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. [
    Between the plumber heralding an Obama victory as “the death of Israel,” and the twit of a talk show hostess prattling on about the evils of Socialism, the Straight Talk Express has morphed into some sort of GOP clown car, with one geek after another piling out of it. ………….. And who’s the ringmaster? Johnny Mac, my friends. A guy so lost he couldn’t find his ass if Pennsylvania’s 23 electoral votes were hiding in it. A guy so desperate for a message, he’s been reduced to sticking his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing.

  2. Found on the net – reasons why one registered Republican is voting for Obama. If this is at all indicative of votes next Tuesday, the landslide folks could come just as much from heavy black turnout as Republican turncoats ….

    I’m a registered Republican who is voting for Barack Obama.

    I’ve been leaning this way for a while but my choice was cemented after the debates and Senator McCain’s air quotes about “health of the mother”. That cement fully hardened this week after hearing from Governor Palin that love of country is determined by place of residency.

    When did my party decide that all of this was okay? When did we decide that the health of half of our citizenry was deserving of such rancor? When did we decide that your zip code was an indicator of your moral code? When did achieving an Ivy League education on scholarships become something to be derided?

    My nephew wants to study archeology at Yale and has the grades to do so. Should I warn him that according to current Republican mantras, his ambition could make him too elite? Should I tell my own children to aim low because raising the bar makes you anti-American?

    According to my party, I should. According to my conscience, I will not.

    November 4th– Obama/Biden.

  3. Today’s Fox Poll internals reveal that they changed their Registrated Voters sample from plus 7% of Dems in previous poll (which reflects the actual Dem. national Reg. Voters % lead over Repubs) to only plus 1% of Dems in this poll, so it’s good news for Obama supporters that he only went down 2%.

    As I don’t want William to SNIP my comment, I will make no speculation as to why the Fox pollster would make such a significant change in RV in the final few days before the election. Others, however, might.

    Fox or no Fox, I’m sticking to my assumption that Obama’s final percentage lead will turn out to be the same as Rudd’s over Howard at approximately 5.5% with 313 EV and No win in MO.

  4. ShowsON, Thanks for that link. It’s a hoot.

    Re: Fox Poll Internals for October polls. The first Oct poll also reflected the national Dem % lead in Registered voters. Here’s the numbers from and the link to the Fox Poll pdf.

    28-29 Oct. RV: 40Democratic 39Republican 17 Independent

    20-21 Oct. RV: 43D 36R 16 Indy

    08-09 Oct. RV: 41D 34R 21 Indy

  5. Well two good bts of (real) news for Obama today:

    First his 30 minute infomercial was widely viewed:

    Second the full majesty of the Bush legacy is confirmed, with official figures showing the US is now in a sharp recession, as I had predicted since January. I think it was only reporting of dubious Wall Street “profit” results that prevented this being the case six months ago:

    Even worse than Rudd, Obama is going to face a tough challenge in office. On the plus side, it will almost force him to set a new direction. The case for maintaining current policies is indefensible.

  6. Here’s the classic case in point why we should pay little respect to some national polls. It’s from Nate Silver at

    “Anatomy of a Polling Disaster

    Carl Bialik of the Wall Street Journal has the scoop on the bizarre internals in that IBD/TIPP poll, which as we noted last week, found John McCain as having a substantial lead among young voters. I speculated that this result could only be possible if IBD/TIPP were radically undersampling young voters, and indeed that seems to have been the case:

    Raghavan Mayur, president of TechnoMetrica, told me he was equally surprised by the results, saying the widespread perception that Obama is leading by a large margin in that group “is my perception, too.” He blamed the result on a small sample size. Each daily tracking poll includes about 1,000 interviews spread over the prior five days; each day a new set of survey respondents is added and the oldest set is discarded.

    Ideally, Mayur would like to have 75 of all those respondents fall into the youngest age range. Some pollsters would have preferred more; this age group makes up 13% of the adult population, though its voting rate historically has been lower than average. His sample fell far short even of his lower goal, typically including just 25 to 30 respondents from age 18 to 24 — meaning just five or six new interviews with these young voters were being conducted each day. “We are not able to get to speak to as many as we would like to in that group,” he said.”


    Now, maybe after the election, the Fox pollster will provide a “Fair and Balanced” explanation of why the % of Democratic Party Registered Voters was 7% lower in its last poll. Maybe they just were “not able to get to speak to as many as we would like to in that group.”

  7. For any RealClearPolitics devotees, which I am not.

    RCP still includes IBD/TIPP’s daily tracking polls, which I discussed in comment #1013.

    RCP’s current Obama lead in their aggregate of daily tracking polls is 6.2% (up 0.2), whereas today’s IBD/TIPP lead for Obama is 4% (up 1).

    Link? No way, Jose!

  8. JJ, I am not as strong a devotee of RCP’s website overall as I am of some others, HuffPost comes to mind, BUT …… I’m using the RCP no swing states map as my EV guide marker ….. so I will give them at least that much …..

