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Four national polls were released yesterday, by Gallup, Rasmussen, IBD, and Ipsos. The results were Romney by 4, Romney by 3, Obama by 1 and Obama by 3, respectively. The arithmetic average puts Romney ahead by 0.75%, a statistical tie. If we exclude Rasmussen (see story below), it is dead even.
The popular vote polls are all well and good, but in the end, don't matter. In reality, only 538 people get to vote for President--the presidential electors. As we have been pointing out since June 4th, if Obama wins the states the Democrats have won five times in a row, which seems quite likely, he has a base of 242 electoral votes. He also seems likely to win Nevada and New Mexico, bringing him to 253. How might he get the remaining 17? The scenarios are below. The swing states being fought over and the EVs are: Florida (29), Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), Colorado (9), Iowa (6), and New Hampshire (4).
|North Carolina + any other swing state||≥ 272|
|Virginia + any other swing state||≥ 272|
|Colorado + Iowa + New Hampshire||272|
Romney's job is to make sure that none of these scenarios hold. This means he must win Florida and Ohio and probably North Carolina. He can lose Virginia, provided that he wins every other swing state. But even if he wins Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio, he is still not home free. Even under these circumstances, he needs to win one of Colorado, Iowa, or New Hampshire. Of course, if he manages to win one of the normally blue states, like Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, he gets other routes to 270, but these seem unlikely.
It's not the usual story of two guys chasing a girl. It's more a girl chasing two guys. Politicians don't like uncertainty and Hurricane Sandy is injecting quite a bit of it into the campaign right now. Here are some of the factors, but which ones will weigh the most is hard to say. In any event, Sandy is certainly going to cause disruptions in North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, and probably Ohio.
- Rallies in some states have been canceled
- The news is going to all storm all the time, drowning out the candidates
- Obama will have to curtail campaigning and deal with the storm, which could help or hurt him
- If bad conditions persist, turnout before and on election day could be reduced
- Lower turnout means the early votes (which strongly favor Obama) will be a larger percentage of the total
- If poll workers are unable to get to the polls, some precincts may be closed or understaffed, leading to chaos
- Voting machines and optical scanners may be without power on election day
- If power is out on election day, people may have to vote by candlelight
The bottom line is that no one really knows on who's side Sandy is. There are too many unknowns, starting with how badly hit North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Ohio are and whether power is lost in a lot of places. Here is another take on the storm and the election.
If there were a color-coded alert scheme for election problems like the one George W. Bush instituted for terrorism, we would be way beyond red now, maybe into infrared or even millimeter waves. Both sides are seeing Floridas everywhere and are determined not to be caught flat footed, as in 2000. In Florida alone, the Obama campaign has 5000 lawyers suited up and ready to go out as poll watchers, to make sure no eligible voter is turned away. This is part of their Election Protection program. The Republicans have a similar operation in the works. Also, True the Vote is a conservative group that hopes to get a million volunteers to watch the polls and look for voter fraud. The slightest problem will get a hair-trigger response. Neither side is prepared to say where the lawyers are going to be stationed, but it is a safe bet that the Democratic lawyers will abound in South Florida, especially Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. Republican lawyers are likely to be spotted along the Gulf Coast and the panhandle. In Hillborough and Pinellas counties, which may determine who wins the state, lawyers from both sides will swarm on the ground like hungry locusts.
Ohio is another state where planeloads of lawyers will be flown in if the candidates are within a 1/4 of a percent of one another--the threshold for triggering an automatic recount. The counting of the provisional ballots on Nov. 17 may also cause it to rain lawyers. In the smaller states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, the forecast is for a more orderly process and fewer lawyers.
If the results are unclear in any state or recounts are needed, Romney's legal chief, Benjamin Ginsberg, and Obama's top lawyer, Robert Bauer, will run the operations. Both were involved in the Florida 2000 recount.
This year we may discover whether polling has any future or not. Response rates are at an all-time low. Only one in 10 people is willing to talk to a pollster, whereas it use to be one in three. Combine this with the rise of automated polling (used by Rasmussen, PPP, SurveyUSA, Purple Strategies, and others), and the widespread growth of cell-only households--which the robopollsters are forbiden from calling--and we could have a polling disaster this year. The expectation is that half of all households will be cell-only in 2016. Polls using live interviewers aren't cheap--$60,000 to $100,000 for a typical one with live interviewers--which explains the growth of the robopollsters, who can run a poll in a few hours for a fraction of this cost. It also explains the growth of small colleges in the polling business, because they have the key ingredient--cheap labor (also known as students)--in abundance. However, the small colleges that have suddenly jumped into the polling business this year may or may not have the expertise to normalize their samples for age, income, gender, race, etc. correctly.
One potential future for polling is the Internet, but getting a random sample is hard. Also, it will be harder to determine if the person responding is actually an eligible voter in Ohio, as the person claims to be. It will be interesting to see how well the pollsters did this year. We will know in a week or so.
With Congress polarized and paralyzed, whoever wins the presidential election is unlikely to get any major legislation through it. If the Democrats control the Senate and the Republicans control the House, anything that can pass one chamber is doomed in the other. One thing Presidents can generally get through, though, are Supreme Court appointments. Even senators not in the President's party are largely willing to accept his nominees, even if they don't like them, as long as they are competent beyond any doubt. Here is the current Court with the ages of the justices.
The unknown here is how many vacancies are likely to occur in the next four years. Unfortunately, the Court has become so political that justices' retirement plans depend almost entirely on who is in the White House. It is rumored that if Obama wins, Ruth Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer may call it quits. Obama would then replace them with younger versions of the retiring justices, but the balance on the Court would not change. If Romney wins, Anton Scalia and Anthony Kennedy might retire, safe in the knowledge that Romney would appoint very conservative replacements, to placate people on the right who don't trust him.
