US elections – did I really here them sounding as though MCain has a chance because things are “tightening” in Florida??]
    Yes! That was their argument. They didn’t mention Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia, or the fact Obama is ahead by about 10 in Pennsylvania which McCain MUST win to have any chance at all.

    It was so superficial that they may as well just stick to Australian politics.

  22. Obama bringing out african americans and other demographics in record numbers will more than negate any ‘support a black man until i have to vote for him’ attitude.

  23. Scorpio @ 14

    “I never realised till just a while ago that Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the US was the “first” Republican President.”

    Even more remarkable… because it was Lincoln who emancipated the slaves, Southern blacks once tended to vote Republican. To be more specific: those Southern blacks that were actually permitted to vote (i.e., didn’t get lynched on the way to the voting booth). Between the Civil War and the emergence of the post-WW2 civil rights movement it was the southern Democrats who favored segregation. It caused a split in the Democratic party: the southern Democrats morphed into Dixiecrats, and then went on to became Republicans. As a result, the former Confederate states (the “South”) were flipped from the Dems to the GOP in the space of a generation. It’s good to see some Southern states drifting back to the Dems (Virginia, N.Carolina), courtesy of an influx of accursed Yankees into these states.

    The holy grail of the Democrat party is to one day win Texas. The steady rate of immigration from Mexico will help. The thousands of black Louisianans who moved to Texas after Hurricane Katrina won’t hurt either. But it’ll still be a long time before Texas will be a contest.

  24. INSIDERS has degenerated into a weekly Rudd bashing fest, and it’s patently obvious that hack Barry Cassidy and his U.S correspondent are on McCain’s payroll!

  25. mexicanbeemer @ 24,

    people CAN be swayed by it IF they are undecided. the numbers of people that might be swayed by it are probably neglible in the grand scheme of things. more often, you will find the editorial will cause cancellations of newspaper subscriptions from subscribers of the other persuasion.

    bottom line – group 2 is more than group 1 in most cases. so the only place where you will see an editorial having a substantive effect (and that being against the newspaper) will be in those large cities where a newspaper goes “against the prevailing grain” in their endorsement. for example, papers that endorsed bush in 04 and obama this year might lose their bush suscribers 😉 ……

  26. Why do we even talk about the “Bradley effect” as though it’s some kind of scientific phenomenon?

    A pollster got it wrong and instead of accepting it and moving on he decided to come up with a crackpot theory that was promptly proven wrong at the next election.

  27. Clinton will be 69 in 2016 – a man might get away with a POTUS run at that age but not a woman – too many asshats will be thinking of the “old crone” stereotype

  28. [A heartwarming tale of how Team McCain and Team Palin have learned to HATE EACH OTHER GUTS]
    I think Politico summed it up best, they are making a circular firing squad.

  29. The Republican right will now develop a mythology that the election was lost because the weak centrsist McCain did not campaign hard enough on the right’s favourite issues, and that if he had listened to Palin and the Repub base the election could have been saved. This mythology will serve Palin well as she becomes the stanard-bearer of the Repub right over the next four years, just as Goldwater did after 1960 and Reagan did after 1976. Unless the scandal in Alaska turns very toxic, and given the long-established royalist tendency of the Repub primary electorate (they always vote for the heir apparent, never for the challenger), she will be hard to stop as the Repub nominee in 2012, by which time she will have been able to do enough homework to pass as a credible candidate. Whether she she then becomes the Goldwater of 1964 or the Reagan of 1980 depends of course on how well the Obama presidency goes. Given the state of the world, it’s possible to see a scenario in which she could win.

  30. If a second rate actor could become California governor and then president, then a fourth rate Republican governor could become the candidate in 2012. Reagonomics wrecked the Soviet Union and its legacy is now doing the same to the U.S.: the never ending debt-funded arms race.

  31. I can’t see the Repugs drinking the Kool-Aid on Palin. Failed VP candidates never go anywhere (FDR was the only one to become POTUS). The Repugs have plenty of better right-wing politicians like Pawlenty, Jindal etc to unite behind. Palin has been an embarrassment this campaign and the independents hate her. She has Bush-like disapproval ratings. She’s an electoral dud. Too many Repugs have come out against her (Noonan, Brooks etc) for her to be able to unite the Party.

  32. Story about how many at the UN are viewing this years election …

    One U.N. official threw a party over the summer and asked guests to place stickers of either an elephant or a donkey on the front door to show their political preference. At the end of the night, the door was covered with about 30 donkeys and two elephants. “We found out that one of the Republicans was an American and the other couldn’t vote,” according to a U.N. official who attended. “So we convinced the American to vote for Obama.”

    “I have not heard a single person who will support McCain; if they do, they are in hiding,” said another U.N. Obama booster from an African country. “The majority of people here believe in multilateralism,” he said. “The Republicans were constantly questioning the relevance of the United Nations.”

