I haven’t written anything about the US elections yet this cycle. This is for two reasons, first because there are vast amounts of US polling to get on top of in order to say anything sensible, secondly because there are already some very good US polling sites that I couldn’t hope to better. If you want to read wise and sensible analysis of US polling don’t hang around here, go and read Mark Blumenthal and Simon Jackman.

However, since we are now within a week of the election I thought I may as well put some threads up if only for discussion.

First, all things I complain about in coverage of UK polling are the same in US polling. Most notably warnings about cherry picking, comparing like to like and being aware of methodological differences and house effects from different pollsters. For example, I keep seeing people cherry picking out Rasmussen polls and Gallup polls to claim that Romney is doing better. Rasmussen are one of the most prolific polling outfits in the US, but also tend to produce some of the most Republican results. Gallup use a very tight screen for likely voters that also tends to produce favourable figures for the republicans. Look at most other polls and Obama is doing better.

Secondly, remember that the person who gets the most votes doesn’t necessarily win, it is who wins states with enough electoral votes to win a majority (270) of the electoral college. The average picture across all the national polls in the US has Romney and Obama very much neck and neck. However, polls from the key swing states, which themselves have become very regular as the election approaches, have Obama clearly ahead in terms of electoral votes.

There are various US websites (I’ve already mentioned Pollster.com, though fivethirtyeight tends to be the best known these days) that make projections based on state polling, and these all show Barack Obama with large leads in terms of electoral votes.

This has, in turn, produced some (generally pretty poorly informed) criticism of the projection sites, normally based around what sort of weights they give to different polls, what polls they include and so on. I don’t think these criticisms carry any weight, however even if one is sceptical about the weightings, filters, trends, house effect adjustments or whatever that the various projection sites make, the bottom line is that even if one takes just a crude average of state polls, Obama is still ahead.

As I write, Obama is almost undoubtedly ahead in states worth 243 votes. He needs to pick up another 27 electoral votes to win – looking at the recent polling in states that are in play:

  • In Wisconsin (10 votes) Rasmussen has the candidates equal in their last poll, but all three polls done in the last week have Obama significantly ahead
  • There have been four Iowa (6 votes) polls in the last week, three have had Obama ahead, the other had Romney one point ahead (but had a very small sample size)
  • In Ohio (18 votes), which is very likely to be the deciding state, there have been 11 polls in the last week, ten showed Obama ahead, one had Romney ahead
  • In New Hampshire (4 votes) there have been three polls in the last week, all showing Obama ahead.
  • In Colorado (9 votes) the four polls in the last week have been evenly split, 2 showing Obama ahead, 2 Romney ahead (though the Obama polls had bigger leads)
  • In Virginia (13 votes) there have been 9 polls in the last week, 2 showed Romney ahead, 1 a tie, 6 Obama ahead.
  • Florida (28 votes) is really neck-and-neck, the last week had three Romney leads, four Obama leads, two ties

Whatever you think of complicated projections, just on the raw averaged polling numbers Obama would get in excess of 290 electoral votes and win the Presidency. If the polls are correct, then Obama is on the way to winning, with very little time indeed to turn it around.

282 Responses to “US Presidential election”

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  1. I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about white collar crime in the city of London written by a former met policeman, the picture that he paints is of old school chum covering up for each other and masonic influences at top levels. Seeing how the regulatory authorities operate around the world, with their deferred prosecutions and no fault fines, its not difficult to expect that this attitude spills over into other areas of wrong doing. This was also what was discovered in the Belgium pedo ring case(its thought that senior judges may have been involoved). I’m inclined to believe that the top levels of society are at best, no better than most folk, but suspect that its very likely that they are worse cos let’s face it, getting to the top by being nice is unlikely

  2. Can’t believe anyone would vote for Romney as he is completely insane. Mind you they have had a few previous nutters as presidents

  3. In the early hours of next Wednesday morning you will not find any US TV networks calling a state for Obama if they consider that Romney has a 1 in 5 chance of winning that state. As that’s the origin of the phrase “too close to call”, I’ll stick with it.

    I was responding to @MitM who effectively called the election for Obama by stating that ” I really don’t think Romney can win anymore”. Obama may be favourite, but he’s certainly nowhere close to being a racing certainty yet.

    BTW I currently consider that Labour has a 68.2% chance of gaining the most seats at the next election. As my computer model takes into account numerous variables and quantifies them through an immensely complicated set of calculations underpinned by some 40 years of political insight, how could anyone possibly challenge a prediction expressed to such precise accuracy?