It is almost unthinkable that a Republican appointee would allow Obama to replace him and equally unlikely for a Democratic appointee to let Romney fill a vacancy. But sometimes other factors, like illness and death mess up the best laid plans of rodents and people. Justice Ginsburg has had colon cancer and pancreatic cancer and although she says she has been cured, her cancers could come back. If Romney got a chance to replace her, we would have a battle the likes of which D.C. has not seen in decades, complete with public relations campaigns, filibusters, and the whole nine yards. Likewise, if Obama got the opportunity to replace Scalia or Kennedy, both of whom appear to like their jobs and are young enough to wait another 4 years if they have to. Clarence Thomas shows little interest in his job and never even bothers to ask questions during oral arguments. But at 64, he is probably willing to put up with it for 4 more years to prevent Obama from changing the balance of the Court.
Palm Beach County, Florida, is where the famous "butterfly ballot" was used in 2000. The exotic design of the ballot probably caused thousands of people to vote for someone they didn't intend to vote for and most likely cost Al Gore the election. One would have hoped Palm Beach County would have learned its lesson. One would be wrong. This year, 35,000 absentee ballots were incorrectly printed and in such a way they cannot be read by the optical scanners. This has necessitated election workers manually transcribing the incoming ballots onto new ones that can be scanned. The possibilities for both errors and mischief are legion here. This again goes to show that having over 3000 separate election administrators in the country, many of them rank amateurs, is not a great idea.
It is important to realize that when people vote, they are really voting for presidential electors pledged to a particular candidate. These electors are actual human beings, with names, houses, families, jobs, and sometimes pets. On Dec. 17, they are supposed to vote for the candidate they are pledged to--and in some states, are required by law to do so. However, if an elector decides to vote for someone else, the electoral vote is still valid, although the elector could be prosecuted later for violating state law (although that has never happened). In an election where the candidates were separated by a handful of electoral votes, there would be enormous pressure on individual electors to switch. How does $10 million for your vote sound? No? OK, how about $20 million? You want it in gold bars? In the Cayman Islands? Just let us know. We aim to please.
In addition, there is a persistent rumor that some Romney electors are actually Ron Paul supporters and could conceivably vote for him. If Romney got 270 electoral votes and one elector deserted him, the election would be thrown into the House (where every state would get one vote). We would then probably have a Romney-Biden administration, with Romney having no way to stop Biden from attacking him every day.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) has proposed amending the Constitution to give the winner 29 extra electoral votes. The figure 29 seems arbitrary. Israel no doubt picked it because his state has 29 EVs and many of his constituents spend the winter in Florida, which also has 29 EVs. A reader made a much better suggestion. Give the winner of the popular vote one extra EV for each, say, 50,000 votes of margin. So if candidate A beats candidate B by 700,000 votes, he gets 14 extra electoral votes. That would cause candidates to campaign in Los Angeles, Dallas, Spokane, and a lot of other places they currently never visit because their states don't swing. Such a rule would make elections truly national, rather than being confined to at most a dozen states.
Last Thursday we gave an analysis of Rasmussen polls and presented data showing that Rasmussen has a bias of about 2 points compared to the other pollsters. Now Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University, has done a similar analysis with a different polling database and has also concluded that Rasmussen is biased, with his estimate being 3 points. With Rasmussen being the most prolific pollster, his prodigious output affects the widely cited Real Clear Politics averages as well as ours (although we also have a Rasmussen-free page, which RCP does not).
New Hampshire is back to being tied today even though the only poll there today shows Obama leading. The reason is that the poll from the University of New Hampshire that had him leading 51% to 42% is now outside the 1-week window used for averaging. As old polls time out, the results can change, even though this might seem counterintuitive at first.
|California||54%||40%||Oct 15||Oct 21||Los Angeles Times|
|Florida||49%||48%||Oct 26||Oct 28||PPP|
|Maryland||55%||36%||Oct 20||Oct 23||OpinionWorks|
|Minnesota||47%||44%||Oct 23||Oct 25||Mason Dixon|
|Nebraska||38%||52%||Oct 23||Oct 25||Wiese Research Assoc.|
|New Hampshire||49%||47%||Oct 26||Oct 28||PPP|
|New Mexico||50%||41%||Oct 23||Oct 25||Research and Polling|
|Ohio||51%||47%||Oct 26||Oct 28||PPP|
|Tennessee||34%||59%||Oct 16||Oct 21||Middle Tenn. State U.|
|State||Democrat||D %||Republican||R %||I||I %||Start||End||Pollster|
|Florida||Bill Nelson*||50%||Connie McGillicuddy||42%||Oct 26||Oct 28||PPP|
|Nebraska||Bob Kerrey||46%||Deb Fischer||49%||Oct 23||Oct 25||Wiese Research Assoc.|
|New Mexico||Martin Heinrich||50%||Heather Wilson||42%||Oct 23||Oct 25||Research and Polling|
|Ohio||Sherrod Brown*||53%||Josh Mandel||42%||Oct 26||Oct 28||PPP|
|Tennessee||Mark Clayton||21%||Bob Corker||59%||Oct 16||Oct 21||Middle Tenn. State U.|
|Virginia||Tim Kaine||51%||George Allen||44%||Oct 22||Oct 26||Abt SRBI|
|Wisconsin||Tammy Baldwin||47%||Tommy Thompson||48%||Oct 25||Oct 25||Rasmussen|
* Denotes incumbent
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Previous HeadlinesOct28 Early Voting Started in Florida Yesterday
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