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US Election Predictions and Results [Updated]

by Frank Schnittger Wed Nov 5th, 2008 at 02:53:20 AM EST

The time has come to start matching the reality to the dream.  What are your predictions for the US Elections and how do these compare to the professional pollsters and pundits - and most importantly, how do these compare to the actual results when they are eventually declared?

Realclearpolitics is calling it 52/44% popular vote resulting in an electoral college split of 338/200 to Obama. Pollster.com has an almost identical vote split prediction of 52/44% but predicts a 364/174 electoral college vote (EV) split. www.fivethirtyeight.com predicts a more conservative 52/46% popular vote split and an Obama Electoral College advantage of 346/192 now amended to 349/189.

So why do I think all these highly professional pollsters have got it wrong?


Firstly, these predictions are all the result of statistical or arithmetic projections of polls we know to be flawed in many ways.  These flaws include:

  1. Under-representation of cell-phone only voters - this is known to skew opinion polls by as much as 2-4% against Obama.

  2. Early voting trends have been heavily skewed in favour of Democrats - a vote in the bag is worth a lot more than a "likely voter" who may be put off by long voting lines or other priorities on voting day.

  3. Obama's superior ground game - and the much greater enthusiasm/determination being exhibited by his supporters - obvious in the long lines that have formed at early voting and now election day voting places.  At the end of the day - even with an unprecedentedly high turnout - perhaps some 30% of the electorate will fail to vote - and these are much more likely to be over-representative of the more lukewarm and disinterested voters or those who do not have the support of a GOTV operation.  Its much easier to state a preference to an online or telephone pollster than it is to actually go out and vote.

  4. The "likely voter" models some pollsters use to screen their results are still often based on the historically lower turnouts amongst minority and youth voters - something which does not appear to be reflective of the early voting patterns to date.

I know there are other factors which may work the other way, chiefly the The Bradley effect, and the Shy Tory effect which postulates that people may be uncomfortable revealing to pollsters their support for a very unpopular (in this case Republican) regime.  In the privacy of the polling both, some anxious and insecure voters may also be more inclined to go with what they perceive to be the safer, more known quantity, than with the alleged greater uncertainty associated with a relatively inexperienced and possibly more radical younger President - who also happens to be the first serious African-American contender for the Office.

However is it not also possible that we might be seeing a "Shy Obama Supporter effect" amongst voters who do not wish to attract the ire of their traditionally conservative friends, relatives and neighbours?  These are "soft" questions, which the polls, by definition, cannot answer, because they all posit some form of voter dissonance between what they say they will do, and what they actually end up doing.  These are questions which a commentator from afar such as I simply cannot answer at this stage except to say that I remain a skeptic that they will end up having a significant aggregate effect either way.

Many pollsters and commentators much closer to the action and more experienced than I seem to be hedging their bets on these factors, and purport to see a "tightening" in the polls as polling day approached.  This tightening is certainly visible in the latest pollster.com table:

What is striking is that the 9 closest states from Virginia down to Georgia have all trended towards McCain in the last day, and all except the last 3 have also been doing so over the past week. However the national trend has been towards Obama over the same periods and so what we are seeing here is specific to those states, and not to the US as a whole. If there was significantly heightened anxiety about an Obama Presidency, would we not see it reflected in the national polls?

Far more likely we are seeing the effects of the heightened campaign and media focus on those battleground states and the distortions noted in paras. 1-4 above.  In other words I will stick my neck out and project a 10%+ margin of victory for Obama (based on a c. 3% net anti-Obama polling bias for reasons 1-4 above) and a 396/142 Electoral College win for Obama based on his winning all the states in the table above right down as far as the last "toss-up" state of Georgia.

Of course for statistical noise reasons alone, it is far more likely that Obama will lose at least one of those "toss-up" states - Montana and North Dakota seem the most likely because there have been far less polls there and so the confidence levels associated with any prediction has to be a lot less. But equally,on that basis, Obama might even pull off a really stunning upset - such as in McCain's home state of Arizona - if he really does achieve a 10%+ lead in the national popular vote.  

