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!

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