Wednesday, November 7, 2012

2012 US Election: Obama and maths win

Today in a resounding win for maths, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney.

Before we get to the politics, the win was a win for the pollsters, and for those who created models based on their aggregated data. The big winner has been The NY Times’ Nate Silver, but in reality pretty much all forecasters were predicting and Obama win.

For example on the Huffington Post here was the predicted map:


Of the 4 “tossup states”, Obama was ahead in Colorado and Virginia; Romney was ahead in North Carolina. Florida was split 48%-48% And here’s how it ended up:

2012 Result

Obama won Colorado and Virginia as expected and Mitt won North Carolina as expected. And in the end Obama won Florida just to get the cherry on top.

All Obama lost from 2008 was Indiana and North Carolina which voted Republican even when Clinton was running in 1992 and 1996, let alone when George W won in 2000 and 2004. So it wasn’t a case of Romney making inroads, but more just getting back what the GOP used to take for granted.

With still around 25% of California’s vote to count, Obama leads by over 2 million votes. He has 50.1% of the vote, and because he’s winning California by around 57% he’ll likely end up with around 50.2%ish to Romney’s 48.3%ish.

The final Real Clear Politics average of the polls had Obama up 48.8% to 48.1%, Nate Silver had Obama projected to win 50.8% of the vote to Mitt’s 48.3%. So RCP under-estimated Obama’s share, and Silver slightly over-estimated it. Mind you Silver’s projection was for Obama to only win 313 electoral college votes, so he wasn’t exactly over-egging Obama’s chances.

It was a big loss for right wing pundits who were right till the very end (even past the end in Karl Rove’s case) suggesting the vibe and feel on the ground was at great variance to what the polls were suggesting. The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan was a classic example. Yesterday she wrote:

Everyone’s guessing. I spent Sunday morning in Washington with journalists and political hands, one of whom said she feels it’s Obama, the rest of whom said they don’t know. I think it’s Romney. I think he’s stealing in “like a thief with good tools,” in Walker Percy’s old words. While everyone is looking at the polls and the storm, Romney’s slipping into the presidency. He’s quietly rising, and he’s been rising for a while.

Now I don’t mind someone sticking her neck out and making a prediction, but a bit of substantial evidence wouldn’t go astray (especially when the Mitt’s rising” bit went against what the polls were showing). Instead Noonan served up this:

Who knows what to make of the weighting of the polls and the assumptions as to who will vote? Who knows the depth and breadth of each party’s turnout efforts? Among the wisest words spoken this cycle were by John Dickerson of CBS News and Slate, who said, in a conversation the night before the last presidential debate, that he thought maybe the American people were quietly cooking something up, something we don’t know about.

I think they are and I think it’s this: a Romney win.Twitpic - Share photos and videos on Twitter

Let this be a good example of to stop listening to people who say the polls are wrong because people running the polls obviously can’t be bothered trying to do their job right. The right wing seemed to live under the assumption that the polls were all purposefully being stupid – as though these companies wanted to be wrong.

When the supporters of a political party start telling you all the polls are wrong and that the vibe is with their side, know that they are picking up straws and clutching them like mad.

Yes a poll can be “wrong” but when you start collating lots of them, for them to be wrong you need to start assuming a lot of things don’t gel with reality. It’s why in Australia you don’t need to worry about individual poll movement – but instead be smart and look at Possum’s Pollytrend.

You can talk all you like about “the vibe” and how great the feel is out there “on the ground”. But if, come a day before the next election, the ALP is still running at 48% on the pollytrend, they won’t win.

Let the trend be your friend (and also let it make you look like you know what you’re talking about).

In the USA, a couple electoral maps (via the NY Times)  show the problem for the GOP in winning the Presidency.

First the vote by county (red is Republican)

2012 County vote

As you can see – lots of land mass is red. It looks like  America should be Republican

But now look at the margins of victory per county:

2012 Margin

Where Obama won big was in the big cities; where Mitt won big was in places that didn’t matter because they were never in play – such as Utah.

In Colorado for example Obama won big in and around Denver and Boulder. In Florida he won the Miami-Dade Country with 62% of the vote – that county had around 829,000 voters, next door in Broward County he won with 67%. It has around 719,000 voters. Together those 2 counties account for nearly 20% of the entire state’s vote.

