The Eclectic Quill

November 2, 2008

Will We Be Up Late On Election Night?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly @ 9:42 am

I’ve been seeing and reading a number of shows and articles which suggest that the election is “tightening” and that we may be up on election night late. There’s discussions of polls and “Bradley Effects” and Obama not “closing the deal” and so on. All of this is completely incongruent with reality. I understand that this time is probably the most profitable time for the media, and it only comes around once every four years so they have to sell a close election, but reality has to settle in somewhere. So if you’re one of those people who is having trouble believing Obama is going to win, this blog is for you. Consider it your Sunday and Monday night sedative. Here’s why some of the bunk you’ve been hearing isn’t true.

The Polls Aren’t Tightening

They aren’t. Polls operate with a margin of error, and that margin of error is actually a margin of error. When there is a daily tracking poll which has a that has a lead of 5 points one day and 6 the next and 5 the next it doesn’t mean that one percent of the people changed their mind one day and then changed it back the next day, it actually means that there is no real measurable change, since the fluctuation is well within the margin of error. Additionally different polls use different sampling criteria. Therefore if we want to really get an idea of what sort of trending is going on the best thing to do is to look at what is happening over time, and over multiple polls. Two weeks ago Obama held a lead of 5.7 points in the major polls. One week ago he held a lead of 8.1 points in those same polls. Then today, once again in the same polls, he leads by 7.6 points. So, over the last two weeks it is actually more accurate to say that Obama has extended and held his lead than to say that the polls are tightening. This still doesn’t tell the whole story though. In 14 of 18 non-tracking polls in the last two weeks Obama has maintained at least 50 percent of the votes. If we look at the three major polls which use the expanded model (accounting for the huge influx of newly registered voters) we see something similar. In the ABC daily tracking poll he’s held at 52 or 53 percent since Oct 16. In the Gallup daily tracking poll he’s held at between 50-53 percent. In the Daily Kos tracking poll he’s held between 50-52 percent. The bottom line is that Obama is holding steady with a pretty solid majority. If he wins 52 or 53 percent of the votes, then accounting for third party votes, McCain would probably only settle in around 45 percent, which is pretty consistent with our 7.6 points.

But really, it doesn’t matter whether McCain gets 45 or 48, if Obama gets 52 or 53, which he’s been very steady with. The McCain camp and the pundits want you to think that the flocculation in the polls is because people have trouble making their mind up about Obama. The swing in the polls hasn’t come from people having trouble making their mind up about Obama, it’s coming from people having trouble making their minds up about Mcain, whose numbers swing wildly from 38 to 47 percent, depending on the polls and the day of the week. On Tuesday night Obama will receive about 52-53 percent of the votes and McCain will probably settle in around 45-47. I’m certain.

National Numbers Don’t Matter Anyway

National numbers don’t matter anyway. Anyone who remembers Al Gore can tell you that much. This vote is about the electoral college, and there Obama holds a decisive advantage, and it’s nothing like the last two elections. People want to draw comparisons to the Kerry election from last year to this year’s election this year. It’s not even close. First look at this map. Particularly pay attention to the “Strong” and “Weak” numbers. In the “Strong” states, where the average, weighted lead over the last number of polls is at least 10 points, Obama has 238 electoral votes. In the “weak” category, where the lead is outside of the margin of error but fewer than ten points, Obama has 73 EV. That makes for 311 EV. Now look at the same map in 2004, two days before the election, with Kerry having 95 and 101 respectively, totaling only 196. To say the least Kerry’s numbers were a lot more tenuous than Obama’s are right now. It makes comparisons ridiculous.

Let’s take a look at this year and what actually needs to happen for Obama to win. Let’s assume that first that both candidates retain all their “Strong” states, leaving Obama with 238 to McCain’s 112. Now, let’s be stupidly generous and give all the states within the margin of error, regardless of who is leading, to McCain, and also give him his weak states. That gives him another 115 EV, closing Obama’s lead to 238-227. This should start giving some indication of how close the election isn’t. It means that Obama has to only win 31 of the 73 EV to lock everything down. These states, with their EV in parentheses are, Pennsylvania (21), Ohio (20), Virginia (13), Colorado (9), Nevada (5) and New Mexico (5). McCain has given up advertising in Colorado and New Mexico, virtually surrendering those states to Obama as he has held leads around the 7-9 point margin for the last month. Since he’s virtually conceded those two states let’s go ahead and give them to Obama. That means that Obama now has 252 EV, and needs only 18 more. His lead in Ohio is actually getting stronger lately, and yesterday in one poll he held a 14 point lead, which while this is probably an outlier, it is significant. A win in Ohio seals the deal for Obama. In Virginia McCain has not lead in over a month; the same is true with Nevada. Combined wins in Nevada and Virginia seal the deal for Obama. McCain has trailed Obama in Pennsylvania significantly, and while he’s closed slightly after a weak of heavy campaigning and spending, he’s still only closed it a couple of points. He currently trails there by 8-10 points and would have to have to pass Obama up by Tuesday, or else he loses the election. Essentially all Obama has to do is hold serve in half the states he is comfortably ahead in while McCain has to pull off the near impossible.

Upsets Don’t Happen

Some people want to point to sports upsets and draw analogies between this and them. It’s a ludicrous metaphor. In sports, you have a competition settled on the field, which consist of anywhere between 10-22 players, depending on what major sport you are talking about. There’s not going to be an ’06 Cards here, or an Appalachian State. This isn’t a sport, it’s an election. There are a hundred million people involved. This isn’t about what Obama does today or tomorrow, and it’s not about what McCain does. It’s about what the voters do. There’s no home run to surrender, no “Hail Mary” to throw, there’s only a speech or two to be made and the votes to be cast. Generally speaking I don’t believe that there are anymore “undecided” voters. I think that there are only people who say that because it makes them sound smarter, as though they are waiting to the final day to “make their decision.” Some people point to Truman and Dewey, and suggest that’s an upset. I disagree. Polls ended a week before the election with them. That’s not the case here.

We Might Be Up Late Anyway

I live in Illinois. It’s a big mystery who will win here! I’ve been asking my Republican friends whether they will cast their protest votes. Apart from the ones who think that Palin is actually Presidential they are saying no. Compare this with the early voting trends, which hugely favor Democrats. This is an area where Republicans normally have an advantage. However, this year Democrats are waiting in huge lines to cast their votes, whether it’s because they are so frustrated with the status-quo or whether it’s because they want to be able to tell their children they voted for the first African-American President. These voters aren’t likely to go home because it’s “in the bag.” I think the only surprise on election night as far as the Presidential election goes may be the margin Obama wins by. I believe this because I believe that a lot of McCain supporters are pretty much conceding it’s a lost cause and will stay home. People don’t brave four hour lines to cast a losing vote. I think this will filter into the Senate races could impact the number the Democrats have in the Senate. There are a number of close races which a McCain weight could affect. We may be awake on election night anyway, although not to see whether Obama will be President, but to see whether Franken carries Minnesota and gives the Democrats a filibuster proof Congress. So there you have it, sleep easy for now, you might need it on election night.

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1 Comment »

  1. i’ll be up watching all the coverage on MSNBC. it’s a mystery who will win in my county as well, i see a spattering of signs for both. this is a huge historical event, no matter who wins. the number of ppl. registered to vote has more then doubled. every vote does count!! Alot are saying they want to be a part of history & feel attached to this election, more so then others in the past.

    I love your closing paragraph!!

    Comment by CK0712 — November 2, 2008 @ 10:19 am | Reply


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