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Predictions from a United States Political Historian

by Ben P Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 11:41:31 AM EST

That is, in part, what I am trained in. So I thought I would tell you what I think.


Firstly, Obama is going to win the popular vote. He is currently leading from 5 to 11 points in the final national polls. McCain has not led a single national poll in 6 weeks. To give you some idea of how significant this is, there have probably been over 500 individual national polls released in this time. There are 8 national tracking polls released daily alone. McCain has not led in a single one of these polls since the third week in September.

The question then becomes: how big will the national popular vote victory and what about the Electoral College? I have thought for about three weeks that Obama will ultimately receive 51-53% of the national vote, McCain 45-47%. I was generally - earlier - more inclined to be on the pessimistic side, even entertaining the possibility that the final result could be something like 50 to 48. I don't think this is possible any more.

Now there are three things to keep in mind about turnout in general:

  1. The African American turnout is going to be massive and is going to more favorable to Obama than it was to Kerry (or Gore) by a fair bit. It is truly difficult to convey the importance Obama's candidacy has for black America: I have NEVER, I repeat NEVER seen African Americans wearing candidate buttons, with bumper stickers like I have this year. It is true that Democrats typically receive 85 to 90% of the African American vote. Obama is going to receive about 95% of the vote. This is going to make a difference in a number of southern states like Georgia that I think Obama has an outside chance of winning.

  2. The cellphone factor. It is quite clear now that polling that includes cell phone calls in its sampling is more favorable to Obama. Indeed, consider that Obama runs much better amongst young people than old people. Consider: who do you know who has a landline? I don't. And I hardly a big cell phone/texting person. And I'm 32. I imagine most people in their mid twenties don't have landline phones.

  3. This one is a bit more of a pro-McCain point. Most of the remaining undecideds are fairly conservative blue collar white voters. This is a naturally GOP leaning constituency. These people voted for Bush in '00 and '04. But they don't like Bush or McCain. But they don't like Obama either. He is too "foreign": these are the types of people McCain's pretty fierce cultural war campaign have some effect upon. That said, they aren't enthusiastic about the GOP and will vote Dem down ballot, if they vote at all. McCain will get some of these voters, but many others will vote third party or won't bother. It doesn't help that McCain's operation has gutted its Get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation in order to fund more paid media advertising.

Now, keeping these factors in mind, let us now consider the key states, where American elections are ultimately won. Moving roughly east to west:

First, Pennsylvania: in the bag for Obama. He consistently polls at 52 to 53%. McCain made a big play here, but he is going to come up short by a fair bit. I'm thinking something like Obama 52-53, McCain 45-46.

OK, Virginia: its kind of amazing how well Obama has done here. Consider that Bush won this state by about 8% in 2004. No Democrat has won this state since LBJ in 1964. Yet, the proof is in the polls. I think McCain has cut Obama's lead here a bit (by getting some of the voters I mention in point 3 above), but the states demographics have trended Dem - particularly the NoVA DC suburbs - and it has a fairly high African American pop. - 20%+. Final result: Obama 51, McCain 48.

Next, NC: a bit like VA, but more conservative. Consider: Bush won this state by 12% in 2004. It is literally neck and neck right now. It has a high black pop., however. Also, cities like Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte have a fair amount of northern transplants that have moderated this state. Its going to be very close, but Obama has banked a significant lead in the early voting. A lot depends on how well GOP voters turn out on election day. Obama 49, McCain 49: no predicted winner.

OK, further south, Florida: famous for 2000, Bush actually won this state by a decent margin in '04 - by like 4 to 5%. Demographically this is not a great state for Obama. It is quite old, has a relatively low Afrcian American population, a significant white evangelical Protestant pop., fairly hawkish. That said, Obama has a small but lead in most of the public polling. I think he is going to win it, even though Dems often underperform polling in this state. Lets say, Obama 50, Mccain 48

Now, back north. Ohio. This was ground zero in '04. This year, not so much. Again, a state with somewhat challenging demographics for Obama. However, consider that Bush got 16% of the black vote here in '04 and beat Kerry here 51 to 49. McCain is not going to come close to that first number. However, this is a state where a lot of the "culture war" attacks has the potential of driving swingable white voters to McCain (who have voted for Dems like Clinton and even Kerry). Still, most polling gives Obama a small lead here. I'm going to say, Obama 50, McCain 48. Same as Florida.

Indiana: Another state that is kind of amazing Obama is doing well in. Bush won this state in '04 by 20%. But the polling is neck and neck here. I don't know this state very well. I think Obama has a very good GOTV operation here. I'm going to give this state to McCain 50 to 48.

West of the Mississippi . . .

Missouri - another very close state. Neck and neck. Weird state in that most of the pop lives in two metro areas, but the rural areas are very conservative. I think Obama just wins - something like 50 to 49. You won't know until like 3 in the morning, because Kansas City and St. Louis are the last areas to report - the more conservative candidate always starts with a big lead, that gets chipped away as the night goes on.

