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Nov 6, 2012

Whichever way you look at it, Obama will win

Mitt Romney's camp insists their man can carry the key states. But however you cut the polling, and even allowing for error and uncertainty around turnout, Barack Obama is in the box seat. Crikey crunches the numbers.


Of all the controversies in a frenzied final week of a tense presidential election campaign, none has been more fraught than the small matter of who is most likely to win.

One view, shared by statistical forecasters, betting markets and state-level opinion polls, has Barack Obama as a strong favourite — perhaps something more than that. The highest profile of the forecasters, FiveThirtyEight wunderkind Nate Silver, gives Obama an 86.3% chance of victory at the time of writing. An even more bullish view of Obama’s prospects is offered by Silver’s equally credible rival Sam Wang, a neurologist who has been putting his powers of analysis to work for the Princeton Election Consortium. Wang has two models on offer, one of which puts Obama’s chances at 98.3%, the other at 99.9%.

Feeding into these forecasts have been state polls showing Obama with small but stubborn leads where he needs them most. Feeding out of them has been an expectation of an Obama victory in betting markets, albeit in less comprehensive terms (the widely quoted Intrade has it at 66.7%).

The alternative view — that Mitt Romney is at level pegging or better — has been advanced by right-wing bloviators, media outlets with a ratings-driven interest in a close contest, journalists of the old school who dislike the way their game is changing, and — the one persistent basis for real doubt — polling conducted at the national rather than the local level, some of it of excellent pedigree.

Whereas the Australian political textbook instructs leaders and candidates to claim underdog status, presidential campaigns are concerned with generating enthusiasm among supporters in order to drive turnout. It’s thought this is best achieved by projecting an image of strength — perhaps especially so in the case of the Republicans, who are pitching to a male-dominated audience. Servants of the Republican cause have thus been eager to discern in the polling and forecasting professions the same liberal biases they feel they have come to know from scientific organisations and the media.

Forecasters have also come under fire from establishment media figures who argue political insight can be gained only through insider access, such as is available only to members of the journalistic closed shop. Leading the charge last week was cable news host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, who thundered that the level of concern he was hearing from the Democratic camp was risibly inconsistent with the one-in-six chance of defeat being projected for them by Silver (evidently Joe hasn’t played Russian roulette too often).

More troubling from Obama’s perspective has been the national polling, the RealClearPolitics aggregate of which had Romney about a point ahead from the aftermath of his October 3 debate win until Hurricane Sandy hit on October 29. The worst results of all for Obama came from the most prestigious name in the business, Gallup, which consistently had Romney’s lead at about five points up until its tracking poll closed shop after Sandy hit (today it has returned to the field with a final poll that has Romney only one point in front).

Confoundingly, polls conducted at state level — in many cases by the same organisations that were conducting the national polls — showed a weight of support for Obama that was incompatible with the national figures. This has most famously been reflected in a barrage of polling putting Obama 2-3% ahead in the key battleground of Ohio. Polling aggregates have also had him ahead in the swing states of Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire and Iowa — enough to get him over the line without assistance from Virginia, Florida or North Carolina, where he has been at least competitive.

National polling conducted in the wake of Sandy has found Obama edging upwards, narrowing the state polling gap and further weakening the case that Romney has as much grounds for confidence as his campaign asserts. Nate Silver’s state polling-inclusive model now has Obama 2.1% ahead on its national vote projection, against an averaged 1.1% on the basis of Sunday’s national polls. Even the national figure taken in isolation would give Romney little hope of victory, except at the outer reaches of the error margin.

Certainly it is not beyond the realms of possibility that systemic inaccuracy is causing the pollsters to get it wrong. Polls do better at some elections than others; 1980 and 1992 are examples where the combined error was of such size as would put the current result in doubt (although it might be thought notable that there were substantial campaigns by independent candidates on both occasions).

Such is the level of subjectivity involved in polling a US election, particularly in modelling turnout, that there is always a reasonable basis to argue that the wrong assumptions are being made. Romney boosters point to his lead among voters who identify as independent, and argue the pollsters are wrong to credit Obama with the level of Democratic turnout needed to cancel it out. However, party identification is at all times a slippery concept, and it has been complicated over the past term by the rise of the Tea Party and its adherents’ conviction that they are independents rather than Republicans.