  4. If Cameron and co go ahead with the badger cull I predict 100% on Labour winning an overall majority at the next election

  5. @AW
    Thanks for that clarification. A success rate of just 8% in gaining responses to phone polls is a bit of an eye opener, to say the least.

  6. I’ve got Radio 4 on now and was annoyed to hear the race described as ‘neck and neck.’

    I understand why the US networks are pushing this phony horse race narrative, because a cliff-edge election is good for ratings and profits. The BBC really ought to know better.

    There was 19 swing state polls yesterday. Obama led in 17 and the other 2 were tied. Recent polls show Obama ahead in Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, Iowa, Colorado and Virginia. Florida is pretty much exactly tied and Obama trails slightly in North Carolina.

    This election is not ‘neck and neck.’ It might not be over quite yet, however there is only one favourite, and anyone who tells you the race is tied is chatting out of their arse.

  7. BTW my gut feeling tells me the Princeton Election Consortium (which rates Obama as a 98% favourite) is overcooking it a little and is guilty of what Nate Silver calls ‘overfitting.’

    Nate Silver rates Obama as an 83.7% chance. This strikes me as more intuitively plausible, though I suspect he may be lowballing Obama slightly due to his policy of including all polls unless they’re proven frauds. He does this to avoid making subjective judgements about polling firms that could result in him bringing his biases into it, and while this is perfectly understandable it leads to him including GOP shill firms like Rasmussen, Gravis and We Ask America in his averages.

    My gut instinct is that Obama is about a 90% favourite at the moment. So while I’m very confident of his chance, I’m not relaxing yet, as if someone pointed a gun at my head and told me there were ten barrels and one had a bullet in it, I’d still be pretty nervous.

  8. Phil
    Marketing companies work on a 5% success rate with such unsolicited literature and calls.

    The main point AIUI, is that if there is no bias evident in who answers and who doesn’t, one should have a valid poll.

  9. @ Richard in Norway

    (My exhaustion is showing….that comment was for you…..not the late Lib Dem MP)

  10. @ Drunken Scouser

    “I understand why the US networks are pushing this phony horse race narrative, because a cliff-edge election is good for ratings and profits. The BBC really ought to know better.”

    Lol. I think you hit the nail on the head! :) That’s what I love about Brits. You guys know better than to take what Americans say at face value like everyone else in the world does. That’s not to say that you automatically distrust what we say (or that we’re always lying or being disingenuous) but you have some natural (and rightfully placed) skepticism. I think it all goes back to Samuel Johnson who once ironically pointed out that the slave owners seemed to be the ones screaming the loudest for freedom. :)

  11. @Howard

    “if there is no bias evident”.

    The 64,000,000 dollar question. How can you tell, and what happens if it’s there but not evident?

    What worries me is the assumption that a tiny sample of the population which is readily contactable and willing to be interviewed can be held to be representative in voting terms of the vast majority of the population who clearly aren’t, simply by weighting by characteristics common to both. How do you capture the essence of an army of Victor Meldrews when none of them will give a phone polling company the time of day?

  12. Socal
    “….That’s what I love about Brits. You guys know better than to take what Americans say at face value like everyone else in the world does. …”

    Most of us don’t take what ANYONE says at face value. You’re not specially privileged :-)

  13. Cheers Socal,

    As for your point about ‘freedom’, well twas ever thus. ‘Freedom’ has always been merely a rationalisation for powerful vested interests.

    Best of luck with your GOTV efforts.

  14. @Socal

    I don’t wish to cause you sleepless nights, but this Brit can also recall two elections, two and four decades ago respectively, in which the apparent slight favourite with a few days to go ended up as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition a few days later. That occurred in two out of the last eleven general elections. If we discount the elections which were walkovers from the start, it happened in two out of seven competitive general elections.

  15. @ Aberdeen Cynic

    “I bought Charles Tyrwhitt shirts for Mr Cynic, he was happy with them. However, they constantly bombard us with marketing now they have our details!”

    Thanks. I’m going to have to check them out. And yeah, I get so many emails a day now, it’s overwhelming. I mean, I get a congaline of campaigns all asking me for money on a constant daily basis totally junking up my inbox.

    @ R Huckle

    “My opinion on Romney is that he has changed him mind on too many issues to be trusted. Any politician who constantly checks the political wind and then takes a policy position they don’t really agree with, should not be taken seriously. Once they are elected, they may just change their stance to match their true beliefs.”

