President Barack Obama already has won | Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

President Barack Obama already has won

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Imagine you’re a Martian visiting the United States to study the presidential election.

You don’t speak any human language, so you have no idea what’s being said in the media, in debates or during campaign speeches. You don’t understand any of the speculation about what influences an election – about the role of the economy or demographic trends or supposed historical patterns. All you know are two things: you know how the electoral college works, and you know how to read a poll.

Not much to go by, but if you’re a Martian, you figured it out long ago: Obama’s gonna win.

To quote Bill Clinton: “It’s arithmetic.” You only need 270 electoral college votes to become president. Give Obama the states where he’s maintaining a lead in the polls and he already has 294. Throw in Colorado, where he’s locked in a complete tie with Romney, and he wins 303.

And here’s the kicker: this is exactly how the race has looked for months! Ever since June, polls put Obama at winning around 290 seats. That number has never fallen below 280.

This might come as a surprise if you read articles in the Baltimore Post-Examiner like “The Race” by Martin Sieff. “Right now I would give it 52-48 to Romney with a wider margin in the Electoral College,” Sieff wrote in his analysis of the third presidential debate.

Really? To do that, Romney would have to hold on to every state he’s already locked down. And all of the swing states he’s currently winning. And Colorado, where he’s tied. And at least three out of six swing states leaning towards Obama – including at least one where Obama is leading by three points.

Sieff’s conclusion isn’t unusual among pundits, but it’s dramatically at odds with the overwhelming consensus of polling. But your average pundit knows a lot more than your average Martians. So why are the Earthlings getting it wrong?

Get used to seeing this map – because you’re going to see a lot of it in about two weeks.

Get used to seeing this map – because you’re going to see a lot of it in about two weeks.

First, we like drama. We treat every bump in the polls like a mountain, every attack ad as a nuclear strike and every gaffe as a game-changer. Paul Ryan tells some boring lie about his running time, and we wonder: what if this is the lie that turns off the crucial voter who decides the election? Even the most trivial incidents and details of the election get amplified, so it’s impossible to maintain any perspective.

Second, we like democracy. We want to believe that nothing’s actually settled until the votes are cast. We want to believe that most people watch debates and read newspapers and discuss the issues over the kitchen table – that they only come to a decision after listening to all of the arguments. We want to believe that a different choice is always possible, so we look for reasons to think that the improbable is still probable. Maybe Romney could still win … right?

And third, we ignore the numbers. Polls are so frequently politicized and abused that Americans in particular have become prone to cynicism. And as everyone but your grade school teachers will admit, math is hard and boring. But shortcomings aside, polling remains our most accurate way of making predictions about elections. It’s much more reliable than trying to extrapolate ballot consequences from Obama’s body language, or than going with our gut feelings about Romney’s poise.

This is the part of the article where most people will hedge. “Anything could still happen,” they write. “We won’t know until election day.”

I guess that’s true, in a pretty trivial sense. But if you’re like our Martian and you’ve done the math, then you’re as sure about this as I am.

Team Obama, lace up those sneakers and get ready for a four -year victory lap. Your guy’s already won.

And take our poll on the right side of the homepage.  You might be surprised who is winning.


About the author

Carl Woodward is a freelance political consultant and campaign strategist in Northern Virginia. He loves spreadsheets and hates cable news. Carl likes to spend his free time reading in poorly lit bars. Contact the author.
COMMENT POLICY
  • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.stordahl Arthur Stordahl

    Americans like to pick winners. They try choose the pres candidate who will win. True story, very strange metrics in trying to figure out anything beyond~the media tells you who will win

  • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.stordahl Arthur Stordahl

    “…you have no idea what’s being said
    in the media, in debates or during campaign speeches. You don’t
    understand any of the speculation about what influences an election –
    about the role of the economy or demographic trends or supposed
    historical patterns. All you know are two things: you know how the
    electoral college works, and you know how to read a poll”
    Seems like the avg american seriously think a or b will fix things and not steal your $~via corporate monopolies & outsourcing.