The pollsters’ and forecasters’ judgements on such matters may well be imperfect, but they are unlikely to have been motivated on any level by wishful thinking, which clearly can’t be said for most of those talking up Romney. For this reason, I don’t see any reason to bet against the view shared by FiveThirtyEight and the RealClearPolitics state polling averages: that Obama will win the electoral college 303 to 235, carrying Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada, while falling short in Florida and North Carolina.


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41 thoughts on “Whichever way you look at it, Obama will win

  1. Dion Giles

    The American voters had better not count their chooks before they’re hatched. American elections are about as honest as Zimbabwean elections. Two Internet items this morning show once again the forces lined up to steal the current US presidential election from the voters.

    http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/318-66/14367-focus-last-minute-ohio-directive-could-trash-legal-votes (This bombshell was fired today. I’ve put a comment in to let American readers know how voting is conducted in the civilised world).


    A democratic poll – on an actual issue, labelling of genetically-poisoned food – is on in California same day as the presidential farce.

  2. Edward James

    Australia, australia how will we be affected by the USA election result? Edward James

  3. Michael

    This is terrific news for Romney (by the way he’ll win by a landslide) because I can’t recall the last time PollBludger got an ection result right.

  4. rhwombat

    Edward James@2: for one thing, I don’t think the Rabbott’s boat will support the influx of Republican Ratfuckers & Tory Teapots looking for refuge from repercussive reality that ended the Thatcher/Reagan era. Just think of it as Karl Rove’s (or Mark Textor’s) vultures coming home to roost.

  5. michael r james

    If you look at the trend lines in Nate Silver’s meta-data graphs for Florida, I reckon there is a fair chance Obama will retain Florida. If there were a few more days he would also claim NC too, but there isn’t time. However, given that any of this data is at least 48-72 h old, there was really almost 4 days equivalent to extrapolate: unless something unexpected happens this projects to a narrow win in Florida for Obama.

    Independent of that, I suspect the polls in Florida are underestimating BO’s support (Puerto Rican Hispanics being newer and less conservative than Cuban Hispanics; Florida is a hurricane state and will have taken lessons from Sandy), but that is perhaps wishful thinking. Not so much on behalf of Obama (who will not need Florida) but in the hope that all the southern Hispanic states including Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Florida are all in the process of turning purple. (Of course NM is actually beyond purple being blue already.) This spells long-term oblivion for the nuttier conservatives–which of course will self-correct and thus might bring some more rational politics to the US.

  6. William Bowe

    Michael, I’m willing to be you can’t remember the last time I got one wrong either.

  7. Edward James

    rhwombat once in a green moon perhaps/ Edward James

  8. toby shepherd

    btw this is ptmd

  9. toby shepherd

    Well, if Romney wins in the USA and PMJG wins in Australia, maybe all the rightwing nutters here will immigrate to the USA and leave the rest of us alone for a while.

  10. Lord Barry Bonkton

    Has Obama won yet ?

  11. Edward James

    Kevin Heiner Rudd & Julia slush fund Gillard may be related by more than dodgy labor politics, lets start asking questions which matter to australian taxpayers. Edward james

  12. Peter Ormonde

    Strewth William, where do you get this stuff:

    “Whereas the Australian political textbook instructs leaders and candidates to claim underdog status, presidential campaigns are concerned with generating enthusiasm among supporters in order to drive turnout.”

    You made that up – didn’t you? Cos it’s simply not true.

    Where you have volunteer voting the biggest danger – particularly for an incumbent President – is to look like a shoe-in , to the extent where folks who voted for you last time, and are feeling somewhat jaundiced, stay home.

    So you have a consummate professional speechifier like Obama running dead on the first TV debate and deliberately so … to erode the commonsense perception that he has the inside running and doesn’t need your help. He needed to get those polling numbers closer. It’s not about polls William – it is about an election.

    Looking forward to your analysis of how close the polls were to the eventual outcome … and why they are all over the place. Or don’t we care how accurate or useful polls actually are.

  13. rhwombat

    As long as we don’t start talking about Pell’s Pet Rabbott, eh Fast Eddie? Unfortunately I don’t think that the first condition of toby shepherd’s proposition will eventuate, so we’ll have to put up with the St John’s College support squadron for a while yet, even when Ms Gillard wins next year.

