Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Undecided? Join the club.

Not me, of course, but they're out there. Nate Silver at has an interesting write up though. Have a look.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The Undecideds

Earlier tonight, I suggested that there were in fact proportionately more undecideds among white voters than black voters, as the McCain campaign claimed today. This was based mostly on a recollection of numbers that I'd looked at several weeks ago when the fraction of undecideds was higher. However, this claim is more debatable now.

Below, among seven current polls which have released racial breakdowns, are the numbers of voters who did not declare their support for either major-party candidate. These totals include undecideds as well as third-party votes -- a group that I refer to as "uncommitted" voters.

Undecided + Other

Pollster White Black Hispanic
Gallup 6 5 8
Research 2K 8 2 4
Rasmussen 3 6 7
Battleground 7 5 7
Economist 10 5 11
Pew 12 9 --
Zogby 6 3 --
AVERAGE 7.2 5.4 7.4

A somewhat higher proportion of whites (and Latinos) are uncommitted, but the differences are not overwhelming. Suppose that McCain were to win 2/3 of white uncommiteds -- which I'd probably consider optimistic, although perhaps not since the uncommitted whites appear to be fairly downscale. Suppose also that Obama wins 90 percent of black uncommitteds and 60 percent of Latino uncommitteds. Suppose furthermore that the breakdown of white/black/Latino voters is 74/12/10, reflecting slight increases in the latter two groups from 2004's 77/11/8. Under these assumptions, McCain would pick up 3.9 points from uncommitteds and Obama 2.8 points, a net gain of 1.1 points for McCain:

Uncommitted Allocation I

Group % of Electorate to McCain to Obama
White 5.33 --> 3.55 1.78
Black 0.65 --> 0.06 0.58
Latino 0.74 --> 0.30 0.44
Total 6.72 --> 3.91 2.81

As I said, however, these assumptions are arguably optimistic for McCain. What if, instead, the distribution of the uncommitteds roughly resembles that of committed voters within each racial group, which means that whites go about 57/43 for McCain, blacks go 95/5 for Obama, and Hispanics go 65/35 for Obama? Under this set of assumptions, the undecideds split essentially evenly:

Uncommitted Allocation II

Group % of Electorate to McCain to Obama
White 5.33 --> 3.04 2.29
Black 0.65 --> 0.03 0.62
Latino 0.74 --> 0.26 0.48
Total 6.72 --> 3.33 3.39

Another problem is that we haven't been distinguishing undecided voters from third-party voters. There is an argument that third-party voters should be treated as quasi-undecided voters, since third party support tends to collapse at the voting booth. Nevertheless, Bob Barr and Ralph Nader will probably pick up a collective 1-2 percent of the electorate, and third party support tends to be overwhelmingly concentrated among white voters.

Four of the seven polls distinguished undecided voters from third-party voters. Looking only at those four polls:

"True" Undecideds

Pollster White Black Hispanic
Research 2K 2 2 1
Rasmussen 2 5 4
Battleground 4 3 4
Economist 6 3 11
AVERAGE 3.5 3.3 5.0

With the third-party votes removed, there is essentially no difference between the number of white and black undecideds, though Latinos perhaps are undecided at somewhat higher rates.

Long story short ... given optimistic assumptions (McCain wins 2/3 of white undecideds, 100 percent of third-party support collapses), the undecided vote is worth a net of about a point for McCain. Given what I'd consider to be more neutral assumptions, there's no particular reason to think that the undecided vote favors him.

My guess is that the truth is somewhere in between and that this is worth, say, half a point for McCain. Even give him the full point if you like. This effect is probably smaller than that of the cellphone problem, from which there may be 1-2 points of cushion in Obama's direction. If on top of that the polls are being overly conservative with their likely voter modeling, the numbers are more likely to be underestimating Obama's standing than overestimating it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

When baseball and politics collide...

Can Obama pull a Ted Williams??

Monday, October 20, 2008

Polling can be misleading (shocking, I know).

There's been lot's of chatter the last few days about a "tightening" of the polls...this should make you feel better (though I will note that national polling is irrelevant and useless for anything other than noting momentum - remember, we elect the President in the states, not as a national referendum).

For McCain, When The Gap Closes, And Doesn't.

