Throwing cold water at your excitement

Byline: | Category: 2012 | Posted at: Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Drudge reports breathlessly: 


Before you get too excited, look at the internals:


Those over 50 are more than twice as likely to have early voted than those under 50.  So by that metric alone, if there weren’t a Republican lead, Mitt Romney would be in serious trouble. 

Look also at the geographic breakdown.  More people report having already voted in the South and West where Mitt Romney will probably do significantly better than Barack Obama.  But in the East only 4% of voters report having already voted.  That might be because the two largest states in the region–New York and Pennsylvania–don’t have early voting.

This is an example of a sample that is not representative of the national voting population.  So, as Glenn would warn you, don’t get cocky, kid!


I’ve received some emails asking me to elaborate on the above. 

First.  The states that conduct early voting are not the same from year to year.  Comparing 2012 early voting results with those from 2008 is skewed by the differing mix of early voting states from year to year.  To make a retail comparison, you can’t just look at all sales and conclude that a company is doing better because sales are going up.  It may be the result of expansion instead.  If one wants to know how a company is performing from year to year, one has to compare same-store-sales. 

Second.  Even when you compare same-store-sales, there can be exogenous factors that greatly influence the results.  Using retail again as an example, the greatest predictor of November sales is the date on which Thanksgiving falls.  Since the holiday is the fourth Thursday of the month, that means that the next day (the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season) can come as early as the 23rd or as late as the 29th of the month.  You can’t directly compare even same-store-sales from one November with eight holiday shopping days to another November that has only two.  Getting back to elections, those states that have early voting, don’t always have the same number of early voting days from year to year.  Furthermore, there is evidence to indicate that the propensity to early vote increases with the number of years that a state has had early voting as an option.  That again shifts the population from year to year.

Finally, there is another bit of semi-related news out of Gallup.  They have suspended national polling for at least two days.  That seems a smart thing to do when you have some states with 15 to 25 percent of the population without power and the remaining population with better things to do than to answer the phone.  Getting a representative sample under those conditions was going to be even more difficult with Sandy than it already is. 

This is going to drive poll watchers nuts.  There is no precedent for an event like this.  Polling samples will be skewed for several days, if not a week.  Polling results might change due to the President’s performance in the wake of the storm.  Early voting patterns will be disrupted.  None of this is modelable–at least not with a model that is testable against the past.

My suggestion?  Go vote.  And then sit back and see how it turns out next Tuesday night.

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3 Responses to “Throwing cold water at your excitement”

  1. Cornfed Says:

    The “West” would include California, OR, WA, and NV though, right? So it’s not entirely lopsided. I appreciate your caveat though. Some things are too good to be true.

  2. Brad Says:

    I agree, without knowing which states had early voting in 2008, it’s hard to make too many comparisons. I’d also like to know which states comprise each of Gallup’s geographic distinctions.

  3. Moo Moo Says:

    ” More people report having already voted in the South and West where Mitt Romney will probably do significantly better than Barack Obama. ”

    Breaking down by regions is pretty useless I think. West includes. Is Romney ahead in early voting because of CO and NV or because of CA and WA? Who knows.

    As for the “South” VA, FL and NC are South.But so are SC and GA. Where is Romney leading?

    I think it’s nice to see that overall Romney is leading nationally. But to start guessing about east, west, north, south….that’s just what it is….a guess.