  14. Mike Flanagan

    Hi Pete;
    How is that kooley mut going?
    Mark Blumenthal’s summary of the all the polls, even alowing for the obvious bias of the Huff Post, seems to be the most comprehensive I have been able to find.
    Thankfully it will probably be all over in 48 hours but unfortunately it has given us an advance look at the style of election we are about to experience to hide the inadequacies of Liberal and Country party front bench warmers

  15. Mike Flanagan

    In fact I find the TV and net coverage of live arrivals and conferences more enlightening than the polls. MR’s missus has been decidedly glum over the past week and Mitt has been giving me the impression he is filling in time even though he is buggared and is more anxious to get his lower back attended to, while BO has become tongue tired as the last week has progressed.

  16. Peter Ormonde

    G’day Mike …

    Bloody dog’s doing fine which is more than I can say for my dwindling sock stash and my boots. He’s a smart little bugger but goes out of his way to find mischief … even collecting shoes from the neighbours’ back steps. I’m going to have to have a “shoe find” stall or some such I suspect…. do you recognise this thong… this pile of shredded leather?

    Can’t imagine Romney actually winning – not after that 47% comment and his other appalling indiscretions. But I still wouldn’t be putting money on the outcome… too many variables, too many unknowns … even unknown unknowns. One just hopes.

  17. Dion Giles

    In Peter Ormonde’s last paragraph account is not taken of the fact that American elections are FIXED. 2000 – the corrupt judges stopped the Florida count to rescue Bush. 2004 – the deciding Ohio vote was dialled up on Diebold machines with no verifiable paper trail. 2008 – Obama was so far ahead, and so safely committed to continuing the Bush programme, that he was allowed to win. 2012 – Obama is slightly ahead but quite possibly not by enough, especially considering the strenuous efforts to stop people voting, to swamp the counting “fix”.

  18. Mike Flanagan

    Pete O;
    It not just the indiscretions but the remodelling throughout the primaries and then yet another make-over during the campaign proper. Abbott seems to be fine tuning himself to adopt this strategy.

  19. Peter Ormonde

    Yep Dion, that’d have to be one of those “unknown unknowns”… the lengths that Republican states will go to to frustrate and subvert democracy in the land of the free.

    There have been a string of Supreme Court decisions over the last few years which would effectively (hopefully) rule out another Florida but there have been a string of niggling obstacles thrown up by several states designed to frustrate Democrat voters such as increasing the identification requirements at polling places.

    Quite remarkable that these basic constitutional rights and entitlements are actually controlled by tin-pot state legislators.

    It’s democracy – but not as we know it.

  20. Peter Ormonde

    Bit harder to arrange these overnight makeovers here Mike – where we get the dubious pleasure of seeing Tony every night on TV – at a factory, a school, a shopping centre, in Question Time … being, well Tony. We get to know our leaders very well indeed. Perhaps too well.

    But I’m sensing some whiff of panic and amateurishness in the Liberal camp. Wheeling out Tony’s Mrs and kids to say how nice is he is in a blizzard of PR hype nation-wide … 12 months away from an election … my goodness me talk about shooting too soon… As if anyone but the most deliriously gullible would be conned by such a crude and obvious ploy. Abbott is fighting the polls.

    I’m still thinking we might be looking at a different Opposition line-up by the time the ballot is upon us … this bloke cost them 2010. He’ll cost them 2013 as well.

    There just isn’t enough botox about to make Tony Abbott look tempting.

  21. Steve777

    Elections in the USA seems to be highly flawed, to say the least, from outdated 19th Century practices (voting on Tuesday, the Electoral College), a ramshackle process (e.g. use of 1960’s vintage punched card equipment) and in is many respects quite corrupt (e.g. grotesquely gerrymandered electorates; widespread and open voter suppression). They really need to clean up their act. They already adopted one Australian innovation – the Secret Ballot. There are a few more things that they can learn from Australia: preferential voting; legislated fair electoral boundaries; a national Electoral Commission; and compulsory voting.

  22. Mike Flanagan

    Yes Peter, I too get the sense of panic developing around the Aggott.Just like ball lightning he will disappear into the ether leaving the nation to attend to the challenges confronting us without the slightest sense of responsibility .
    The problem that confronts the Coalition is the lack of talent on their front bench that Howard and Costello bequethed them.
    Turnbull, the master of ceremonies for the HIH debacle, is about the only electorally acceptable nominee. He also is going to have to bow to the Karl Rove ginger group that seem to have ensconsed themselselve as pivotal influences on conservative policy direction.

  23. Peter Ormonde

    Yes, I like your idea of the mercurial Abbott bouncing about like a ball of plasma – all static, no substance.