So at the risk of looking very foolish I will go with my instincts and predict a 10%+ margin of Victory for Obama with an absolute and extraordinary 396/142 blow out margin in the Electoral college.  At that rate the Democrats also stand at least a 50:50 chance of securing a 60:40 filibuster proof margin in the Senate and we could be seeing the dawning of a new age in American and World Politics.

Obama already has the 270 EVs he needs if he wins all the states (down to Pennsylvania) classified as strong Dem in the table above, and 291 if he takes the "Lean Dem" states of Nevada and Virginia as well.  Virginia should be one of the earlier states to declare a result (provided the long voting lines don't result in some delayed vote counts).  If Obama wins Virginia he should be safe.  Otherwise we could be in for a long night and many days in court before this thing is finally resolved.

Update [2008-11-5 2:50:55 by Frank Schnittger]: Well Obama did win Virginia and did win the race early by a blow-out margin. The final popular vote tally won't be in for some time, but it looks like being some way short of the 10%+ I predicted. I suspect that this was mostly because the turnout was unprecedentedly high on both sides - with the Republicans also getting their vote out despite an inferior ground operation.

In terms of electoral college votes it is looking like 375/163 rather than the 396/142 I predicted, but still within the generally accepted definition of a blow-out which I used in the poll. The variance with my forecast being due to Georgia (15), Montana (3), and North Dakota (3). Of these Georgia was always the long shot at the bottom of the list of toss-up possibilities. Montana and North Dakota were the most difficult to predict (as noted above) because of the relative paucity of polls there. At the time of writing, Missouri is to close to call, but seems to be trending towards Obama, and so I have included it in his numbers. It looks like it could be decided by a few hundred votes. Thankfully it isn't the decisive state, as otherwise the Supreme Court would have chosen the next President again.

I used the ad breaks on CNN to look at some of the Fox news coverage. Hardly ever having viewed it before, I was astonished at how dull and unimaginative it was. I was expecting a much slicker presentation and some more poisonous comment. They seemed to be taking defeat lying down. Why would even wingers watch this stuff? All the commentators seemed to agree that Obama ran a near flawless campaign with an unprecedented ground game, use of new technology, management and message discipline, and an eloquence to match the Kennedys and Martin Luther King. His only miss-steps were cited as his "bitter" comment and perhaps a delay in disassociating himself from the Rev. Wright. When even your detractors find so little to criticise, you must have run one hell of a campaign.

I thought both McCain's and Obama's speeches were very good. Neither even mentioned George W. Bush - a suitably ignominious end to an illegal regime. McCain was gracious in defeat - to a degree which seemed to disconcert his supporters. Obama wisely focused on the challenges ahead. His, will be a short honeymoon, and any triumphalism now would be used against him when the first set-backs come - as they inevitably will. He also, wisely, shared ownership of victory with his supporters, and offered it to his opponents. He will need the support of a broad coalition to overcome the challenges ahead.

PS Helen wins the stiff drink(s) for the most accurate prediction. The prize couldn't go to a more deserving person! Please name your tipple, Helen! [END UPDATE]

Poll
And the winner will be
. Obama by a 375+ EV Blowout 55%
. Obama by a 300+ EV safe margin 33%
. Obama by a tight 269-299 EV margin 11%
. McCain by a tight 269-299 EV margin 0%
. McCain by a 300+ EV safe margin 0%
. McCain by a 375+ EV Blowout 0%

Votes: 18
Results | Other Polls
Display:
Please feel free to add your predictions and reasons in the comments.  I'll buy the winner (with the closest prediction) a stiff drink if I make it to another ET Meet-up!

Vote McCain for war without gain
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 11:01:12 AM EST
Wow, you're even more bullish than Kos.  The frustrating thing is that this election could easily be anything from a landslide of 406 EVs to a pretty bare majority of 278.  Many, many states teetering.  If the Cell Phone Effect is real, and the ground game is as good as we've been led to believe, it could happen.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 11:16:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yea - obviously, if I had my house on it, I would hedge my bets and predict a safe number around 300 and have a better statistical chance of being right.  However what is the point of doing all this analysis if you then ignore it and go with the numbers the pollsters have been churning out?  I'm surprised that Nate and  Mark Blumenthal don't seem to have had the courage of their convictions and made a prediction based on their analyses rather than on the raw numbers which they have spend so long arguing are so flawed.

