Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Romney helped by a split field? Not nationally.

Almost all pundits believe that the Republican nomination will come down to Mitt Romney and a conservative alternative. Once the field winnows after the Iowa Caucus will conservatives coalesce around this "alternative"? Is Romney's 25% ceiling in national primary polls a sign that he will never garner a majority of Republican primary voters?

To answer this question, a few national pollsters have tested Romney against a sole conservative alternative.

They do this by first testing all the viable Republican candidates (Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Huntsman, Paul, Perry, Romney, and Santorum), and then following up this full-slate question by polling Romney vs. one other candidate (Cain, Gingrich, or Romney).

If non-Romney voters are as a group solely looking for a Romney alternative, we would expect Romney's support relative to a given conservative alternative to drop dramatically from the full matchup to the followup one-on-one question.

Mathematically we can test this through the following equation:

Romney split field advantage = Romney support / (Romney support + conservative alternative support) * 100 in the one-on-one test - Romney support / (Romney support + conservative alternative support) * 100 in the full trial heat.

This equation gives us Romney's percentage of the vote vs. the conservative out of 100% with undecideds allocated.

A negative value means that voters who do not vote for Romney or the conservative alternative in the full candidate lineup are mostly part of the "anyone but Romney" crowd. A positive means that Romney would not necessarily be hurt once the field comes down to one other candidate and him.

As the table below shows, Romney support relative to the conservative alternative has remained about the same in the full and one-on-one matchups.

In the 8 times the Romney one-on-one matchup has been polled, Romney has done on median only 2% worse in the one-on-one than in the full trial heat. The biggest difference was an early November NBC poll that had Romney's support dropping from 74% to 63% in a one-on-one against the now weak Rick Perry.

While this number may be close to being statistically significant, it is not substantially significant. If non-Romney voters in the full trial heat were absolutely against him, we would expect him to do far worse than 2% in the one-on-one.

Does this mean that Romney is going to win in a one-on-one against one conservative? No.

For one thing, we are talking about support relative to the full trial heat. When Romney trails the conservative in the full matchup, he trails them in the one-on-one. In the most recent Quinnipiac poll matchup, he held 46% of the vote relative to Gingrich in the question including all the candidates and 44% in the one-on-one.

It is only when Romney leads in a poll of all the candidates should we expect him to lead in a one-on-one poll. An example of this phenomenon is an early November NBC poll when Romney held 51% of the vote in both the full trial heat and one-on-one against Herman Cain.

I should also point out that any one candidate (e.g. Herman Cain) might have his/her support go overwhelmingly to one candidate. A Selzer and Co. Bloomberg Iowa poll shows Herman Cain's voters going to Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, not Mitt Romney*.

Still, the evidence from the national polls suggests that Romney is not greatly benefitting greatly from a split field. If he is leading when there are eight candidates in the race, he will still be leading when there are only two.

*Note that Selzer and Co's New Hampshire poll has Cain supporters splitting far more evenly between Gingrich and Romney. Also a national Pew poll found Cain supporters splitting exactly evenly between Gingrich and Romney.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Republicans Winning The Senate... That Is Where The ---> Points

It has been a few months since I checked in on the 2012 Senate scene, and, unfortunately for Democrats, very little has changed.

Democrats are playing defense in every region of the country with 23 Democratic seats up for reelection and are on offense in only a few states with only 10 Republican seats up for reelection.

To win back the Senate outright, Republicans need to have a net gain of 4 seats from Democrats. Polling indicates that they are well on their way.

I count 8* currently held Democratic seats where in a conceivable (i.e. both candidates in the match-up have declared they are running and have a legitimate shot of winning their party's nomination) general election match-ups the Republican candidate has led in at least one poll.

This includes Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

How good is eight for Republicans? By this point in 2010**, Republicans only led in 6 states where a "conceivable" matchup was polled. Remember that Republicans gained six seats in 2010, which if duplicated would give the Republicans a majority with room to spare in 2012***.

Democrats have led in at least one poll in only Massachusetts and Nevada. This number matches 2010 at this point when Democrats led in at least one poll in a "conceivable" matchup in Missouri and Ohio. Democrats would lose both races by double-digits.

What about expert ratings from the Cook Political Report? Experts, at least at this early point, might have information on the races that goes beyond polling data.

Cook list seats from the very competitive tossup category, to the somewhat less competitive lean category, to the possibly competitive likely category, and the least competitive solid category.

