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. [Will CNN, MSNBC etc have a stream of their TV coverage?]
    They did in 2004. I watched the CNN stream for a few hours. I woke up and read the main story on which predicted Kerry would win based on some dodgy exit polls, but as the coverage went on it was obvious that Kerry had lost Florida, which made it really hard.
    [Actually he was referring to Palin.]
    I thought she is 128th rate?

  2. [Obama lead drops to +5 according to today’s Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll.]
    I think Zobby is screwed. The article says that the Zogby tracker has gone from +12 to +5 since Thursday. I just don’t think there are such wild fluctuations actually occurring. I think there is something wrong with the poll.

  3. from MSNBC website …..
    *** UPDATE *** Some numbers from an Obama campaign release on what its doing in Ohio:

    340,846 — Number of doors knocked this weekend
    483,473 — Number of doors knocked last week
    1,098,777 — Total number of doors knocked in October
    394,335 — Phone calls placed to fellow Ohioans by volunteers across the state
    1,224,684 — Total calls made this month
    38 — Farthest distance, in miles, that any Ohioan lives from a Campaign for Change office

  4. [The joke could be on the Obama supporters!]
    If Obama wins by 5% on election day he will win by 100 – 150 electoral votes.

  5. [*** UPDATE *** Some numbers from an Obama campaign release on what its doing in Ohio:]
    I wonder why they release these stats? Is it to scare Republicans into not bothering to vote?

  6. [Showson, tell us something we don’t know or at least an interesting insight.]
    I found something for you GG!
    [The reason the Republicans found Joe the Plumber was to find someone hanging around a toilet other than Larry Craig.]
    – James Carville

    Feel free to reply with anything as interesting, insightful and / or entertaining as that.

  7. Interesting that Showson starts posting corroboration now after being brought to book for his prescient contributions to the human communication device known as PB!

    See 42 for my contribution to the discussion.

    My behaviour is, as always, above…… Oh, is that the time?

  8. [Interesting that Showson starts posting corroboration now after being brought to book for his prescient contributions to the human communication device known as PB!]
    LOL! 😀 WTF!? You’re morphing into Ron – MOVE AWAY FROM THE LIGHT!
    [See 42 for my contribution to the discussion.]
    I replied to that post. I thought the article was kind of lame because it provided analysis that was a few weeks out of date.

  9. [Writing off Bob Carr’s contribution says more about you than anything else.]
    The fact you keep going on and on and on about a silly article says more about you.

    Why should I trust an article that contains factual errors? Like this:
    [Except that whites in the South stopped voting Democrat in 1968 in protest at Lyndon Johnson giving votes to blacks and the Democratic party desegregating.]
    The 1964 election featured the transition of the deep south to voting Republican. This map proves it:
    [Myers research poll of Arizona (McCains home state) showing him with only a 4 point lead…]
    I think McCain will win there comfortably, even though the local G.O.P. is a mess.

  10. [“It’s like Robin getting mad at Batman,” Obama says of McCain’s recent efforts to distance himself from Bush.]
    I think this was pretty telling:
    [A fire marshall puts the crowd at at least 45,000, many times that at McCain’s roughly 1,000-person event a couple of miles away this morning.]

    McCain can only get 1000 people to an event a week and a half out from the election!?

  11. ShowsOn

    Those 1,000 were just the political vultures circling the dying body waiting for it to officially become a carcass. 😉


    Thanks for the Princess Coup tip in the Cox Plate. Big help that was!

  12. Pox News currently screening on Hannity’s America a program entitled History of Radicalism and alternately entitled Obama and Friends. It deals with Bill Ayers and his deeds and of course his connection to Obama. Seems they will go to any length to keep Obama out of the White House.

  13. Narrowing schmarrowing. Newspoll and the rest had Labor 55-60% of the 2PP during Rudd’s time as opposition leader, and during the election campaign, what happened? THE NARROWING! Oh noes! Galaxy and Newspoll had Labor at 52%, Roy Morgan 53.5%, and ACNielsen at (lol) 57%.

    It was to be expected, but won’t change a thing. Welcome Barack Hussein Obama, the next President of the United States!

  14. [Thanks for the Princess Coup tip in the Cox Plate. Big help that was!]
    He thought you wanted to know who was definitely going to lose.

  15. enjaybee

    Fox News VP has already called it for Obama. When the “Cut-Nut” McCain supporter said she was attacked and “mutilated” by an Obama supporter, he said;

    [“If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain’s quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting.” ]

    As it was a hoax, I have joined 4000 others on Mr Moodys blog asking him to confirm that McCain quest for the presidency is over and will forever be linked to race-baiting.

  16. ShowsOn, that is a joke, glad that the judge threw it out 😉 …. America has a law, as do most countries (including Australia), that if a baby is born of one or both American parents, it has US citizenship ….. My children were both born in Michigan, USA {different cities} and they are citizens of two countries because mum (myself) is American and dad is Australian.

    What a loser ….. the Republicans will try anything 😉 …..

  17. [That article was from yesterday. How did you miss the huge bold font on the right?]

    I stand corrected… was just going off the RCP link

  18. [
    Are we headed for another 200+ vote swing in the Electoral College?

    Here are the five most recent Electoral College vote spikes. The 1976 spike came after Watergate; the 1992 spike came after the horrible recession.

    Winning Party Year Improved Margin New total-previous total

    Republican 2000 112 271-159
    Democratic 1992 259 370-111
    Republican 1980 249 489-240
    Democratic 1976 280 297-17
    Republican 1968 249 301-52

  19. [Diogenes @ 88. Well at least Hannity is still in there doing his damdest for the GOP.]
    Maybe he is planning his tilt for the Republican primary in 2012? He could get support by forming a coalition between the douche bag and blow hard factions.

  20. I am so saddened that William has allowed posts like 85 to stand. I never thought there would be the day that personal denigration would be permitted to stand on such a fine, free wheeling blog as this.

  21. [I am so saddened that William has allowed posts like 85 to stand. I never thought there would be the day that personal denigration would be permitted to stand on such a fine, free wheeling blog as this.]
    Oh dear, if anything I was making a lighthearted dig at Diogenes for trusting your advice! If you’re going to keep making fun of Obama supporters until election day you’ll need to toughen up a bit.

  22. GG

    I actually backed Zipping. How they let Maldivian dictate like that… That’s every Cox Plate since Octagonal I’ve got wrong. I’ll stay with him in the Melbourne Cup. I haven’t tipped a Melbourne Cup since Might and Power.

  23. Oh Showson,

    Making fun of Obama supporters is a career opportunity that has not been missed. Six months of adoring adulation followed by a life time of jokes at your expense.

    Apparently, you are not allowed to hear that you don’t add much value to the conversation being a cut and snip expert as you are. I always thought you were tougher than that. I bow to William’s judgement of character.

    For some reason William thinks I cause him angst.

  24. Diogenes,

    Right on the money. The trainer said he did what all good trainers of Zabeel sired galoppers do. Put them over the sticks for a freshener and put blinkers on. Did the trick.

    A worthy winner.

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