Monday, November 7, 2011

Cranky Monday Blogging 2


Chris Cillizza has a long post about Barack Obama's re-election chances and the electoral map.

I know I've made this point several times, but...Just stop it!

States are not units which move independently of each other. They just aren't. Instead, when Obama is more or less popular, or generically whenever one party becomes more popular, it produces more-or-less equal shifts across all states. If Obama wins by five points nationally, he's going to win Pennsylvania and Michigan and Iowa and Wisconsin and, basically, the Al Gore states from 2000 plus a few others, and he'll win easily. If he loses by five points nationally, he's going to win what John Kerry won in 2004 minus a few states, and he'll lose easily. He's not going to run the same in most states but surge or drop dramatically in a handful of battleground states. It doesn't work like that.

It is possible that the shape of the electoral college could give one party a relatively small advantage in very close races, but (1) that doesn't appear to be true, and (2) the way to show that is to demonstrate that one party has more "wasted" votes (such as the huge Democratic majorities in New York or the huge Republican majorities in Utah). If you're not doing that, don't talk about the states this far out. And even if you are doing that, don't talk about the states this far out. It's possible we'll have a very close election and quirks in the electoral college and distribution of votes by state will matter, but it's far more likely that it will be just like most elections, with a clear national win one way or the other that is reflected and, for that matter, magnified by the electoral college.


  1. Come on, it's Chris Cillizza, what more can you expect.

  2. States are not units which move independently of each other. They just aren't.

    Well, not visibly. But they can move independently, like tectonic plates, over long periods of time.

    For instance, between 1992 and 2008, West Virginia went from a 13-point Dem win (7 points better than nationally) to a 13-point Dem loss (20 points worse than nationally). During the same time period, Nevada went from a 3-point Dem win (3 points worse than nationally) to a 12 point Dem win (5 points better than nationally).

    So, it sure seems as if West Virginia and Nevada are (to take one example) "moving independently of each other."

    It may be silly to do an electoral map analysis that suggests the possibility of massive independent swings in only four years. But why not take a look at the trends to see if you can spot the tectonic changes? After all, those things may matter (as you like to say) "at the margins."

  3. You campaign mostly in battleground states. What's so hard to understand here?

    And you have to identify the battleground states, and develop an electoral strategy, a winning strategy, wrapped around those states.

    Nobody with any sense is running a national campaign strategy of raising their share of the total vote, to the exclusion of the electoral college. That's stupid. The national poll is a useful data point, but it isn't what finally decides matters.

    One of Rove's deputies ignored his orders in 2000, and set up a robust campaign effort in West Virginia. Rove had told him he'd be fired, if he spent one dollar in WV, but the guy thought better of it, and did it anyway. WV wound up making a difference in 2000, as we know.

    And Rove is an idiot, for running such an incoherent strategy. Not that his deputy won the election, but the boss has to have multiple plausible paths, and protect for contingencies, and ordering the guy completely out of WV was just stupid strategy.

    And campaigns have to understand the character of the battleground states, individually and collectively, because there'll be overlap amongst those battleground states, which should be picked up in their campaigning, for efficiency and leverage. Cillizza is categorizing the Rust Belt states together for a reason... they're gonna likely run in near lockstep this election. They were critical and volatile in November 2010, and will likely be so again. If Obama stays way down with Independents in Pennsylvania, as he's been for some time now, he can likely kiss off IN, OH and likely WI and IA and even MI... and so kiss off the election. But if he hits the themes and policy that pleases the Independents in PA, he can count on those other Rust Belt states being of somewhat similar mindset and performance.

    And all the while, he must completely ignore the Left in the non-battleground states. No matter what they want... ignore them. He wants to win, you know, not drive up his numbers in San Francisco.

  4. >The national poll is a useful data point, but it isn't what finally decides matters.

    In a technical sense that's true, but in virtually all cases the winner of the popular vote will coincide with the winner of the electoral votes. It's easy to forget how freakish the situation in 2000 was; it was like flipping a coin and having it land on its side. In general, even very close elections like 2004 or 1976 or 1960 don't even begin to approach an electoral/popular split, which before 2000 had only happened two times, both in the 19th century. It's always a possibility, but it's fairly remote, even if the upcoming election will be as close as the pundits are predicting.

  5. @Anonymous:

    I think the complaint isn't about the concept of battleground states, it's about the type of article a full year out from the election that goes into micro-level detail about each individual state. Like: "Iowa is more competitive — Republicans won the governorship there in 2010 — but Obama has long had a connection to the state that his advisers think is lasting and strong."

    What Jonathan is saying is that stuff like this is meaningless and irrelevant. Obama's performance in Iowa is going to depend almost entirely on his national vote share and the partisan makeup of the state. Not the "lasting strong connection" of campaigning there five years earlier. Not the results of the 2010 gubernatorial race.

    Or this: "Democrats insist that they will be competitive in 2012 in Arizona and Georgia — states that the GOP presidential nominee has carried in each of the past two elections. If true, that would give Obama more of a cushion." If Democrats are competitive in Georgia, Obama's already won. Period. It doesn't give him a "cushion" that can allow him to lose other battleground states, because he wouldn't be losing other battleground states in any plausible scenario that has him winning Georgia, because the national vote shift required for a shift of that type in Georgia would be distributed similarly in other battleground states as well. So there's no real point to speculation and analysis like that. It's just saying "if Obama does really well, he'll win this state that Democrats normally don't win". Well, yes. We knew that.

  6. Chris Cillizza makes better points than you do, mainly because he draws on poll numbers and demographics and political science, and you just state your views and stuff. Obama is going to win re-election because of posts like yours, which downplay his chances and push people towards GOP candidates who are more on the extremes of the political spectrum.

  7. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Since World War II, a shift of a few thousand votes in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 13 presidential elections. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 6 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections. A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 Million votes.

    With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. There would no longer be 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of other states.

    When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes-- enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO - 68%, FL - 78%, IA 75%, MI - 73%, MO - 70%, NH - 69%, NV - 72%, NM-- 76%, NC - 74%, OH - 70%, PA - 78%, VA - 74%, and WI - 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK - 70%, DC - 76%, DE - 75%, ID - 77%, ME - 77%, MT - 72%, NE 74%, NH - 69%, NV - 72%, NM - 76%, OK - 81%, RI - 74%, SD - 71%, UT - 70%, VT - 75%, WV - 81%, and WY - 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR - 80%,, KY- 80%, MS - 77%, MO - 70%, NC - 74%, OK - 81%, SC - 71%, TN - 83%, VA - 74%, and WV - 81%; and in other states polled: CA - 70%, CT - 74%, MA - 73%, MN - 75%, NY - 79%, OR - 76%, and WA - 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, and has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, CA, NJ, MD, MA, VT, and WA. These 9 jurisdictions possess 132 electoral votes-- 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.



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