    I think he is at heart a conservative. But he is willing to say whatever he feels neccessary in order to win an election. So taking completely polar opposite positions is similar to making up stories about his opponents. One reason I feel compelled to respond to some of the misinformation here is that stuff on blogs nowadays gets repeated verbatim as truth (without any fact checking) on right wing blogs. And then Romney and Republicans campaigning for him will actually say it: on the stump, in campaign ads, in debates.

    “I don’t like Romneys plans re Healthcare, as he does not appear to support the additional 30 million people that now have this under Obama for the first time.”

    I have my current health insurance thanks to the President. I was turned down for pre-existing conditions and had to struggle to figure out what to do to get coverage. It wasn’t even an issue of affording the coverage for me either.

    Here’s something though to remember. Obamacare is completely paid for and actually reduces the federal deficit.

    “I also don’t think Romneys sums add up. There is a danger that government debts may increase, as I am not sure what savings he will make to afford any tax cuts.”

    Here’s a good question (that only Stephen Colbert seems capable of asking). If the tax cuts are truly revenue neutral (and they’re not), why even do them in the first place? Romney’s whole argument on his tax cuts is that they’re needed to stimulate the economy. Therefore he cuts taxes for rich people. But if he then gets rid of all the loopholes so that they pay the same amount as they were paying before, then why bother to do it in the first place?

    Btw, the deductions we have aren’t really loopholes. They’re designed to help people become more financially stable and better educated. They help the economy as a whole. The mortgage interest deduction is something that helps people afford their homes. It’s something that allows real estate developers to be successful (because people are incentivized to purchase their own homes). And even getting rid of that, as you point out, would not cover the giant hole Romney would put into the budget.

    Frankly, this whole argument is stupid. The United States doesn’t have a borrowing problem. We can borrow money for free over the next two years. We can borrow money at 2.2% over the next 30 years after that. Yes, we need that spending to be productive. We can’t create government entitlements that are completely unfunded. And we do need to deal with the deficit and the debt longterm. But the idea that this is a neccessity now (and raising taxes and cutting government spending) is counterproductive.

  16. Long time reader, first time poster…

    A thought: A good test of bias in a commentator – if the position was reversed (for example, if the national polls for the presedential election were tied or very close, but Romney was slightly ahead in the key stated (on average)), would the analysis from that commentator reflect that change?

    I follow the articles posted on 538, and I truly believe that Nate Silver would continue to call it as he sees it through the data available (which would be to make Romney favourite in the example scenario above), which is something that I don’t think that I could say about the authors of many of the articles on the US election that I’ve read.

  17. @ Pete B

    “Most of us don’t take what ANYONE says at face value. You’re not specially privileged :)”

    Lol. Well, we’re lucky anyway.

    @ Drunken Scouser

    “As for your point about ‘freedom’, well twas ever thus. ‘Freedom’ has always been merely a rationalisation for powerful vested interests.

    Best of luck with your GOTV efforts.”

    Thanks. Don’t agree with you freedom (though I will acknowledge that in many cases, the cause’ of freedom is proclaimed by those seeking to take away the freedom of others). I will be canvassing tommorow for GOTV and then doing voter protection all day Tuesday. Appreciate the well wishes.

    I have to work today so I can’t do GOTV today but I think tommorow will suffice.

    @ Phil

    “I don’t wish to cause you sleepless nights, but this Brit can also recall two elections, two and four decades ago respectively, in which the apparent slight favourite with a few days to go ended up as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition a few days later. That occurred in two out of the last eleven general elections. If we discount the elections which were walkovers from the start, it happened in two out of seven competitive general elections.”

    I appreciate that. I’m aware of those elections and so I always keep that at the back of my mind. With unemployment this high, this President is extremely vulnerable no matter what polls say. National polls are tight (at least among likely voters). But I won’t have any sleepless nights thinking about Harold Wilson or Neil Kinnock. I, like Tony Blair, am against complacency. I also don’t like making predictions for fear of jinxing the results (I tend to become very superstitious). I don’t think anyone will take the election for granted and will work for every last vote.

  18. SOCAL

    @” We can’t create government entitlements that are completely unfunded. ”

    We do-to the extent of 321% of GDP:-

    The new supplementary table published by ONS in Levy (2012) includes the following headline figures for Government pension obligations as at end December 2010:
    • Social security pension schemes (i.e. unfunded state pension scheme obligations): £3.843 trillion, being 263 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) (£3.497 trillion at end of December 2009)
    • Centrally – administered unfunded pension schemes for public sector employees (i.e. unfunded public service pension scheme obligations): £852 billion, being 58 per cent of GDP (£915 billion at end of December 2009)
    In summary, the estimates in the new supplementary table indicate a total Government pension obligation, at the end of December 2010, of £5.01 trillion, or 342 per cent of GDP, of which around £4.7 trillion relates to unfunded obligations.”