2012 Republicans are competitive in more seats at this point than in any year since 2004****.

In fact, next to the 15 Democratic held seats up not solidly held, the next highest total seats in play is 10 Democratic seats in 2004. There are also more Democratic seats in the tossup category than either party has had in any prior year, and there is already one Democratic seat leaning towards Republican control.

But how accurate are these early predictions? As the table below illustrates, they tend to be pretty accurate. Solid seats are won by the favored party 96% of the time, likely seats 79%, lean seats 80%, and tossup seats 50%.

Thus, we might expect Democrat Seats Won in 2012 = Solid D * 0.9610 + Likely D * 0.7895 + Lean D * 0.8 + Tossup D * 0.5 + Tossup R * 0.5 + Lean R * 0.2+ Likely R * 0.2005 + Solid R * 0.0390.

If these distributions held [as Nate Silver applied (but found was inaccurate) in his earlier analysis] for 2012, Republicans would be expected to pickup 4.1 seats. The issue is that in none of the past four elections did a normal distribution hold.

That is if we applied these percentages to the prior elections, the party that had more seats at risk (in likely, lean, or tossup) went onto lose more seats than a normal distribution would forecast.

In 2004, Democrats lost 4, not 1.8 seats; in 2006, Republicans lost 6, not 2.5 seats; in 2008***** Republicans 8, not 4 seats; and in 2010******, Democrats lost 6 not 0.9 seats.

If these trends hold for 2012, Democrats would not lose 4 seats, but somewhere between 6 and possibly 9.

With the 8 Democratic tossup seats or leaning Republican plus the currently leaning Democratic Florida where Connie Mack actually leads in one recent poll and close match-ups in Michigan and Connecticut (if Chris Shays wins the Republican nomination), 9 Republican pickups is not mathematically crazy.

I mean I am certainly not calling for 9 Democratic seats to fall into Republican hands, but the mere fact that it is possible says something. More than that, it fits in with the polling data and my own historic economic aggregate Senate model. They are all signaling for large Republican gains this far out from the election.

But the fact that we are a year out should lead us to caution. The datasets with which we are dealing contain a small amount of observations. Some yet unknown Senate incumbents may retire, and there may be some unforeseen primary match-ups. Indeed, it is always possible that one election cycle will break the mold (think Tim Tebow's recent performances).

The problem for Democrats is that, at least at this point, 2012 does not seem to be one of those years.

*Both Indiana and North Dakota saw Democratic Senators retire, and both were won by the Republicans by large margins.
**The currently Democratic held North Dakota Senate seat has yet to be polled, but it likely that Republican Rick Berg is in the lead.
***See my prior piece for 2008 polling. Though the piece refers to polls taken earlier in the 2008 cycle, the number of Republican seats that were predicted to be won by Democrats, 3, held through this point in the 2008 cycle. Democrats actually won 8.
****Earliest year in which the Cook Political Report lists their Senate predictions on their website.
*****Note that the Mississippi Special Election is not included in the link or in my standings because it was not yet scheduled.
******Note that the Massachusetts Special Election is included in the link, but not in my standings because it was held in January 2010. The West Virginia Senate Special is not included in the link or in my standings because it was yet to be scheduled.


Tea Party Costing Republican Senate Seats in 2010?

With so much attention being paid to House redistricting and the ever evolving Republican presidential field, it is easy to lose sight of the 2012 Senate elections. Thankfully, The NY Times recently picked up the pace with an article titled "Feuding Hurts G.O.P.’s Hopes to Win Senate".

The article points out that in 2010 Republicans nominated Tea Party backed candidates in a number of states (Colorado, Delaware, and Nevada) when they were supposedly weaker general election candidates than their primary opponents. But is this hypothesis correct?

The answer is sorta. Yes, Delaware Republican voters threw away a near-perfect opportunity to pickup a Senate seat by nominating Tea Partier Christine O'Donnell over moderate Rep. Mike Castle.

It does not seem, however, that the nomination of Ken Buck in Colorado and Sharron Angle in Nevada cost Republican seats.

Colorado Republican voters passed over the more moderate Jane Norton. Yet, Norton actually was in a weaker standing in general election polls against Democrat Michael Bennet by the time Republican voters chose Buck.

She was also losing ground in the general election polls at the time of the primary.

Buck, on the other hand, lead in the vast majority of general election polls throughout 2010 (including polls taken during the final weeks of the campaign).

It is possible that Norton might have been a stronger general election candidate, but there is no sign that she would have been.