  33. Oh dear …… trouble brewing in the Palin household 😉 …..

    [Palin’s husband reportedly plenty steamed about supporters all hot and bothered over the candidate

    October 24, 2008

    BY BILL ZWECKER Chicago Sun-Times Columnist

    Sarah Palin’s appearance — and now her $150,000 wardrobe — have certainly caused a lot of buzz in the 2008 race for the White House.

    Apparently, the Alaska governor is greatly amused by the funny Web sites (with the exception of the X-rated ones) and loves seeing all the Joe the Plumber-type supporters at rallies sporting various versions of ”Sarah Palin is HOT!” T-shirts.

    Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin gives a thumbs up sign to a supporter during a rally Wednesday in Ohio.

    While the GOP veepster nominee thinks it’s all harmless, a source high up in the McCain campaign tells me that’s not the case as far as her husband and father are concerned.

    ”Todd [Palin] is increasingly irritated by it all. He’s a very possessive guy and totally old-fashioned and traditional when it comes to his relationship with his wife, whom he adores,” said my source in John McCain-Palin campaign.

    ”At a rally in Pennsylvania the other day, he left the stage right before Sarah’s speech — ostensibly to deal with an issue regarding their baby,” said the source. ”But actually, he was P.O.’ed about a couple of T-shirts and signs he saw in the crowd.”

    Reportedly, Alaska’s ”First Dude” told a campaign aide, ”She’s running for vice president of the United States. … Even though these guys are in our corner, don’t they see this belittles her?”

    • • As for Gov. Palin’s father, Chuck Heath, his displeasure about the racy T-shirts was nothing compared to his reaction when someone made the mistake of showing Heath one of the sexy videos (featuring a faux Palin) on YouTube.

    ”He hit the roof,” said my source. ”And frankly, you can’t blame him. After all, this is his little girl — no matter what.”]

  34. Well its nice to think that there is more than just the count on the day to look forward too – there will be the bitter recriminations afterwards as well, between a bunch of thoroughly selfish and cynical individuals in the republican machine. Should be a hoot. 🙂

    Two questions:
    Does anyone know if the US election is being broadcast live here?
    Dio, happy to meet in town for lunch on election day.

  35. It is likely that the current movement by governments to shore up financial markets will lead to another round of over inflated capital leading us back to where we are in less than 8 years. If Obama becomes president and gets a second term I wonder how people will respond to him if that happens? This is not a statement just a question.

  36. [Whether she she then becomes the Goldwater of 1964 or the Reagan of 1980 depends of course on how well the Obama presidency goes. Given the state of the world, it’s possible to see a scenario in which she could win.]
    I doubt it. She is an extremist, Obama will govern from the centre, which will just make her look even more like a wacko.
    [If a second rate actor could become California governor and then president, then a fourth rate Republican governor could become the candidate in 2012. Reagonomics wrecked the Soviet Union and its legacy is now doing the same to the U.S.: the never ending debt-funded arms race.]
    Well first the constitution would have to be altered so that non-natural born citizens can become president. Somehow I don’t think a Democrat controlled congress will be very interested in passing such a constitutional amendment if Ahnold, looks like a credible candidate.

  37. I know its already been mentioned, but its so lol that it deserves another mention

    Bitter infighting over Palin in McCain campaign: report –

    …The website cited four Republicans close to Palin as saying she had grown frustrated by advice given to her by campaign handlers, whom supporters blame for a series of public relations gaffes.

    The report said Palin was now increasingly willing to disregard orders from advisors, suggesting the Republican running mate was in the initial stages of forging her own identity for a future tilt at the White House.

    “She’s lost confidence in most of the people on the plane,” said a senior Republican quoted by Politico, adding that Palin had already begun to “go rogue” in some of her public pronouncements on the campaign trail.

    The Alaska Governor’s supporters accused McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt and senior aide Nicole Wallace of already attempting to blame Palin for the failure of the campaign.

    “These people are going to try and shred her after the campaign to divert blame from themselves,” a McCain insider was quote by Politico as saying…

  38. [Bob Carr’s slant on the election campaign to date.]
    That would’ve been an insightful article if it was published a month ago.

  39. [He’s referring to Reagan, not Arnie.]
    [then a fourth rate Republican governor could become the candidate in 2012]
    LOL! I read the above sentence as “fourth rate actor”, which I assumed meant Schwarzenegger!

  40. Socrates @ 41,

    Definetly on CNN … beyond that, I understand SBS are doing a multi hour special although they won’t be on live from beginning to end. Don’t know the time for their special, perhaps the SBS website might give an answer? I also recall someone saying that ABC would have a bit as well although I don’t think that they are on live like CNN will be. Suspect if you want wire to wire coverage, you best use CNN ….

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