Vote McCain for war without gain
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 11:23:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well Looking at the poll figures, and dropping one random state for a surprise and picking up one from the unexpected column The figure i'm going for is 401

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 12:07:57 PM EST
For Obama to break 400 he would have to prove the polls wrong by at least 5% and win Arizona or other states with even wider margins in the polls.  It's not impossible, of course, but its hard to make a rational case for it based on the evidence available.  What is striking is that the polls have almost all converged around +7% or so - the Pew +15 outlier of a few says ago having been replaced by Pew's +6 today.  Perhaps the pollsters, too, are hedging their bets and massaging their figures so they can claim to have gotten the final result "right".  Certainly Pew has given totally false reasons for the change in their poll numbers and I just don't think their models are capturing the difference between the relative level's of enthusiasm between the Dem and Republican camps - the fundi's enthusiasm for Palin notwithstanding.

Vote McCain for war without gain
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 03:23:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've been wary of polls after the Prodi win against Berlusconi by just a few thousand votes. Prodi had a big lead in the polls while Berlusconi debunked them. In the end he was right.

That said, Berlusconi is slobbering all over Obama. He says that Obama, like Sarkozy, got their inspiration from him (sort of hard to believe with his fascist racist allies). Just a couple of months ago he was a die-hard McCaininite.

So if that's any indication, Obama is definitely in. Berlusconi always knows where to grovel.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 12:16:51 PM EST
Well, Berlusconi may have had good reason to disregard the polls ...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 12:17:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... oh, the Presidential Election? In the bag for Obama. Hopes for a 60-vote Senate seem to be dimming, but a lot closer to 60, and enough incumbent Republicans will go down to defeat that endangered Republicans in 2010 like Voinavich in Ohio are likely to break ranks in a hot filibuster fight.

But on the California HSR, I'd say, 1 out of 3 chance.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 12:31:25 PM EST
396 is what I called it in the OT yesterday, so I'm sticking to that - on hope. In the Senate I have to agree with Drew that it looks like 58 (incl. Lieberman and Sanders) plus one run-off (Georgia). It would take two upsets to enlarge that and no upsets on the other side, so I'm betting 58 (+1). Don't have much a clue about the house, but the consensus seems to be that the Dems will gain about 20 seats.

This is also significant, as the current Dem majority is 36 seats, and with 20 pickups, it'll be 76 seats. The Blue Dog Coalition, just to pick something, has 47 seats. So you might see a much more progressive house.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 12:32:12 PM EST
No idea really, but I went for 375+ so how about 376.

however, I'm gonna stick my neck out and say 59 for the Senate.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 01:15:52 PM EST
My prediction.

Worst case scenario for McCain (and everyone else) 269-269. Probability 20%

Obama 273 McCain 265 Probability 20%

Obama 286 McCain 252 Probability 20%

Something better for Obama 40%.

I don't think that Obama is going to carry Ohio, Florida, or Indiana.  So it's going to be a closer race no matter what.  But I think that there's about a 50% chance that there's something systematic about people who refuse participation in polls that favors McCain.

Bottom line, polls are at best a snapshot, and the number that you see have been subjected to extensive reweighting in order to reflect the electorate as pollsters see it.  So if pollsters get the electorate wrong then you have a real potential for error.

This happened in 2004 because pollsters didn't antipate heavy evangelical participation, which pushed Bush over the top.  Heavy Democratic turnout doesn't mean that Republican turnout isn't increasing as well.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 03:28:24 PM EST
ManfromMiddletown:
a 50% chance that there's something systematic about people who refuse participation in polls that favors McCain

I haven't seen any research on this - would refusers not be more likely to be non-voting "a plague on both your houses" people?  Have you data on the % refusals that pollsters typically get?  I thought the % was very small and thus the effect of any differential bias would also be small???