20 Oct 2008 11:51 am
Well, sort of, but not really.

The Washington Post's Ben Pershing makes a fundamental point about comparisons, one that the Wall Street Journal apparently neglected as well in its lead headline, entitled "Obama Takes in a Record $150 Million, But McCain Narrows Gap in Some Polls."

The sort of: looking at the polling averages, Obama's lead is now just above five points; it was eight points last week.
Case closed, right? As Pershing writes:

"The average last week included some surveys (like the NYT, WashPost and LAT polls) showing Obama with leads of 9 or more points. Because RCP uses a rolling average, those polls have now dropped out, and as of now the average only includes the major tracking polls, which show a closer race. But Obama's lead has actually grown in those tracking polls from where they were last week

Wait a few more days....until the new national surveys have been released. If McCain has made statistically significant gains in a few of those polls, then it's safe to conclude that he's "closing the gap." (Privately, the McCain campaign believes that McCain can still win the electoral college if he comes within two or three points of Obama in the popular vote.)

But even there, there's a conceptual problem. There are lots of gaps; even the Obama campaign, in its wildest, filthiest dreams, doesn't anticipate winning the popular vote by more than five points. The biggest gaps for McCain are in state polls -- in at least six of them, he needs to close the gap _and_ open up a lead in order to account for the multiplier effect of Obama's. It might not be fair to hold McCain to this standard, but this is the challenge he faces.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Beware Overconfidence...

I'll admit ahead of time that I haven't watched the entire video yet, but if you click on the title, it will take you to a video entitled "Inside the Bubble," which chronicles the last few days of the 2004 election from inside the Kerry campaign.

The point here is very simple: don't get caught up in talk of a landslide; electoral, popular, or otherwise. In the coming three weeks you will read about newspaper endorsements and shifting poll numbers, cash-on-hand advantages and superior field operations. Everyone will pat themselves on the back and start speaking confidently of an Obama Administration and all the good it will do.


Let me be frank - the Democratic Party has one skill that almost always shines through on Election Day: the ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Don't let it happen on YOUR watch. DO SOMETHING.

Friday, October 10, 2008

This House is on fire....

...and I'm not talking about the Dow.

The question I have to keep asking myself is this: is John McCain willing to win at any cost? And if so, is he then willing to accept responsibility for the yawning chasm of hatred and mistrust that he is ever-so-quickly digging?

It's sad to me that for so long, this man held my respect; not for his political views, many of which I vehemently disagreed with. Rather, it was for his ability to recognize the greater good and to commit to doing what was in ALL of our best interests, at the risk of his own political hide. The Gang of 14 was a personal inspiration - I almost started a new company on the shoulders of this idea, that there was room in the middle for people to come together, even if only on occasion.

Today, John McCain is a shadow of the man he was, and his legacy is lost. I hope what he has left for the rest of us isn't a tragic inferno of antipathy towards all that is different.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Relief? Perhaps.

I don't want to post too much more on Palinmania - there are too many people more talented than I am writing on the subject - but I have to say a couple of things about yesterday and last night before I can move on.

First, I want the record to show that I was saying to anyone who would listen that last night scared me heading into St. Louis, because Palin had a record of eating people alive in debates; she didn't get the nickname "Barracuda" because of her love of Heart (though some of those older pictures, you can totally envision her front row center at a Heart show). She clearly exceeded expectations, but as one pundit put it, she spent last night trying to convince people to take her seriously, while Joe Biden spent last night showing people that he could be President. So I feel pretty relieved on that front.

Second, people shouldn't lose sight of the biggest news of the day yesterday: McCain gave up on the Big Mitten. This should NOT be underestimated; the path to 270 electoral votes is tricky, and taking Michigan off the table means McCain is shifting to almost straight defense, moving people into Indiana, Ohio and Virginia. This strategy is akin to drawing a line outside the front gate at the Alamo - if you are a Republican and have to fight for those three states, you have big problems. And today's economic news doesn't really help if you are Team Maverick.

Which leads to my third and final point. People have been watching the Dow go up and down as dinner theater (or blood sport), when there have been greater indicators of economic distress, not the least of which was the jobs report that came out today, showing the greatest job loss in any given month in five years. THIS IS SERIOUS SHIT, and I really hope that people look at the economic policies of the last eight years as a guidepost for how they evaluate these two candidates. Because the economy is getting really, really scary, and people need to keep their eye on the ball come November 4th.

And that's all I have to say about that.