    But Turnbull has some serious problems: too smart by half, too reasonable, not aggressive enough (one can never be too aggressive apparently)… more to the point, he’s probably in the wrong party (certainly a lot of the remnants in the Liberal party room think so). Too much policy – not enough sound-bite.

    Can’t really see them having the courage to switch horses mid-stream. If they’re going to do it it will need to be soon.

    Keep your eye on the appalling Kelly O’Dwyer … a lass with boundless ambition and self-assurance… and I’ve heard she’s a woman. A a well-connected roughie and unproven, but given what Abbott is proving to be, I reckon there’ll be a growing number of panicking Libs looking for any sort of alternative.


  24. Mike Flanagan

    Kelly O’Dwyer!! Yet another Michael Kroger supplement for policy and substance.

  25. Peter Ormonde

    Heck Mike I didn’t say she was any good!!! But she’s got the right phone numbers in her book and she ticks all the right boxes for a mob looking for a Ms Messiah…. impeccable breeding and bloodlines, young and relatively unknown…. and doesn’t demur from dumbing it all down and sludging it out to the lowest common denominator. Best shot they’ve got.

    Should’ve given her a run in the Cup I reckon. Horrible.

  26. dunph

    For a contrary view, I suggest you read Dick Morris’ prediction published on TheHill.com

    Morris predicts Romney 325 to Obama’s 213 – and he’s a savvy assessor of these things!

  27. Mike Flanagan

    I believe the dynamics are changing Pete. It is interesting to observe that the KPMG and Price Waterhouse have added their alarm to the Climate Change debate and lack of conviction shown by most governments to its’ emelioration. See this mornings Age and Independant.
    If Obama wins, and bookies have him as odds on, then the denialist debate will have experienced their greatest defeat, even with BO’s timid and softly softly approach.
    Aggott having led the coalition to their equivocation policy to satisfy the Tea Party element of his party has left them with a major dilemma that even a new leader will find hard to shake off.
    Every reputable scientist on the subject have debunked the veracity of most elements of his ‘direct action’.
    I certainly apologise if my previuos posting inferring you had some respect for Kelly, it certainly wasn’t intended.

  28. Peter Ormonde

    No offence taken Mike. Although I suspect that Ms O’Dwyer could take a fence with consummate ease.

    Yes I’ve long had the rather sad thought that it will take a significant climatic disaster somewhere “white and decent” before we take this climate business seriously. Drowning little flyspeck islands in the Pacific, or inundating parts of Asia or Africa, just won’t cut the mustard.

    Maybe Sandy will help but it still won’t be enough… New Orleans wasn’t enough. I suspect it will need to be bigger and worse than even this. And it will have to be in the USA.

    Sad how bad we are at learning and anticipating isn’t it? But I think that once we’ve seen the future on offer, once we’ve experienced it – the argument, the denialist absurdities, Tony’s “crap” and “direct action” nonsense will all disappear without trace. Climate change and the need to rein in our fuel burning will just become the obvious common sense. It’ll be harder then, but at least there will be the political will.

    Hell of a way to learn. Too clever to realise how stupid we are.

  29. This little black duck

    Antony has his nifty screen on ABC24.

  30. This little black duck

    Downer is talking nonsense. The electorate is enthused – massive turnout, by reports.

  31. Merve

    “Kelly O’Dwyer!! Yet another Michael Kroger supplement for policy and substance.”

    How could she be a Kroger plant when she’s in Costello’s old seat. Kroger and Costello hate each other now.

  32. Peter Ormonde

    Downer? Talking nonsense??? Surely not!

  33. This little black duck

    No more Downer and Baird. Now Chika and Loosely.

  34. Edward James

    I recall a “Chicka” She told me one night outside NSW State Parliament. It is just politics Mr James. Yes and we are all paying for it!

  35. This little black duck

    Looking at CNN, it’s hard to see the GOP winning Florida.

  36. The Pav

    Dear Michale @3

    Got any more smart aleck comments?

  37. Karen

    @Michael # 3 – time to eat crow, mate. William Bowe’s maths doesn’t lie.

  38. Mike Flanagan

    Costello and Kroger were as thick as thieves, and acted accordingly, and it is only in recent times they have displayed their dislikeof each other.

  39. Edward James

    Who won? Edward James

  40. Peter Ormonde

    Who won what?

  41. Edward James

    Its all right I just heard on 2GB Obama

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