Vote McCain for war without gain

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 03:36:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I haven't seen any research on this - would refusers not be more likely to be non-voting "a plague on both your houses" people?

Possibly, but right now one of the candidates has virtually been declared the winner before the election is over.  It's not socially acceptable to say that you aren't going to vote for the winner.  

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 04:04:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some more comparisons. 538 projection vs. (/) actual result, rounded. For the more heavily polled states.

FL +1.7 / +2
OH +3.4 / +4
IN -1.5 / +1
MO -0.2 / -0
GA -3.7 / -5
NC +1 / +0
VA +5.6 / +5
PA +8 / +11
CO +6.6 / +7
NM +9.7 / +15
NV +4.9 / +12

Obama was slightly underestimated in IN and PA, ever so slightly overestimated in NC. But all within reasonable margins. No clear polling effect. Except NM and NV, where the likely voter models probably need to be adjusted.

Still have to see what happens with Georgia.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Nov 5th, 2008 at 12:22:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yep - it seems the polling aggregation sites generally did a good job in "predicting" the outcome.  It is also possible the greater Obama margins in the later timezones were influenced by reports of high turn-outs in Obama leaning areas resulting in a sense of inevitability concerning the outcome - depressing GOP turnout and promoting an association with the winning side.

Much of the polling industry is as much about shaping behaviours as reflecting them.

Vote McCain for war without gain

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 5th, 2008 at 12:59:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wait, I thought you said the election was over months ago when you were drooling over Caribou Barbie and her Fascism-for-Retards "economic nationalism"?

And, according to you, I was apparently suffering from a True Believer Syndrome of some kind that inhibited by ability to predict the race -- even though it seems the election moved basically as I told you it would back in August or September or whenever it was.

But I think that there's about a 50% chance that there's something systematic about people who refuse participation in polls that favors McCain.

Bottom line, polls are at best a snapshot, and the number that you see have been subjected to extensive reweighting in order to reflect the electorate as pollsters see it.  So if pollsters get the electorate wrong then you have a real potential for error.

This idea of a systematic refusal on the part of McCain supporters to answer polls is obviously horseshit.  Anybody with an ounce of sense should have been able to tell you that.  When the polls reach a pretty clear consensus, and the counts contradict them, it's the counts you should be suspicious of, not the polls.  The statistical laws are more trustworthy than the voting laws.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Wed Nov 5th, 2008 at 12:55:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Drew J Jones:
This idea of a systematic refusal on the part of McCain supporters to answer polls is obviously horseshit.  Anybody with an ounce of sense should have been able to tell you that.  When the polls reach a pretty clear consensus, and the counts contradict them, it's the counts you should be suspicious of, not the polls.  The statistical laws are more trustworthy than the voting laws.

I think there are sources of potential systematic bias in opinion polls but I never saw any evidence to support the hypothesis of a differential refusal to be interviewed - and argued that the refusal rate was in any case too low to have a significant distorting effect.

The increasing prominence of poll aggregation sites has also reduced the impact of statistical noise, systemic bias due "house effects", differential "likely voter" models, mobile phone only voters, and other imperfect modeling tools for the real world.

The results in this case also seems to have put to bed wild theories of "Bradley" and "Shy Tory" effects but one election doesn't prove that the opinion polls will always be right.  Nate reported that his database now contains the results of over 2 million individual interviews so the sheer volume of polling alone will have helped to reduce noise from even quite disagregated sub sections of the population.

Polls conducted with the same methodologies/assumptions should be able to track trends consistently and are a big step up from MSM pundits purporting to be able to articulate the views of the electorate by looking into their hearts.

Vote McCain for war without gain

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 5th, 2008 at 01:14:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The opinion polls are almost always right, and the times when they've been wrong occurred during periods when we had far less data to look at and were, in many cases, relying on Gallup to do everything for us.  And when Gallup (say) stops polling well before the election, it can't be unbelievably surprising when they get it wrong, as in the case of Harry Truman's victory over Dewey.