Sharron Angle in Nevada is the more interesting story. Yes, we can agree that she was such a weak candidate that she had to be hidden from the press by her handlers.

But who would have been a stronger general election candidate? The more moderate Sue Lowden? The same Sue Lowden who spoke about chicken exchanges in the healthcare business?

Like Norton, Lowden was in worse shape in general election polls than her Tea Party primary opponent, Sharron Angle, and was losing ground by the end of the primary season.

Angle lead in most general election polls leading up to the November election, only to have Democrat Harry Reid's turnout operation shock the political world.

I am certainly not claiming that primaries do not matter. Candidates can make a difference (though exactly how much is up for debate), but the idea that Republican primary voters cost themselves three Senate seats in 2010 just is not supported by the facts.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


The Ron Paul Iowa "Boomlet"... and What It Really Means

Most pundits have written on how a Mitt Romney victory in Iowa would score him a knockout blow in the Republican presidential primary contest. The basic logic being that Romney has New Hampshire all but locked up, and a victory there and in Iowa would propel him to victories in South Carolina, Florida, and beyond.

A Romney loss in Iowa would give the caucus winner the "conservative" standard bearer badge to Romney's more moderate candidacy.

If current conservative flavor of the month Newt Gingrich won for example, he could easily win South Carolina in his native south. Combine this Gingrich win with the likely Romney win in New Hampshire, and we would be in for an extended nomination process.

Indeed, pretty much of the punditry on the early states revolves around a conservative candidate (whether it be Gingrich, Cain, Perry, etc.) emerging to challenge Romney. The only way Romney can avoid such a scenario is to win Iowa. But a different more interesting solution for Romney may be emerging.

There are signs (see the great Selzer & Co.'s Bloomberg poll) in some Iowa polling that Ron Paul is capable of garnering 20% support of Iowa caucus goers. In a field that includes six other viable candidates (Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Perry, Romney, and Santorum), 20% could conceivably win the caucus. Check out a possible outcome below.

If Romney were then to win in New Hampshire, the two early contests would be split between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.

Considering the momentum effect of Iowa and New Hampshire, it would seem likely that conservatives in later states would line up between one of these two candidates. That is, there would be no "traditional conservative" (as described by the mainstream media) to challenge Romney.

While Paul supporters would argue that he is the "true conservative" in the Romney-Paul pair, most Republican primary voters would disagree.

Paul's positions on foreign policy, national security, drugs, and a host of other issues do not line up with what most Republican primary voters believe. Although Mitt Romney does not exactly have a long track record of "true conservative" stances, his current policy positions on most issues are closer to the core of the Republican party.

That is the reason why Romney not only has a higher favorability among Republicans nationwide, but also has Republicans more enthusiastic about his candidacy. One would think that the great majority of conservative voters in later states would quickly line up behind Romney as the only viable conservative and propel him to the nomination.

In other words, a Paul victory in Iowa is about as good for Romney as Romney winning the state himself.

Keep in mind that the chances of a Paul victory in Iowa are not great, and I certainly do not expect it. But for a primary season that has had more ups-and-downs than an episode of General Hospital, a Paul victory and its repercussions are something we should all keep in the back of our minds.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Presidential Models Have Very Different Results for 2012

Eight months ago I began blogging extensively on economic statistical models predicting presidential election results. I was not the first to do so, and the recent back-and-forth between pundits, commentators, political scientists, and everyone in-between on which model is the best and whether campaigns matter demonstrates that I will not be the last to talk about them.

My purpose here is not to declare one side right or wrong (though my work indicates that I think Douglas Hibbs' real disposable income growth economic indicator is an imperfect best of the bunch). Rather, it is to point out the most important fact for 2012: the major difference between the well-known Abramowitz and Hibbs model.

Last week, Alan Abramowitz wrote that Nate Silver's model was too pessimistic about Barack Obama's chances for re-election. He cited his own model, which showed Obama garnering 52% under projected economic conditions and being a favorite in almost any economic scenario.

The interesting fact about this critique was Silver's model, which shows probable Republican nominee Mitt Romney to be a favorite at this point, is that it is actually not anywhere close to painting the worst outlook for the President. The Hibbs model forecasts, under most economic conditions, Obama losing by a wide margin (getting only about 44%).

Hibbs model, which has been noted as one of the better of many presidential prediction models (see the great Andrew Gelman), differs greatly form Abramowitz in a number of ways.

