Friday, October 26, 2012

Election 2012: Into The Last Lap

And with the last debate in the can, the campaign rolls past the starting gate into the last lap. In only eleven days, we go to the polls to elect the next President of the United States, the entire House of Representatives, and a third of the Senate.

The last debate didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. There were a few good zingers about horses and bayonets, and "The '80s called, they want their foreign policy back" is ... well, not a classic, but still pretty funny. Romney does seem pretty fixated on Russia. It sure looks like he wants to have a Navy built to take on the Red Banner Northern Fleet, an Air Force equipped to take on Soviet Frontal Aviation, and an Army ready to bust up an assault from the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany. Never mind that none of those things have existed in the last twenty years. We've gotta be ready for those sneaky Russian bastiges.

I do have to say a word in defense of bayonets, though. There are going to be times when having a stabby bit to put on the end of your rifle will come in pretty handy. Case in point:

We'll probably never see horse cavalry again, but a blade plus mechanical advantage will never go entirely out of style.

Now, with both campaigns beginning to pursue their endgames, we get to see how it plays out. The Republicans have bet heavily on the SuperPAC-funded advertisements, while the Democrats are relying on saturating the important "battleground" states with more campaign offices. Air superiority versus ground superiority, if you will. It'll be very interesting to see how this one ends. And there are liable to be more than a couple of frustrated billionaires, if it proves that they couldn't buy the election outright, after all.

And now, on to the numbers. As usual, my sources are Intrade, FiveThirtyEight, and Pollster. Information is current as of Friday evening.

From Intrade:

Barack Obama (D): 63.8%, 276 EV (+2.3%, -16 EV)
Mitt Romney (R): 36.3%, 260 EV (-2.1%, +18 EV)

From FiveThirtyEight:

Barack Obama (D): 74.4%, 295.4 EV (+6.5%, +7.6 EV)
Mitt Romney (R): 25.6%, 242.6 EV (-6.5%, -7.6 EV)

From Pollster:

Strong D: 237 (+20)
Lean D: 40 (-20)
Tossup: 55 (+/- 0)
Lean R: 15 (+/- 0)
Strong R: 191 (+/- 0)

First, it looks like the only movement on Pollster was a firming-up of Democratic support. If all they do is hold onto what they've got, Pollster has Obama winning 277 votes in the Electoral College. Team Romney's performance is essentially flat. That's bad. He really needs to start pulling some of those toss-up states into his Lean column, and then pull some of that into his Strong column. That hasn't happened, despite his strong showing in the first debate. If there's no movement, soon, that's a really bad sign.

It may already be too late. The time for plans and policy is over, now it's all about execution.

What Romney Must Do: Team Romney faces a daunting mathematical proposition. They have to have all of the toss-up states, all of Obama's weaker support, plus 24 EVs worth of Obama's stronger support. It's doable, particularly if Team Obama screws up something important in the next week and a half, but it's virtually impossible without outside help in the form of an international disaster or major unforced opposition error. Moderate Mitt has to hit the trail, hard, and try to win the center. That's his only path to daylight.

What Obama Must Do: Really, he has to approach the endgame as if he were in Romney's position. He has to go for each and every one of the tossup states, Romney's softer support, and even some of his core support. But the truth is, he doesn't need to win all that much of any of the above categories. Going by the Pollster map, all he's got to do is keep what he's got, and he's in. His worst enemy at this point is complacency. He's got to avoid it like Death itself. He's got to run hard, every day, until the polls close on November 6th.

And The Winner Is... I'm really tempted to copy and paste last week's entry. Nothing important has changed. The odds are still hovering around 3-2 in favor of re-election, and the solid over/under in the Electoral College is still 290. It's creeping upwards, though. There's still a case, getting better by the day, for 300. But I don't think there's going to be much movement from that range. We'll know more by Tuesday.

As always, vote early, and vote often!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Election 2012: T-18 And Counting

A pretty big week, all in all. There's a lot that I'm saving for after Election Day, which is less than three weeks out, now. Consider this a preview of coming attractions.

