Category Archives: Election Analysis

Predicting the Presidential Outcome

At long last the election is finally here, but we still can’t predict the presidential outcome with any confidence. Recognizing that there have been many conflicting national polling factors present for the past several weeks, now at the end of the campaign it appears that all of the major pollsters are projecting just about the same final national popular vote result – a virtual tie.

Seven polls were released on Thursday through Saturday, and four of them (Ipsos/Reuters, Rasmussen Reports, UPI/C-Voter, and Zogby for the Washington Times) produced a high-40s deadlock between Pres. Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Two (Purple Strategies and Public Policy Polling) forecast a one-point lead for Obama. One, the ABC/Washington Post poll, showed Romney with that same single-point advantage. Simply put, the national election doesn’t get any closer.

Good news actually exists for both candidates in these final surveys. First, bringing the candidates back into a tie is positive for the president, who had been starting to drop behind. On the other hand, and an argument in Romney’s favor, an incumbent tied going into the election is rarely a good sign, because challengers typically under-poll to at least a small degree.

On the state front, Ohio still appears to be the deciding factor. There are some favorable indications that Romney will win close victories in North Carolina and Florida, which are his top priority conversion states. He also is trending upward in Virginia, but the all-important Buckeye State remains a mystery. The president has a slight edge in several polls, but not in others.

Looking at the secondary states, though Nevada and possibly Iowa look to remain in the president’s column, Romney is getting strong positive signs from Colorado. Should he be successful in taking Virginia and Ohio, Colorado would clinch a victory for the challenger.

Polling

There has been a great deal of analyses done about the myriad of polls conducted over the past months, and the conflicting nature between the ones that have projected the 2012 vote using a turnout model based upon 2008 voting patterns. Many have said that using such base data explains the polling discrepancies because the 2012 electorate is much different than that of four years ago. Therefore, using the 2008 model may skew too heavily Democratic.

Mike Barbera, a Washington lobbyist and guest columnist for our reports, has studied this situation, and offers the following perspective: Given all available evidence, the idea that the 2012 electorate will be as Democratic as 2008 is implausible – and the notion that it will be even more Democratic is to be completely rejected.

The 2008 election cycle featured the following:

  • A highly motivated Democratic base, enthused by the historic candidacy of Barack Obama and still seething with animus toward George W. Bush
  • A dispirited Republican base (although the Palin vice presidential selection remedied this to a certain degree)
  • A historically-unpopular outgoing Republican president
  • A huge funding disparity, which allowed the Obama campaign to dramatically outspend the McCain forces on the airwaves and in the get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts
  • An economic meltdown a month before Election Day

That is a recipe for what a great Democratic year looks like – and indeed the Democrats in 2008 had a great year. They elected a president as well as super-majorities in both the House and Senate.

To put it mildly, 2012 looks nothing like 2008. By any measure, Republican enthusiasm is much higher than in 2008. Obama’s favorability ratings are significantly lower than they were in 2008. His job approval ratings are dismal. Romney and his GOP allies are at financial parity with the Obama campaign and the Democrats – so the Republican GOTV efforts are vastly improved from the threadbare McCain operation of 2008. Romney is doing very well among independents – John McCain lost them by a substantial margin.

Early Voting

States are reporting the number of ballots already returned through the various early voting processes. While all of the partisan numbers, i.e. the ballots returned from registered Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters, are better for Romney and the Republicans than the ratios from four years ago, it is unclear if they are a precursor to a Romney victory performance.

The Romney camp compares the current early voting trends to that of 2008 GOP nominee John McCain and illustrates what they believe is their candidate’s improvement over his showing. While there seems no doubt that the already returned ballots will yield better results for the Republican, as the Obama campaign points out, Romney must exceed the president’s vote total, not just that of McCain, and in every state but Colorado (that releases early voting partisan registration data) more Democratic ballots have been returned than Republican. All totaled, almost 30 million people have already voted in this election.

The Senate

Democratic trends in the statewide contests are better than for Republicans. It now appears likely that the Democrats will retain control of the Senate and do so with about the same level of strength they currently maintain: a seat up or down from the current 53D-47R margin.

The House

While the Senate races appear to be trending Democratic, the Republicans are pulling away in the House. The GOP majority is secure, and their original majority margin, based upon 242 seats, could even increase by as many as three or four seats when analyzing the final individual race trends.

Conclusion

This election is very close, and could be following one of two election models. The first would be that of 1980, where Ronald Reagan was running close to incumbent President Jimmy Carter, only to catch a wave at the very end and go onto a major landslide victory. The second potential precursor is the 2004 election, where a relatively unpopular incumbent President, George W. Bush, won a close victory that basically came down to the state of Ohio becoming the deciding factor. Determining the actual result is now merely hours away.