    A broader picture of the Public Sector Balance Sheet.
    Update April 2012

  19. Just looking back at the posts, I have this vision of a frightened and sleepless Anthony, creeping downstairs to his computer in the small hours, candle in hand like some terrified Scrooge awaiting ‘the third visit’ of Christmas future, in order to delete any potentially libellous posts.

    It can’t be easy moderating UKPR. :-)

  20. Rumours about an improved lead for Labour in Tomorrow’s OBs. Poll anyone seen it?

  21. COLIN.
    Good Evening to you!

    I am 58 in May, 2013.

    Approaching my pension day then: May 24 2015!

    Please God.

    The teacher pension plan is funded to the extent we pay contributions and so do our employers.

    The average teacher teaches for just five years, and then walks away.

  22. @SoCalLiberal – “Clinton’s personal endorsement helps.”

    A characteristically self-deprecating comment from Clinton about Dr Ruiz and the earthquake: “Like me he went to Haiti to work. Unlike me he actually had usable skills that helped save people’s lives.”

    Bono Mack’s campaign has painted itself into a corner by concentrating on Ruiz’s student days, now she is spending too much energy criticising the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians for their defence of him… responding to the Desert Sun’s abandoning of her candidacy etc.

    Her website has been revamped since I looked at it this morning, it still looks a little tried but at least the front page portrait of an anxious looking congresswoman studying a document (registered voter stats?) has gone. CA 36 will be no walkover.

    On a lighter note. Could they be cousins? I’ve found a motivational video for Barak’s new best friend’s excercise programme (should he decide to get in shape for 2016):


  23. colin

    Those figure you quote are wrong. There is no way of knowing the length of time that, for instance, a pension will need to be paid.

    If we have to fund pensions next year, which we willm they will be funded from taxation and borrowing.

    By the way, if we want to reduce the structural deficit, we should be increasing taxation…not cutting 5% off the top rate.

  24. Opinion for Observer:

    41/30/9- nothing to see here… move along.

  25. The Guardian are already reporting the Opinium poll which will appear in the Observer tomorrow.


    @ shevii

    41/30/9 – nothing to see here… move along.

    It’s a useful addition to data which is already available showing that political VI seems to be settled for now. Only an actual election campaign can change the voters’ minds, it seems!

  26. But the Tory VI is low at 30%. I think the lowest we’ve seen is 29%?

  27. @Phil

    I simply don’t believe that in everyday life you accept 4:1 odds as “too close to call”. The phrase itself originated in sports somewhat before the US was formed, not in US TV punditry.

    Remember you are betting on both an extended systematic bias, and that it’s all in one direction, and that it’s all in Obama’s direction.

    You’re absolutely right that this isn’t the same as saying that Romney can’t win of course, but about a 20% chance seems plausible.

  28. Amber

    Given that this Opinium Scottish sample has SNP leading Lab 43% to 29% (meaningless in itself), the Lab lead could be bigger in Englnd.

    Of course, since the East of England sample has 20% UKIP – the lead could also be smaller! :-)

  29. NICKP

    Take it up with ONS.

    The people who calculate the quantum of pension liabilities are called Actuaries Nick. They use mortality rates & stuff. It’s not that difficult.

    Yes-“funded from taxation” means unfunded in this respect. ie the payment is guaranteed for future years, but the funds to provide the income from which it is paid do not exist.
    Therefore , as you say, the liability is unfunded currently & falls as a charge on taxpayers as yet unfranchised -or even unborne.

    CHRISLANE-the numbers used by ONS in that report are in respect of unfunded schemes.

  30. @ Old Nat

    Indeed; hence my comment that what we need is a GE campaign & the sooner the better. That’ll sort it out. ;-)

  31. Amber

    “what we need is a GE campaign”

    But then the whole sorry process of working out which of the main UK parties the public thinks is slightly less awful than the other would just start all over again! :-)

  32. oldnat @ Amber

    “Given that this Opinium Scottish sample has SNP leading Lab 43% to 29% …”

    I could believe the SNP 43%, but not the Labour 29%.

    We have a two party system now and reallocating on past vote is no good if it was a LibDem vote. The SNP get most of the ex-LibDem votes but Lab get some too which makes up for those that leak away to the SNP.

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