In Ohio it’s the same story:


Obama won big in Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo. Romney won in Cincinnati but not by enough to make up for those losses – and that county in Cincinnati that he won (Clermont County) had only 94,000 voters. In the Cleveland county that Obama won big (Cuyahoga County) there are 610,000 voters, and Obama won with 69% of the vote (or by 236,000 votes). 

It’s also worth noting that even if Mitt won both Ohio and Florida, he still would’ve lost the election. When you’re in that kind of a scenario, you can’t say the election was close.

To change this map, the GOP has to come up with someone who can win in the cities – which means maybe not running a campaign that (to paraphrase Obama in 2008) is concerned about scared people who cling to their guns and religion.

The worry for those who would like to see a sensible Republican Party is that the Tea Party movement is not real big on logic. I can see them blaming this result on the fact that Mitt was too moderate (as was John McCain in 2008 in their view), and that Chris Christie betrayed them by embracing Obama after the Hurricane, and that they really needed someone like Rick Santorum or Paul Ryan.

Now that might get them a big result in Kentucky, but sure as heck won’t win them back Pennsylvania or Ohio.

One small hope for sanity is that the Tea Party got pretty well slapped this time round. Todd Akin – he of the “legitimate rape comment” – lost his Senate race in Missouri gaining only 40% of the vote. This was a state that Romney won with 54%.

Similarly Richard Mourdock – he of the pregnancy from rape is “something God intended to happen” comment – lost his Senate race in Indiana with only 44.4% of the vote. Again this is a state Romney won with 54.3%.

Similarly the candidate for head nutter of the Congress, Michel Bachmann, won her seat with only 50.6% of the vote. Her district has actually been rezoned since the last election and was supposed to be more Republican. This was a woman who actually tried to run for President with Tea Party support, and she only sneaked in.

Unfortunately there will be those in the Republican Party who instead of facing reality will follow Donald Trump’s lead:

The Donald

Including this woman (via @greenat16)

Just a few things wrong


Four years ago Obama’s victory speech was damn impressive. It drew heavily on Martin Luther King Jr.

Tonight’s speech was in some ways more impressive. It seemed more his own. One less concerned with remarking on the history of the moment but rather looking ahead – in fact looking “forward” (who knew “moving forward” could be a winning slogan!).

The best part of the speech invoked the usual American exceptionalism that is in all such speeches but nicely – and touchingly – brought it together with his policy for health care:

I am hopeful tonight because I've seen the spirit at work in America. I've seen it in the family business whose owners would rather cut their own pay than lay off their neighbors, and in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see a friend lose a job.

I've seen it in the soldiers who reenlist after losing a limb and in those SEALs who charged up the stairs into darkness and danger because they knew there was a buddy behind them watching their back.

I've seen it on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm.

And I saw just the other day, in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his 8-year-old daughter, whose long battle with leukemia nearly cost their family everything had it not been for health care reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care.

I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father, but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd listening to that father's story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes, because we knew that little girl could be our own.

And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright. That's who we are. That's the country I'm so proud to lead as your president.

And with that, here we go – four more years:


Anonymous said...

Best thing you've written so far.

Anonymous said...

One of the thing that gives me hope, besides the defeat of the 2 in the senate AND the guy who said "some girls rape easy", is that the Republican share of the Latino vote dropped from 40% under Bush to just above 20% of the vote for Romney. Both parties are going to have to deal with a more and more ethnically and culturally diverse electorate in the next few elections. The tea party types will get more and more frustrated by that but they cannot change it.
p.s. best pic of the day was Big Bird standing in line to vote.

Sandy said...

Excellent analysis as usual. I'm so appreciative of having such incisive and intelligent commentary and graphs so readily available. "Cutting the cr*p" comes to mind...

Greg Jericho said...

Thanks Sandy.

Cat I agree, but geez I watched a fair bit of Fox News today and they are in complete denial. Basically America is at fault for no longer being white middle aged. Bill O'Reilly even said "this isn't your father's America anymore".

Anonymous said...

Yes and long may that denial continue because the longer it will take them to get their act together.
My only reservation in being glad that particular demographic is changing is that because they are a more socially conservative group it might create conflicts in Democrat policy trying to appeal to the emerging range of groups but hey they have a better basis to start from than the Republicans. That basis being recognising them as human beings which you could argue from some of the Republican rhetoric is not what the GOP see them as.

Elli Davis said...

Excellent analysis, thanks a lot! Obama is going to face many challenges, let's see how he can deal with them!