MfM has also apparently never watched the aggregation sites that deserved attention.  First of all, the only reason opinion polls predicted a Kerry victory was because of the fact that Drudge leaked a bunch of unweighted garbage online hours before the results began coming in.  Reweighted, the 2004 election was well within the range of reasonable outcomes, and even the unweighted exit polls weren't off by mind-blowing amounts.

The national margin in 2004 was only about a point better for Bush than the RealClearPolitics average.

Obviously the reason we use aggregates is that no pollster is going to get the LV model exactly right.  They're all guessing, and the truth probably lies somewhere in between.  Pollsters know what they're doing, but they're not perfect.  RCP said Obama would win by a little over 7.  He'll wind up winning by just shy of 7.  Pretty much spot-on.

The "Shy Tory" effect, at least in the American case (I won't speak to the British case having never examined the data), was something peddled this year by ideologues who'd become desperate and given in to wishful thinking.  Just Republicans trying to reassure themselves that the poll must be wrong -- that there was no way Obama was going to spank Grandpa.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Nov 8th, 2008 at 02:22:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Ireland, if a candidate suffered a close family bereavement on the eve of the election you can be pretty sure that he/she would get a significant sympathy vote.  Many people vote for emotive rather than rational reasons.  Intuitively, I would have expected Obama to have gained a couple of points from older, female, and more family orientated voters - frequently McCain rather than undecided voters.  However I simply don't know whether a similar dynamic works in US politics, so I excluded reference to Obama's Grandmother dying from the Diary. Any Amurkans here have a view on whether her death will have an effect on the outcome -particularly after the attempt to smear Obama with his Aunt's immigration status?

Vote McCain for war without gain
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 03:29:53 PM EST
Don't know any trends, but likely in amurka this particular bereavement vote is not a factor.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 07:37:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I say 291 electoral votes for Obama, and I base it on the polls + 5% Diebold-effect. And I then use the face-value of the polls as I think that (and not the real votes) gives the limitation of how many votes will still be reported after the machines are done with them.

The Onion has a more dramatic take:

Voting Machines Elect One Of Their Own As President


A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 06:13:19 PM EST
FiveThirtyEight.com: Electoral Projections Done Right: Franken Pulls Ahead; Georgia Is Screwy; Omaha Call Premature
Some very weird things are going on in Georgia, as the total vote is much, much lower than expected. Some speculation has the early vote not being counted, which would strongly suggest that Saxby Chambliss will have to face a runoff in four weeks.


Vote McCain for war without gain
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 5th, 2008 at 03:35:06 AM EST
If, indeed, they haven't counted the early vote in Georgia, the margin will close quite a bit for Obama to a pretty narrow loss.  He's down 7 for now, and I reckon he won the early vote by about 8.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Wed Nov 5th, 2008 at 09:05:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And, anyway, you didn't think ol' Sonny Perdue was actually going to let all the black folks vote, did you?

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Wed Nov 5th, 2008 at 12:37:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the priorities of the Obama Administration should be to institute a Federally enforceable process for the conduct of Federal Elections - including internet voting with transparent registration, voting, safe custody and vote counting procedures.

Vote McCain for war without gain
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 5th, 2008 at 12:53:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Times They Are A-Changin'

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Bob Dylan

Vote McCain for war without gain

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 5th, 2008 at 03:58:52 AM EST
Nate pretty much nailed it.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Wed Nov 5th, 2008 at 09:03:10 AM EST
I don't drink spirits at all and, whilst I like wine I drink it infrequently.

Of course you know where this is going. I'll have a beer please. And if I can choose I might as well have my favourite beer, so I'll have a large Schenkerla Rauschbier, preferably served straight from the cask at the Schenkerla brewery/tavern in Bamberg. Failing that, I'll open a bottle of it tonight and you can buy me another next time we meet (yes they do sell it in Paris).

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Nov 7th, 2008 at 06:00:03 AM EST
Sorry for the delay in rsponding.  I had thought this thread was dead.

Delighted to buy you a Schenkerla Rauschbier anytime but I'm not sure if I will be making another ET meet-up again anytime soon.  I'm in one of my "it's time to move on" states of being and I'm not sure what the future will hold.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Nov 9th, 2008 at 03:30:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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