 First, an Austrian named Felix Baumgartner rode a balloon up to 128,000 feet, then took the short way down:

Second, the hits just keep on coming for Lance:

Third, Alpha Centauri has at least one planet! That we can see! And it's about Earth-sized! But holy moley it's hot:

Fourth, the rover Curiosity has found some shiny stuff on Mars. Dare I say it? Dare I? I think I do ... THERE'S GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS! Maybe. It could be something else. But, seriously, it'd be pretty odd if Earth wound up with all of the inner Solar System's share, don't you think?

Oh yeah, and there was another Presidential debate this week. Some of you may have watched it.

In the last two entries, I've said that Obama had to bring his "A" game to this second debate, or he'd be in real trouble. And, that's exactly what he did. He turned in as good a performance as I've seen from him in a debate. He didn't let any of Romney's assertions go unchallenged. And he got in some pretty decent jabs of his own. Plus, it looks like we got a brand new meme out of the deal.

I swear, future historians are going to look at our time, and wonder exactly what the Hell we were smoking.

Still, this was a really good debate. Neither candidate gave the other any room to hide. Both men were able to showcase their best qualities. And that was far more important for Obama than for Romney, since it partially offsets his poor performance from the first debate. I say partially, because that bell just can't be un-rung. Look at it this way: if we score this as a best-of-three series, it's one each now, with one more to go. It's a far closer race than it was four years ago, that's for sure.

How much closer? Well, let's have a look. As usual, our data comes from Intrade, from FiveThirtyEight, and from Pollster. It's current as of Friday evening.

From Intrade:

Barack Obama (D): 61.5%, 292 EV (+2.0%, +11 EV)
Mitt Romney (R): 38.4%, 242 EV (-2.4%, -6 EV)

From FiveThirtyEight:

Barack Obama (D): 67.9%, 287.8 EV (+6.8%, +4.7 EV)
Mitt Romney (R): 32.1%, 250.2 EV (-6.8%, -4.7 EV)

From Pollster:

Strong D: 217 (+7)
Lean D: 60 (+13)
Tossup: 55 (-20)
Lean R: 15 (+/- 0)
Strong R: 191 (+/- 0)

To an extent, this represents a reversion to the mean, as far as the odds are concerned. The really interesting thing to me is that Romney's figures on Pollster are unchanged from the last time we checked, a week ago. And that's pretty bad news for Team Romney. Possibly worse news is that his "strong" support is unchanged over two solid weeks. Although you could argue that's good news, insofar as it means his base is rock-solid. But the base won't win him this election. The center wins this election, for whoever stakes it out and holds it. There's not a tossup state that Romney doesn't need ... plus, he has to pry off some of Obama's "leaning" support. That's a bad place to be, with only two weeks to go. I mean, it's possible, but the odds are against it.

What Romney Must Do: Reversion to the mean is a bad sign. He needs to knock it out of the park Monday night, and hope for some blunders from the other side that he can exploit. The good news is that he's nowhere near as bad off as McCain was at this point in 2008. Then, it was pretty much over for all intents and purposes. The McCain campaign was in an inverted flat spin with all engines on fire, with his odds of success somewhere around 5-to-1 against. This is still close enough that a strong Romney performance could convince enough voters that old Mitt might be able to do the job, especially if Obama falters.

What Obama Must Do: Prepare. He's sitting on a fairly solid foreign policy record. Bin Laden and Qaddafi are dead, we're out of Iraq, we're winding up our affairs in Afghanistan, there's a lot of good to tout. But he cannot take any of that for granted. He's got to come out swinging on Monday, just like he did last Tuesday. He's got to defend his record, vigorously, and point out his opponent's weaknesses. He's got an easier job than his opponent does. In some ways that's a curse, because it invites complacency. Complacency kills.

And The Winner Is: The odds are holding pretty steady at 3-2 in favor of re-election. I think they'll hold there for about another week, unless Romney utterly implodes on Monday night, which would surprise me. The hard numbers say that 290 is the over/under for Electoral College votes, but if you're bold, there's a pretty good case to be made for 300.

Remember, vote early, and vote often!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Election 2012: VP Debate Update

There's an adage that says: Age and treachery will always triumph over youth and enthusiasm. I think that provides a fairly adequate explanation of what happened last night.