Abramowitz's model utilizes GDP growth in 2nd quarter of the presidential election year, presidential approval in the same 2nd quarter, and a dummy variable for whether the incumbent White House party has been in power for more than 1 term.

Hibbs' uses a weighted average (closer to the election matters more) of real disposable income per capita (i.e. how much money each person makes after taxes and inflation) and deaths in unprovoked military conflicts throughout the president's term.

Note the key differences for our sake between Hibbs and Abramowitz are the use of the "term of the party in power" and measurement of the economy. The term variable essentially gives a bonus to the president if his party is newly elected. One might imagine Obama receiving extra votes because some voters still blame Bush for the state of the economy.

My own amendment to Hibbs' model indicates that this "term" variable helps Obama gain about an extra 2% of the vote* given current economic conditions. But under these same conditions, an extra 2% does not even get Obama to 46.5% of the two-party vote. This is not anywhere close to the 52% of the two-party vote Abramowitz's model currently projects for the President.

Why the major variation in prediction? The most obvious answer is that these models are imperfect. They carry large in-dataset errors and even larger out-of-forecast (i.e. future data that model clearly cannot know) errors. Still, 52% vs. 46.5% (or near 44% in the case of Hibbs' original model) is a very large difference.

The main reason for the disparities between these models is that their economic measures are different. Abramowitz's GDP growth was 2.5% last quarter and is expected to be that in 2012. Hibbs' disposable income growth variable for the presidential term is likely not be all that greater than 0% and could easily be negative (as it is right now).

Put concretely, weighted disposable income growth says this economy is by far the 2nd worst for a presidential term since 1952, while GDP of the 2nd quarter of a presidential year says it is only 5th worst (just behind 2004). The charts below says it all.

If you believe GDP, the economy is far better than the one confronted by mind 2008 voters. If you believe disposable income growth, it is about as bad if not worse than the economy for 2008 voters.

So which is the correct economic measurement? Again, I lean towards disposable income (as it is the measurement that is felt by most voters), but I really am not sure there is a right answer one way or the other.

To me, this is the beauty of all of this quantification. In political prediction, there is always going to be two or more ways to measure something.

Many times, as was the case in 2008 and the economy, the measurements will point towards a similar conclusion. Sometimes, however, the measurements will point you towards diverging conclusions (see Nyhan and Montgomery for an intriguing way to combine forecasts).

In fact, I think this is a perfect example of when a campaign could matter. President Obama could use GDP to say the "economy is getting better", while the Republican could use disposable income to say "the economy is getting worse".

I say we let the campaigns make their case. 2012 should be fun.

*Abramowitz states that a party in control of the White House for more than 8 years would lose 4.4% of the vote vs. a party in for only 4 years. I find nearly the same effect for the term variable, if it is included in the formula. My 2% figure comes from whether the "term" variable is included at all, not that whether we include the variable and then code it differently (i.e. first vs second or more terms) as Abramowitz has.


The Democrats' New Hampshire Problem

Few states matter more in presidential politics than New Hampshire. Not only is it home to the first primary in the nation, but it also a classic swing state. In 2012, it is also supposedly home to a tight House race.

That's why the latest Selzer and Co. poll from the Granite State showing probable Republican nominee Mitt Romney with a 50%-40% lead over President Obama is major trouble for Democrats. If the poll is correct, New Hampshire*, as Sean Trende notes, is "sitting about five points to the right of the [national] electorate."

While it is true that Mitt Romney has somewhat of a home field advantage in New Hampshire because he governed next door Massachusetts and has been campaigning in the state for 5 years running, I propose a far more pro-Republican hypothesis for this New Hampshire vs. nation gap.

The voters of New Hampshire are subject to the political campaign earlier than our fellow countrymen. With non-stop ads running ahead of the presidential primary and candidate visits a dime-a-dozen, New Hampshirites might be moving towards the voting choice that historical presidential models of the economy indicate they will eventually choose.

That is, hard against a second-term for Barack Obama. Once voters from other states start receiving the campaign onslaught as much as Granite Staters, they could be making similar choices.

Worse for Democrats, a big Romney victory in New Hampshire could also have major implications for down-ballot races.

In 2010, Republican Charlie Bass won a very close race against Democrat Ann Kuster in New Hampshire's 2nd congressional district. With a rematch on the way, polling earlier this year had indicated that the slightly Democratic (with a +3 D PVI) district was headed for another photo finish. A 10% Romney win in the state would most likely carry Bass to victory.

Of the Republican seats rated as at least somewhat competitive by the Cook Political Report, NH-2 is tied for being 7th most Democratic on the national level.