Rounding Out the House

Though not covered as extensively as the presidential battle and most Senatorial campaigns, the 435 US House races also figure prominently in next Tuesday’s ballots. While little drama exists concerning these campaigns from an aggregate context, it is still likely that as many as 80+ non-incumbents could win seats for the first time. There are 62 open seats, and easily another 18 to 30 House members could lose their seats.

The current partisan makeup of the House of Representatives is 240 Republicans and 190 Democrats, with five vacancies, three from Democratic seats and two Republican. Today, our House race handicapping chart shows that 229 congressional districts are “safe,” “likely” or “leaning” for the Republican candidate, and 180 districts are “safe”, “likely”, or “leaning” for the Democratic standard bearer, with 26 “tossup” districts that both parties have some chance of winning. In order for the Democrats to re-capture the majority lost two years ago, they would need a net gain of 25 seats from their current level just to reach the bare minimum of 218. With this numerical obstacle standing before them, and in order for the minority party to regain power, they would need a “wave” election, something that has little chance of occurring.

Recent examples of wave elections are the Republican sweep of 2010 and Democratic waves of 2006 and ’08 that drastically changed the composition of the House. Historically, wave elections are driven by the party with a substantial and unparalleled lead going into Election Day. The GOP netted 63 seats in the 2010 midterm election and conversely, Democrats won 31 seats in 2006, followed by another 25 two years later. If campaign historical trends are a true future indicator, as best detected by polling, then 2012 will not be a wave election. As the cycle progressed we have seen a good deal of movement in many races that began as clearly favoring one party or the other. Two contrasting swing races from the west and east are Washington state’s 1st Congressional District and the fast-emerging NY-21.

The Evergreen State has produced a top swing-seat battle in the new 1st Congressional District that was redrawn in a more competitive fashion as part of a deal among the members of the bi-partisan Washington State Redistricting Commission. In exchange for making the previously Democratic 1st District politically marginal and shoring up Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler in the new 3rd District, incumbent Rick Larsen (D) received a safe new 2nd District and the state’s additional seat, the 10th District gained in the national reapportionment formula, was made a Democratic safe haven.

In March of this year, Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee (WA-1) announced his resignation from the House in order to fully focus on his gubernatorial campaign. His vacancy was quickly flooded with interest and, after a hotly contested Democratic primary, former Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene (D) and Snohomish County councilman and ex-state Rep. John Koster (R) won the right to face off against each other in what polling continues to show is a close match-up.

In this key swing seat, a significant amount of money has been spent by outside groups including both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). Recently an independent Survey USA poll (Oct. 19-21; 610 likely WA-1 voters) found DelBene leading Koster by three points, 47-44 percent. The new poll, compared to a previous S-USA study conducted five weeks prior, found that DelBene has increased five points in support, while Koster has lost two points. The results also determined that DelBene has a greater advantage with self-described moderates and independents.

Turning to the St. Lawrence Seaway region along the Canadian border on the north and Lake Champlain to the east is the new NY-21 District and Republican Matt Doheny could be moving into upset position. Lagging behind for most of the race, Doheny has emerged as a serious threat at precisely the right time. Two different polls forecast a closing race. Incumbent Bill Owens released his own data (Global Strategy Group; Oct. 21-23; 403 likely NY-21 voters) staking him to a 47-40 percent lead. But, another independent survey detected a much different result. Siena College (Oct. 29-30; 629 likely NY-21 voters) found the race to be much closer. According to the Siena data, Doheny is up by just one percentage point, 44-43 percent. Clearly, this campaign is very much alive turning into the final weekend.

While a good deal of uncertainty still remains in precisely predicting the composition of the new Congress, it is likely that Republicans will maintain control with their current margin potentially in tact.

Little Change in Two Years

Less than one week before Election Day 2012, we know little more about the projected outcome than we did when the campaigns began in earnest almost two years ago. At that time there was uncertainty about the presidential election. A feeling persisted that Pres. Barack Obama could certainly win re-election, but enough vulnerability existed that a strong challenger could deny him a second term.

With majority Democrats having to protect 23 of the 33 in-cycle contests, control of the Senate appeared up for grabs. With the 2010 state legislative elections swinging hard toward the Republicans, thus giving them clear control of the redistricting process, it became a foregone conclusion that the House GOP majority would be sustained in a post-reapportionment election year with newly drawn congressional district boundaries.

Two years later and six days away from the people’s decision, we still have no counter-arguments to any of these observations.