    I regularly find 5 or 6 articles from HP for each good one that I find on RCP ….

  9. A thought about the Fox poll – do they say its for Fox? I was jokingly wondering if most young people wouldn’t want to talk to Fox news in the first place. Then it occurred to me that that might actually be a problem for them – reluctance for young peopel to respond to them. Obviously the Dem/rep balance is a straight case of bias.

  10. Julies @ 1016

    Agree with you that RCP can offer a few different articles not found at or, and RCP’s EV estimate has agreed with Prof. Wang’s meta-analysis for the past three weeks at 364 to 375.

    Socrates @ 1018 FoxNews connected to anything remotely in the realm of “bias”?

    To quote Capt. Renault in “Casablanca”: I’m shocked, shocked to find that is going on!”

  11. [To quote Capt. Renault in “Casablanca”: I’m shocked, shocked to find that is going on!”]
    LOL! That part always cracks me up.

  12. I’ll give FoxNews some luv by offering the following from one of their major program presenters, Neil Cavuto, today on the two candidates economic plans:

    “But I’ve come to see a consistent pattern in Obama’s.

    For the life of me, Senator Straight Talk, I see no such straight thing with yours.

    Obama argues big government and spells out why we need it…accept it or reject it.

    You rail against big government, yet continue to push cockamamie spending plans that make a mockery of it.

    That’s why you’re losing right now, Senator McCain.

    Not because you don’t have the courage of your convictions.

    But because on economic matters you apparently don’t have convictions, period.
    People also read…”

    Crikey, you’d think this was a Keith Olbermann Campaign Comment!

  13. Thinking back to the Australian result and how the right wing noise machine reacted, it will be amusing to see how Fox and some of the conservative columnists report the result if it is as predicted.

    Reminds me Juliem – ex-PM Howard lost his seat here; does that portend for McCain in Arizona? Phoenix is hurting from the housing crisis just as badly as everywhere else. So would a lot of those retirees who have seen their retirement plans dwindle.

  14. Socrates, I haven’t seen anything yet that makes me sure that McCain will lose Arizona. I’ve seen things that make me hope he will lose it but nothing that really locks it in imho …… However, the next time that his Senate seat is up, WATCH OUT 😉 ……

  15. Martin B @ 1032

    “Surely it’s hard to see McCain standing for Senate relection in 2010 if (after) he loses this election.”

    I think he’ll stay in the Senate, for many years to come. Kerry did. Life goes on, and there’s no reason why McCain would want to hang up his senatorial boots if/when he loses the presidential election.

  16. Senator Robert Byrd is 90, and has served in the Senate since 1959. He was last re-elected in 2006. Although not in the best of health, I can see him running again in 2012. It will guarantee the Democrats holding his WV senate seat.

    Congress is stacked with failed presidential aspirants (although most don’t survive the primaries, like Hillary Clinton). McCain would just be one more.

  17. Over the past few days I’ve got some emails and messages from mates who support McCain, all saying how they can feel the tightening, and that McCain is going to win Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia, and take the election.

    I politely respond that he may well do, but Obama only needs the measly New Mexico, Iowa and Colorado to put him over the line, no matter what else McCain wins. Funny stuff.

  18. [Strom Thurmond ran a successful Senate re-election campaign at the age of 93 and retired from the Senate at the age of 100.]

    Of course there are older Senators, but with the ‘caginess’ surrounding McCain’s health records, I think he will be either dead or out of action within the next 5 years.

  19. [Of course there are older Senators, but with the ‘caginess’ surrounding McCain’s health records, I think he will be either dead or out of action within the next 5 years.]
    Not winning the presidency would probably help his longevity.

  20. [If his cancer returns it won’t make a difference]
    Hasn’t he had four melanomas?
    [“If the election came down to YouTube viewers…”]
    In the current climate Fox would consider this a desirable electoral form.

  21. Injuddstree, I don’t see what’s so bad about what Fox are saying. It’s true; go to Youtube, check out the News and Politics and sort by Most Viewed – All Time. The one they refer to (Dear Mr. Obama) is the most viewed. Not everything Fox say or do is rubbish.

  22. The Republicans certainly don’t mind climbing into the sewer to try and win an election do they?

    First thay had Obama tabbed as a terrorist. Now he is supposedly anti-semetic.

    What next? Accusations that he is a pedophile or a serial killer?

    If ever a mob deserved a thorough political hiding it is this bunch of despicable liars – and as for McCain’s reputation for being decent, forget it. If he has any decency at all, he should be ashamed to look at himself in the mirror after associating himself with these gutter tactics. .. .

  23. [The Republicans certainly don’t mind climbing into the sewer to try and win an election do they? ]
    I think John Stewart has a good take on it. If Obama REALLY is a socialist, and he wins the Presidency, does that mean he has a mandate to implement socialism?

  24. “Not everything Fox say or do is rubbish.”

    Before the global warming denial campaign you coudl at least believe Fox’s weather reports. And they wouldn’t dare alter the sport scores. But the rest?

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