I do think it's important to say that Ryan was far better prepared, and gave a far better account of himself, than did the previous Republican Vice-Presidential nominee. But that might be damning with faint praise. The previous VP debate was ... bizarre, to say the least. Ryan was able to participate in a coherent argument. I'm still not entirely sure whose questions Palin was answering. Although, I did see something a few weeks back that gave me some food for thought. As it turns out, there's a technique that most candidates use called the "pivot", that allows them to "answer" a question they don't actually want to answer, while giving the appearance of having answered it. If you watch closely, you can see them do it. But not everyone is good at it. Biden and Ryan pivot with the practiced ease of Olympic-class gymnasts. Palin simply wasn't in their class, and it showed. It's quite likely she was trying to do the same thing they do, but just didn't have the verbal sleight-of-hand to pull it off.

But back to last night ... By most accounts, Biden kept Ryan on the defensive most of the night. The question is, how does this affect the overall race? Odds are, not by much. The VP debate hardly ever shifts the overall race. There are several examples where the VP debate was a total massacre, but the "winning" ticket nevertheless went down to defeat at the polls in November, Bentsen vs. Quayle being one prominent example. While yesterday's performance by Biden should give Democrats some cause for hope, it's going to be far more important what Obama does on Tuesday. He's got to bring his "A" game that night, and come out swinging. Otherwise, things could get grim for Team Blue.

And now, the numbers. As usual, our data comes courtesy of Intrade, FiveThirtyEight, and Pollster. The information is current as of Friday night.

From Intrade:

Barack Obama (D): 59.5%, 281 EV (-7.8%, -36 EV)
Mitt Romney (R): 40.8%, 248 EV (+8.1%, +18 EV)

From FiveThirtyEight:

Barack Obama (D): 61.1%, 283.1 EV (-23.8%, -34.6 EV)
Mitt Romney (R): 38.9%, 254.9 EV (+23.8%, +34.6 EV)

From Pollster:

Strong D: 210 (-41)
Lean D: 47 (+8)
Tossup: 75 (+18)
Lean R: 15 (+15)
Strong R: 191 (+/- 0)

At first glance, you'd be tempted to say that the post-Debate 1 slide continues unabated, but a look at the time histories on Intrade says otherwise. The slide has stopped, pretty much at the same point it's been for the last year or so, with a few excursions here and there. Again, it's interesting to note how closely Intrade and FiveThirtyEight correspond to one another. Between them, they're liable to converge on the "truth" value before Election Day ... but there's a lot of volatility in those numbers at the moment. Last week, we saw a big pro-Obama swing from the previous check, post-DNC; and this week, we see a big pro-Romney swing. The undecideds are just now checking in, and trying to figure out who they're going to line up behind. Post-DNC, they really didn't like Romney so much, and after the first debate, their confidence in Obama took a hit. This is why next Tuesday is so important: it's a chance for Obama to re-establish confidence.

That said, it's interesting to note that Romney's core support is essentially unchanged, since early summer. He's had the same 191 electoral votes firmly in his column for ages now. While Obama has had states wander in and out of the "strong" zone, Romney hasn't had that problem. Also, one thing to keep an eye on is the fact that by Pollster's estimate, Obama falls short of 270 for the first time since we've been looking at Pollster's data. This isn't a chime of doom, necessarily; Obama only has to win Ohio or Florida, or Virginia plus one other toss-up state. Romney has to have them all. Well, almost all. He could probably do without Nevada or Colorado.

Still, this is the closest things have been in quite a while. This is liable to be the week that makes or breaks the campaign.

What Romney Must Do: He's had a week of solid good momentum, what he needs to do now is not screw it up. He has to avoid unforced errors. He has to avoid being painted as an extremist. And he really needs to win all the toss-up states. His core support isn't big enough to deliver the race, he needs all the help he can get. A month or so ago, I'd have said his odds were pretty slim; but they're looking better now than they ever have. He needs a strong performance on Tuesday night. That won't seal the deal by itself, but he has to hit another one out of the park to demonstrate that the first one wasn't a fluke.

What Obama Must Do: He owes Biden, big time. And the best way to pay him back? Put on his best game face for Tuesday night, and pin Romney to the mat. While he's had an awful week, he still enjoys a lead in the polls, and a strong comeback performance in the second debate will go a long way towards restoring people's confidence in him. What he can't afford, though, is another lackluster job. He can't make any serious gaffes. He needs to be able to sell his record to the public. If he can do these things on Tuesday night, not only can he stop the slide, he can reverse it.