According to all of the latest national polls, the presidential race is a virtual tie. Seven national pollsters released popular vote surveys yesterday and the biggest spread among the group was Rasmussen Reports producing a two-point lead for Republican Mitt Romney. Five of the polls were showing one-point margins either way, and one, Public Policy Polling for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), showed a 49-49 percent tie. It simply doesn’t get any closer.

Turning to the states, we find equally close numbers though the Romney position has improved in many key electoral vote havens. Think of the model that stated the Republican needed to convert Indiana, the 2nd Congressional District of Nebraska (because the state awards it electoral votes individually for the candidate carrying each congressional district), Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and one other Obama state larger than Vermont or Delaware. Today, Romney looks solid in Indiana and NE-2, and good in Florida and North Carolina, while improving to even footing in Virginia. But this standing, while much better than his Republican predecessor’s of four years ago, does not clinch victory.

The next tier becomes determining. The Romney trends in Ohio are improving, and at least one pollster, Rasmussen Reports, actually has the challenger forging ahead in the Buckeye State by the slimmest of margins. All other survey research firms show either a tie or a slight Obama lead. Trends seem to be moving Romney’s way in Colorado. Iowa, Wisconsin and New Hampshire are all still very much in play, and are virtually deadlocked. Obama has been recently drawing stronger numbers in Nevada. Movement could still occur in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and possibly even Oregon, but it is likely that these states are only flirting with the Republicans and will return to the Democratic fold on Election Day.

Though there are still ways for Romney to win nationally without carrying Ohio, assuming the rest of our analysis rings true, he likely won’t unseat the president without winning what is becoming the deciding state. It is very likely that the way Ohio eventually votes will determine who remains or becomes president. Amazingly, the election is still simply too close to call.

The Senate remains just as tight, though Democrats are in good position to hold at least a bare majority. There are still 14 Senate races projected to be within the margin of error, so anything can still happen. The outcome of the presidential race will likely help decide all of these critically important, and virtually dead even contests.

There are ominous signs on the near horizon for the president, however. As an incumbent, going into an election tied rarely leads to victory. The Obama campaign confirms Romney’s momentum by consistently promoting a negative message. Additionally, aggregate estimates from all of the early voting states suggest that the Democrats are more than 20 percent behind their 2008 pace of returning the ballots to the election officials. They are still responding in greater numbers than Republicans, but the Democratic margin is certainly down. And, finally, we are all basing our predictions on polls showing a zero to two-point difference when their own error factor is 2.5 to 3.5 percent.

It’s clear this election will be very close and it’s possible we could be headed to political overtime, meaning absentee ballot counting could again make the difference, just as it did in 2000.

House: IE Money Flying

The American left and right, including their respective major party organizations, are again spending abundantly in certain House races as we enter the final week of the campaign. In fact, according to new Federal Election Commission independent expenditure (IE) filings just made public, the two sides (House party organizations coupled with outside group spending) have combined to spend $26.4 million during just the Oct. 27-29 period. Of this total, Republican/conservative groups have spent a tick under $14 million, while the Democrats and liberal organizations have spent $12.5 million. Remember, all of these expenditures cover only a three-day period.

The top two races receiving monetary attention in this critical time frame are in New Hampshire, where Rep. Frank Guinta (NH-1-R) is defending the seat he won from ex-Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) in 2010. In just the past three days, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has laid down $1.037 million on Shea-Porter’s behalf, mostly for media expenditures on negative ads against Rep. Guinta. Countering that number is the American Action Network, which dropped $637,000 to fund either positive Guinta or negative Shea-Porter ads.

The top Republican recipient is Illinois Rep. Judy Biggert who is having a difficult time in a radically redistricted seat that Democratic leaders designed to defeat her. She opposes former Rep. Bill Foster (D), who lost his 14th District seat in 2010. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spent $837,000 on Biggert’s behalf, while the DCCC countered with $743,000 to help Foster.

At least one other incumbent race is seeing combined party and group spending exceed seven figures for this short period. Minnesota Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN-8) has witnessed the NRCC and the American Action Network (AAN) combine to spend more than $1 million in his heavily Democratic district. Another such CD is the open IL-13 seat that Rep. Tim Johnson (R) is vacating. Republicans and the AAN dropped more than $850,000 here for Rodney Davis as compared to the DCCC’s $329,000 to help their nominee, Dr. David Gill.

The AAN spent more than $500,000 apiece in California (Rep. Jeff Denham, R-CA-10) and Nevada (Rep. Joe Heck, R-NV-3), in addition to the Guinta and Cravaack races, while the House Majority Fund dropped major six-figure expenditures to help New York Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY-1) hold his Long Island CD and over $400,000 to help Connecticut Democrat Elizabeth Esty fend off a strong challenge from Republican state Sen. Andrew Roraback in the seat that Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) is vacating to run for the Senate.