A Democratic loss here would eliminate a big seat the Democrats could use on their march towards the 25 Republican seats needed to take back the House. Not only that, the inability to win such a Democratic seat would probably mean the Democrats lack the nationwide wave to win other seats in order to take back the House.

The good news for Democrats is that it is only one poll and it is still early. Maybe the Romney home-state advantage will be even bigger than fellow Massachusetts' resident John Kerry's, who did about 2% better in New Hampshire than he did nationwide.

Still, this poll is anything but pretty for Democrats.

*I should point out that my old friends with the NBC Political Unit, who have access to a lot of insider information (including state polling), have had New Hampshire in their lean GOP column for a few weeks.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011


Quinnipiac believable?

Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats have increased their standing among the American public according to a new Quinnipiac poll. But a closer look at the poll reminds us of a divisive question amongst pollsters: should results be weighted by party identification?

Perhaps not surprisingly, not weighting can lead to a situation where results do not change among respondents who identify as a member of a given party, but does change in the overall result because the party i.d. makeup of the poll changes.

Today's Quinnipiac poll, which was not weighted by party i.d., is an example of such a change. As first pointed out by the National Journal's Steve Shepard, the latest Quinnipiac poll's respondents were 4% more Democratic and 6% less Republican than the previous Quinnipiac poll taken in early October.

In the Congressional ballot question, the "generic" Democrat was up 3% (from 39% to 42%), while the "generic" Republican was down 5% (from 39% to 34%) since October. On the question of approving of President Obama's job performance, respondents approved of his job by 6% more (from 41% to 47%) than they did October. The Democratic improvement on these two questions seem to be tied to the increase of respondents who identified themselves as Democrats.

When we break down these two questions' results by party i.d., a similar picture emerges.

Republican support for their party's Congressional candidate dropped by 3% (from 86% to 83%), but Democratic support for their party's Congressional candidate also dropped from 85% to 83%. Independent support of Republican candidate decreased from 35% to 33%. These changes within each party are certainly not enough to create this large of a difference in the overall result.

Approval for Obama is up across all parties: 7% to 10% among Republicans, 77% to 81% among Democrats, and 38 to 39% among Independents. If the sample party i.d. had been constant, Obama would have a higher approval, but not as high as 6%.

Does this lack of change within party merit concern that poll's results are off? It depends on whom you ask.

Most pollsters do not weight by party. This includes CBS, Democracy Corps, Gallup, Pew, and Public Policy Polling (PPP) among others. They only weight by demographic data such as age, education, region, and sex. Quinnipiac reports that these demographics did not change greatly from the October poll.

The reason not to weight by party i.d. varies amongst pollsters, but David Nir of Daily Kos Elections believes that "people can pick and choose their party i.d. If you decide in advance what proportion of the electorate 'should' be Democrats, then, as Tom [Jensen of PPP] says, you're going to miss out on these softer supporters who are apt to change their minds". The demographics (see above) these polls are weighted to do not change.

The argument for weighting by party i.d., practiced most famously by Rasmussen, is pretty simple. The number one predictor of vote choice (and approving/disapproving) is party id, and sometimes the makeup of party i.d. varies significantly from poll-to-poll. The change in Democrats and Republicans in the Quinnipiac poll is right on the edge of what would be deemed statistically significant.

Because both sides make a valid point, I believe the best choice of action is to look at data from other pollsters.

The only other two pollsters that I know who ask the generic ballot question in a manner similar* to Quinnipiac are Rasmussen and Democracy Corps. Rasmussen polls have fluctuated randomly between giving the Republican candidate a lead from 2% to 8% in its 9 samples since September. Democracy Corps mid-October poll showed a tie, little different from its early August poll that gave Republicans a 1% edge.

While the results between Rasmussen and Democracy Corps differ, neither pollster has seen a shift to the Democratic party. That is, the results within each pollster is the same.

Likewise, as this Pollster.com graph of approval ratings show, approval ratings for the President have remained consistent over the last month.

It would appear that Quinnipiac's numbers are a bit of an outlier. It is certainly possible that other polling will begin to show an improvement for Congressional Democrats and Obama. For now, Quinnipiac's poll is a great example of why a pollster's numbers should not be taken at face value.

*Asking Democratic vs. Republican candidate as opposed to asking whether respondents want a Congress controlled by the Democratic or Republican party.

** See Mark Blumenthal for the entire rundown on weighting by party identification.

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