by Frank Schnittger
Tue Oct 14th, 2008 at 12:06:58 PM EST
In The blow-out begins? on 1st. October I chronicled the growing evidence that Obama was not only likely to win, but that he might very well do so by a wide margin. Now, two weeks later, those trends have been confirmed. Despite the concerns of geezer in Paris and others about the the Bradley effect, all the evidence available indicates that Obama is on course for a blow-out victory in November.
That is not to say, of course that the Democratic nightmare of an October Surprise will not happen. Theories abound, from another Obama Bin Laden video-tape (which is reputed to have swung the election in Bush's way in 2004) to a Cheney inspired nuclear attack on Iran. However there is almost no historical precedent for an 8% lead in the national polls to be overturned at this late stage in the campaign, and all the evidence indicates that McCain now has a mountain to climb.
So let us consider the evidence. Firstly, all the recent trends in the opinion polls in the key battleground states are aggregated into this table from Pollster.com
The key takeaways are that:
- Obama is currently on track to achieve a 353 to 185 win in terms of electoral votes (EVs) in the electoral college.
- On current trends that margin is still increasing with every state on the list bar Indiana trending Obama's way over the past week.
- More recent polls have reinforced these trends
- Obama can reach the critical 270 EVs by winning every state on the list down to Wisconsin - where he has a margin of 6.8%
- These margins are not subject to the usual 3-4% Margin of Error (MoE) because they are an aggregate of the trends shown in hundreds of polls from various pollsters using various methodologies.
There are also a number of more technical factors which may cause the above margins to be an underestimate of Obama's lead.
- Obama has an incomparably better "ground game" - see series in fivethirtyeight.com - where they go around the battleground states looking at the campaign organisations on the ground. This will dramatically increase his vote turnout where he needs it most.
- Early voting in many states means that Obama is "banking" much of his support whilst he is at a peak - which also reduces the scope for voting day vote suppression through long voting lines, insufficient voting locations and machine counting.
- Opinion polls have a big problem fairly representing mobile phone only voters in their polls and some do not contact them at all. Research by the Pew Institute indicates this could result in a 1-2% under-estimation of Obama's vote.
- Pollster's "likely voter" models - used in most polls - adjust their actual research results to account for predicted actual likelihood of voting, and are based on historic voter turnouts which have tended to be low for young and black voters - but which may totally underestimate Obama's ability to change those historic patterns this time around. Gallup has just released a new "likely voter" model which takes current voting intentions (rather than historical patterns) into account, and this results in Obama's margin increasing by 2% points.
Finally there is the much discussed Bradley effect which has resulted in some disagreement between geezer in Paris
The "Bradley effect" is not about racism per se, but about people telling pollsters that they will vote for a Black candidate when they have no intention of doing so. As such, we will not know for certain until after the election whether or not it has occurred. This is the first time the "Bradley effect" hypothesis will be tested in a Presidential election, so we can't be sure, but it is important to remember that the vast majority of racists will vote for McCain and have no difficulty in telling Pollsters that this is their preference. They may or may not give race as their reason for doing so (few do) but the point is those votes are already counted in McCain's numbers.
There was no evidence for the Bradley effect in the primaries, or indeed in recent elections where black candidates have polled in line with polling predictions and have sometimes even exceeded them. Indeed some have argued for a "reverse Bradley" effect where people say they will vote McCain to appease friend's/family/neighbours but have no intention of doing so. Others have argued that there was never a "Bradley Effect" in the first place - and that it was just an excuse concocted by pollsters for bad polling methods.
FiveThirtyEight.com: Electoral Projections Done Right: If The Bradley Effect is Gone, What Happened To It?
It was Tom Bradley's 1982 race for governor of California, in which he lost to George Deukmejian in spite of leading in the public polls, that gave the Bradley Effect its name. But now Lance Tarrance, the pollster for Bradley in that race, has an article up at RCP suggesting that the Bradley Effect was merely a case of bad polling -- and that his campaign's internals had shown a dead heat:
The hype surrounding the Bradley Effect has evolved to where some political pundits believe in 2008 that Obama must win in the national pre-election polls by 6-9 points before he can be assured a victory. That's absurd. There won't be a 6-9 point Bradley Effect -- there can't be, since few national polls show a large enough amount of undecided voters and it's in the undecided column where racism supposedly hides.Tarrance's article is a fascinating read into the way that polls are spun and campaign narratives are spread. It is well worth your time to read the entire piece.
The other reason I reject the Bradley Effect in 2008 is because there was not a Bradley Effect in the 1982 California Governor's race, either. Even though Tom Bradley had been slightly ahead in the polls in 1982, due to sampling error, it was statistically too close to call.
An academic study of the Bradley effect found that: National Journal Online - Will Winds Of Change Blow Pollsters Away?
Over the last 10 years, according to a paper [PDF] by Harvard post-doctoral fellow Daniel Hopkins that studied 133 statewide races between 1989 and 2006, the apparent polling bias in such races largely disappeared.
There have been a huge number of discussions of the Bradley effect on fivethirtyeignt.com, Pollster.com, DKos and elsewhere. Indeed it has become something of an obsession on progressive blogs. I will leave this discussion to the experts. All I will say is that the empirical evidence I have seen to date is at best inconclusive, and we really won't know the answer until after he Presidential election itself.
The other nightmare for Progressive commentators is a repeat of the vote suppression if not downright fraud which characterised the 2000 election. Again it is very difficult to get empirical evidence to quantify those potential effects. Suffice to note here that Democrats now control many of the state houses in key marginal states.
Whatever the impact of these factors on the accuracy of opinion polls and the actual vote counting process itself, the currently available empirical evidence points to an overwhelming victory for Obama even if the race tightens somewhat in the next couple of weeks - as many expect. Tomorrow's final debate represents the last set piece opportunity for McCain to influence the dynamics of the campaign, and he is really relying on a major Obama mistake to let him back into the race at this stage.
We should also not forget about the elephant in the room - the near implosion of the world financial system and its increasingly severe impact on the real economy. So long as the economy remains centre stage McCain is going to be rowing upstream in this campaign. Can you imagine the uproar if the current financial melt-down had happened in 6 months time - under Obama's watch? A coup d'etat would have been likely. Impeachment attempts de rigeur. Riots in the street commonplace.
Obama has truly been blessed with the timing of this election. It could not have gone better for him. If ever there was a time to believe that the conventional wisdoms of US politics are going to be overturned, this is it. The stage has been set where people are desperate for "Change they can believe in". The real question is whether Obama is going to be able to dispel the extraordinary fears his candidacy has inspired in some and deliver on the extraordinary hopes his candidacy has inspired in so many.
That challenge is going to make his election look easy by comparison.