Colorado - Good state for Obama. He's consistently led here, although Bush carried it by 5 points in '04. This is a state where the GOP's alienation of Latino sentiment since '05 (immigration debate) starts to come into play. It is also a state with a lot of transplants, quite well educated. Lot of very conservative voters here too - white evangelicals, military folks, etc.. I'm guessing - Obama 52, McCain 46

New Mexico -Bush barely won this state in '04, Gore barely won it in '00. Key factor here is the Latino vote - again, Obama and the Dems in general have improved their performance amongst Latinos by about 5 to 10% since '04 - this for me is one of the most under looked stories of this electoral cycle and is key to a lot of their gains in important states. This is going to be a fairly easy win for Obama - Obama 53, McCain 45

Nevada - An important bellweather state. Jimmy Carter is the only succesful Democratic candidate for President since the Civil War to win office without winning Nevada. Its importance is even greater today - it contains important and fairly representative demographic cross section of the nation as a whole, particularly amongst fast growing demographics. Its also a state Kerry came close to winning in '04, outperforming the pre-election polling, suggesting that pollster undersample Democratic voters in the state. Obama is doing very well in the early voting here. I think he carries it fairly easily - say Obama 52, McCain 47

Montana - an interesting late edition and a state Bush carried by 20% in '04. However, the Dems have had a significant revival in this state since '04 in fact. They have a popular and dynamic Dem governor, Bryan Schweitzer. Elected a good Dem Senator in '04 as well. A poll out this morning had Obama up by 48-47, and he is doing well in early voting. However, there hasn't been a lot of polling here, so its hard to make too many judgements. My recollection is is that Republicans outperform the polling here - I'm going to go with McCain 50, Obama 47

North Dakota is another surprisingly close state. Again like MT, there hasn't been a lot of polling, but some polls have put him in the lead. My sense is that McCain ultimately pulls it out somewhat comfortably. Say, McCain 52, Obama 46

The one final state that could shock is Georgia. African American turnout has been phenomenal in the early voting here. If it can continue at close the same place, Obama could pull out a real shock. I don't think this is going to happen, although this is going to be a surprisingly close state, considering how conservative the white population is here and that Bush won the state by almost 20% in '04. McCain 52, Obama 47

In other words, I am declaring that Obama will win the election with 349 Electoral College votes. Maybe 374, with North Carolina - the one state I haven't allocated (if you put a gun to my head, though, I think McCain takes it).

I am a little shaky on Ohio and Florida. Missouri could also go McCain. But conversely, I think Indiana could go Obama. Downside then, Obama wins in the neighborhood of 280-290 Electoral College Votes. Upside, maybe 370 or higher. I think he gets 349.

BTW, Obama is going to run up huge margins in traditionally "blue" states like California and New York. He will probably break 60% in both. He is also going to outperform Kerry and Gore in Texas, although he will lose Texas by 10 to 12%. Nevertheless, doing well in big states will help Obama run up the national popular vote.

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This would be a good thread to follow the action, since we can compare incoming results with your informed predictions.

I really have no real sense of how it is going to go - I just hope. If Finns had anything to do with it it would be for Obama 90 - 10, according to a newspaper poll 2 days ago ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 11:55:03 AM EST
Tell one of the front pagers!
by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 12:39:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We have an election open thread and two prediction threads... <throws hands up>

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 01:07:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now we need a thread to suggest appropriate foodstuffs and one for cocktails. Then we'll be done, until tomorrow, when we can speculate wildly on what an Obama presidency will mean (or shiver in fear at the spectre of a Palin regime).

Then, Thursday, we can start explaining to the USians that this is a move towards the centre right from the far, far right and that the left is way, way over here!

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 01:09:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
pancakes on the house.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 01:15:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You mean like solar panels?

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 02:42:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The batter is an excellent insulator, and they provide food and shelter for a wide variety of migratory birds.
by Zwackus on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 04:33:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Then comes the inevitable question: would lemon or maple syrup add the most sustainability value?

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 04:49:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
it's solar and wind, lemon and syrup, silly!

damn dualist, i challenge you to a dual at dawn.

choice of weapons, griddle or skillet?

a brace of chased hunting spatulas?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Nov 5th, 2008 at 03:06:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Now we need a thread to suggest appropriate foodstuffs and one for cocktails.

I was walking in the downtown of the small college town I'm in right now, and some is clearly a genius.

Because the local bar had drink specials.  Election day has never been a big drinking holiday here in the Midwestern US, but I'm imagining however it ends up someone's supporters are going to be making friends with Jack Daniels and Jim Bean before the end of the night.

As for moving to the left, I couldn't agree more.

Assuming Obama wins, which is still an assumption, the first big test is going to be whether Obama follows through with the Employee Free Choice Act, (EFCA) which would substantially reduce the barriers to unionization in American workplaces.  

Opinion polling suggests that over half of American workers would like to belong to a labor union. It's been estimated that the passage of the EFCA would double the number of successful unionization campaigns.

As of 2007 about 12.1% of American workers are members of a labor union. As recently as the late 1970s it was double that.

A resurgence of American labor would change the political scene.  I can only hope that Obama doesn't back away from passing the EFCA once he's in office.


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 03:15:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The networks are calling Pennsylvania and Ohio for Obama, which makes it almost impossible for McCain to win...
by asdf on Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 09:53:21 PM EST


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