And The Winner Is... We're back to 3-2 in favor of re-election, where we've been for most of the last year. Yeah, I'd take those odds. If you're feeling brave, you might even go for 2-1. The over-under sits at about 280 today, the lowest I've seen it, but I think going as high as 310 might not be totally unreasonable. We'll know far better in a few weeks' time. I think the projections from one week out from Election Day should be pretty solid. Last time, the projections from three weeks out were pretty good, but I think we have far more volatility this time around. We'll take a one-week sounding, and see how that compares to the actual results. That will be interesting to see.

Remember, vote early, and vote often!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Election 2012: Debate 1 Update

His side had led the contest throughout the spring and summer. He had been confident of victory. Early this week, some troubling signs began to emerge, and then on Wednesday, disaster. Poor play put his prospects, and his team's, in grave doubt.

But enough about Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers. There was also this year's first Presidential debate on Wednesday. And unlike the Rangers, who face a Wild Card Thunderdome tonight in Arlington (two teams enter, one team leaves), President Obama has two more debates to go. Panic is unwarranted at this point.

Just about all the observers awarded the night to Mitt Romney, and justly so. His style and delivery were outstanding. And it may well be that Romney's "October Surprise" will turn out to be his sudden, heretofore unannounced tack to the center starting with the first debate. This Mitt Romney didn't look like a far-right Tea Party lunatic. This is the Mitt Romney that convinced a majority of Massachusetts voters to elect him Governor. He's also the Mitt Romney that's been mostly AWOL for the last eighteen months, while his body double has been courting the fanatics of the hard right for all he's worth. And that brings up an interesting point ... just how will his hard-right base react to this slide to the center? Isn't that what they were afraid of all along? We'll just have to see how this plays out over the next few weeks.

The Big Day is just over one month away.

And now, the numbers. As usual, our data comes from Intrade, from FiveThirtyEight, and from Pollster. All data current as of late Friday afternoon.

From Intrade:

Barack Obama (D): 67.3%, 317 EV (+9.6%, +32 EV)
Mitt Romney (R): 32.7%, 230 EV (-9.2%, -17 EV)

From FiveThirtyEight:

Barack Obama (D): 84.9%, 317.7 EV (+5.8%, +3.5 EV)
Mitt Romney (R): 15.1%, 220.3 EV (-5.2%, -3.5 EV)

From Pollster:

Strong D: 251 (+40)
Lean D: 39 (+3)
Tossup: 57 (-43)
Lean R: 0 (-16)
Strong R: 191 (+16)

On the one hand, the numbers tell a pretty encouraging story for Team Obama. His post-convention bounce has legs. He's made ground on every indicator we watch since the DNC closed up shop. But ... Intrade had him at nearly six-to-one on Monday. His performance Wednesday hurt him. Not seriously, not yet, but another one or two like it could put him in serious trouble.

Interesting point: Intrade's EV totals are converging on FiveThirtyEight's EV totals. If you remember, last time around, this happened about three weeks out, and were within one or two of the actual totals. Historically, the debates haven't really changed the trajectory of a race much, but this one may break the mold ... all the same, 317-230 is beginning to look pretty solid.

What Romney Must Do: Stay on this target and fire for effect. The pivot to the center is what John McCain utterly failed to do last time around. It's vital to look sane and Presidential in the remaining two debates, and equally vital for Paul Ryan to look non-maniacal in the VP debate next week. It's also vital to look and sound more centrist than during the primary campaign. It looks like Mitt Romney understands this, which will make this an interesting scrum indeed.

What Obama Must Do: One shanked debate does not a disaster make, but two could. He has got to do better week after next, and he needs to avoid unforced errors as well. When they next meet, he has got to look relaxed, confident, and on top of his game. He's the incumbent, and the economy is improving. But he can still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, either through inattention or through mistakes.

And The Winner Is... As bad as his week's been, Intrade still has Obama as a 2-1 favorite for re-election. I like those odds. I sure wouldn't go any higher at this point in the game. But I'd go up to 310 for the over/under.

Remember, it's just about early-voting time, depending on where you live. Vote early, and vote often!