A couple of surprise protects are popping up late for both sides. Democrats, particularly when seeing almost $1 million go toward independent expenditures in Michigan’s 1st CD that contains the state’s Upper Peninsula, believe they have a strong chance to unseat freshman Rep. Dan Benishek. Another strong sleeper campaign might be found in the Orlando area, as the DCCC is dropping more than $427,000 in order to help elect former police chief Val Demings over freshman Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL-10) in Florida.

Democrats are surprisingly spending copiously in Arizona and New York to fend off what they see are serious threats to freshman Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ-2) and two-term Rep. Bill Owens (D-NY-21).

Republicans believe they have a great closing shot to maintain the new 1st District in Arizona, and to defeating Pennsylvania Rep. Mark Critz (D-PA-12) who won a brutal primary battle against fellow Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA-4), only to find himself in a relatively strong Republican seat.

No surprise that the IL-17 contest between freshman Rep. Bobby Schilling (R) and local East Moline official Cheri Bustos (D) is hotly contested, as is the inter-party pairing in Ohio between Reps. Betty Sutton (D-OH-13) and Jim Renacci (R-OH-16). Both of these campaigns are considered toss-ups.

Of the top 10 races where Democrats are spending, three are to protect incumbents. On the Republican board, five of their top 10 expenditure races are for individuals already serving in the House.

Gallup Shows Likely Voters Skew to Romney

Source: Gallup

The Gallup organization released their likely voter model on Oct. 26, which, along with Rasmussen Reports, has consistently shown much better numbers for Mitt Romney than other national polls. It is important to note that Gallup and Rasmussen are the only two pollsters that have tracked the presidential race every day for the entire election cycle. Both have found consistently similar results, too. The myriad of other pollsters have conducted benchmark or brush fire polls, meaning they are surveying the national electorate for just a short period in time and producing a snapshot of the voters’ intentions rather than a trend.

Right now, all of the polling suggests a Romney lead in the national popular vote among those considering themselves likely to vote, with Pres. Barack Obama doing better in the critical states and among the registered voter universe. The likely voter numbers are producing a very unique and inverted situation because similar situations in the past have always shown the Democratic candidate leading the popular vote, while the Republican fared better in the states.

According to the Gallup analysis, the electorate looks virtually the same as it did in 2008, but the voting intensity model is quite different. There is either no, or only a one-point, difference in the demographic categories when comparing today with four years ago, and as much as a four-point increase among non-white voters when overlaying 2012 data against what was found within the 2004 electorate that re-elected George W. Bush.

Gallup maintains that their likely voter model, culled from a series of seven screening questions (see below), has correctly predicted the final trend in the past two elections. Their 2004 pre-election projection suggested a two-point Bush popular vote win, which is what happened. In 2008, the final data correctly predicted Obama’s win, but over-shot his performance. The Gallup data predicted an 11-point Obama spread; in actuality the final count was +7 points over Republican John McCain.

Today’s model shows virtually no demographic difference between 2008 and 2012, but a major swing in terms of self-identified party registration. Four years ago, 39 percent of the likely voter sample considered themselves Democrats to only 29 percent for Republicans.

According to Gallup’s latest data, the 2012 partisan self-identified likely voter ratio breaks Republican 36-35 percent, a swing of 11 net points for the GOP (+7R; -4D) in comparison to 2008. When the “lean Democrats” and “lean Republicans” are added, the model expands to 49-46 percent Republican (based upon tracking data collected over the Oct. 1-24 period). This is highly significant in detecting electoral intensity. If correct, the 2012 vote will be very different from 2008 and much more Republican. Today, Gallup shows a 50-46 percent spread in Romney’s favor among likely voters. Rasmussen finds Romney’s lead to be a similar 49-47 percent.

But, it all comes down to which of the pollsters’ likely voter model is correct. Gallup has actually posted the seven questions they ask to determine voter participation intent, as reported on Gallup.com.

They are:

  1. Thought given to election (quite a lot, some)
  2. Know where people in neighborhood go to vote (yes)
  3. Voted in election precinct before (yes)
  4. How often vote (always, nearly always)
  5. Plan to vote in 2012 election (yes)
  6. Likelihood of voting on a 10-point scale (7-10)
  7. Voted in last presidential election (yes)

Answers are graded on a scale of 1-7 and the results categorized accordingly. The latest numbers from their registered voter pool gives Obama a 48-47 percent edge, but the likely voter group goes significantly for Romney, as previously mentioned, 50-46 percent.

It’s going to be a very close and interesting election. Next week will determine which of all predictions are correct, but Gallup has already provided the most information to help us understand their support methodology.