(With five days left before Election Day,I foresee see five possible scenarios. Each day, we’re going to explore one of them. This post is the first installment of the series.)
There are two schools of thought in polling the presidential race: one holds that states don’t stray too far from their partisan leanings, so the national poll numbers are a good predictor of electoral outcomes; the other says that the electoral vote determines presidents, therefore, we should analyze state poll numbers in the states most likely to decide the race. The divergence between the state and national polls this year is so stark that they cannot both be right.
Nate Silver of 538.com is of the second school of thought. He has looked at the 2008 and 2010 races and concluded that the polling of the states yielded a better predictor of the final outcomes. Silver, therefore, heavily weights state polling in a complex mathematical model that he runs on his site. He discounts some political conventional wisdoms, such as the idea that there is a sticking point around 47 or 48 percent that serves as an upper boundary to an incumbent’s support, and the notion that last-minute deciders are more likely to break to the challenger.
Under this scenario, the race ends: Obama 50.5%, Romney 48.5%, other 1%. Nearly every swing state breaks Obama’s way. Colorado and Virginia do so just barely, with only a few tens of thousands of votes separating the contestants. Iowa, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin choose the incumbent by margins of three to five points. Ohio provides the 270th electoral vote by slightly less than a hundred thousand votes. Nevada continues its big shift leftward. And despite the GOP’s quadrennial sisyphean efforts, Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania were never very close. Only North Carolina and Florida go to Romney, and not by very much.
Exit polls indicate that, while voters are most concerned about jobs and the nation’s economic future, they view Mitt Romney as too extreme and out of touch. Republican recriminations against Romney begin the very next day: how could he have possibly sat on hundreds of millions of campaign dollars all summer long and let Barack Obama define him that way? How could a Republican from Massachusetts possibly be extreme? How could he have been so cautious and inept?
Downstream, Obama’s comfortable margin of victory is devastating to Republican hopes in the Senate. The GOP picks up a senator in only North Dakota, while losing in Massachusetts and Maine. With just 10 seats to defend in 2012, while Democrats had 23 on the line, this is a crippling defeat for the GOP. The only bright spot in Republicanville next Tuesday is in the lower House. They manage to keep it, but with a smaller margin of between 225 and 230 seats.
The only changes between the 2012 map under the Nate Silver scenario and the one from 2008 are Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, and Nebraska’s lone electoral vote in the state’s 2nd congressional district. With near-record high participation from blacks, hispanics, and youth, as well as continued strong support from women, Barack Obama overcomes higher angry-white-male turnout and falls only two-and-a-half points from his totals four years ago to become the first incumbent in modern history to decrease in popular support from his first election and still win a second term.
The final electoral tally is 303-235 in the favor of Obama.
See all the scenarios:
Scenario 1: Nate Silver is right
Scenario 2: RCP is right
Scenario 3: Rasmussen is right
Scenario 4: Gallup tracking poll is right
Scenario 5: Gallup electorate poll is right
And the prediction is . . .