  • http://twitter.com/GreatTimbini Great_Timbini

    Wow! Karl Rove could have used Michael Hart on election night! Even FoxNewsy Megyn Kelly called Rove on this same BS “math.” In reality, Obama won Ohio so handily ALL the news organizations called the state early in the night, including FoxNews. Watching Kelly walk from Karl Rove to the numbers crunchers to get the real story will be, at least for a few years, one of the great moments in presidential election TV coverage. Proving to a viewing public — on live TV — one of her own analysts is full of crap will put Megyn Kelly in the annals of great live television.

    Before reading the comments what I was going to write was this: in September most of the highly paid pundits were saying Romney was so far back in the polls he would not win the election, that past presidential candidates who were as far behind as Romney was in September never won the presidency, even after factoring in bounces after debates … but then after the first debate all that talk had been forgotten and Romney once again had a “good chance” of winning.

    The pundits … well, they make TV fun to watch.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/LIFVHSJ7SRZ4HVPYBTQSQSN7XQ george p

    Ladbrokes PLC is making it Obama 1/5, Romney 7/2; still looks like a blowout!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ric.mason.94 Ric Mason

    I assume that YOU assume that voting machines in, let’s say Ohio and Pennsylvania, will work in an honest manner. What if they don’t? What if they work the way they were programmed to work by malevolent beings? Do you disregard this as possible?

  • me

    O has shifted a bunch into Gov sector away from private. there is still more he wants to do

  • Michael Hart

    It is unfortunate that conclusions expressed in this article are shared by so many Obama supporters, because it sets them up to be cruelly disappointed. 92% of Obama’s supporters believe Obama will win. But, if you “know how to read a poll,” to borrow the phrasing from this article, it is clear that Obama will lose. He is polling 47% nationally. No incumbent president rose beyond his final polling numbers since we’ve had reliable polls–with the exception of G. W. Bush. Bush had 49% in the final Gallup poll and RCP average and he ended up winning just under 51%. Reagan held the percentage in 1984 (a year in which he won 49 states). Every other incumbent president lost a percentage or two compared to his last polling percentage.

    Obama will end up with 46 or 47% of the popular vote and will lose the electoral college badly.

    I noticed your map gave VA to Obama, which is preposterous, because Romney will win by a wide margin in VA. Romney will also win Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa. Do not doubt that.
    I am less sure about Pennsylvania and Nevada, but I think Romney will win both.

    The reason you may think Obama is winning OH, VA, WI and IA is because some pollsters are reporting faulty polls–they are oversampling Democrats by anywhere from 8 to 12%. They are matching or exceeding the difference between Democrats and Republicans that existed in 2008. In other words, they have jumped the shark. It’s like the Twilight zones or dispatches from a parallel universe. There may be a parallel universe where 8% more Democrats than Republicans vote in Ohio. But it ain’t gonna happen here.

    I noticed that on your map you did not dare to give Colorado to Obama, even though you stated he is tied there (which I know he is not, because Republicans already lead early vote and they tend to do even better on election day) and might win for 303 EC victory.
    So you are giving a “tied” state to Romney? Why? You are, after all giving Virginia to Obama but, since you are actually in VA you know as well as I do that Obama is not going to win there.

    The article creates (or reinforces) the impression that this race is not even a close one. And I think the article is right. But it is not close because Romney is far ahead, not because Obama is far ahead.

    • Carl Woodward

      Quick point on methodology: I awarded states to whoever was leading in the polls. Virginia will be close, but I gave it to Obama because he is leading in the polls.

      I rely on polls. It’s telling that you think living in Virginia would give me some kind of special knowledge that I wouldn’t get from reading a poll. Personal intuitions and gut feelings about local sensibilities are not a reliable basis for prediction. I don’t know the political disposition of every person in my state and neither do you. That’s why we poll.

      I gave all ties to Romney because doing so actually makes the case for an Obama victory stronger. It demonstrates that even if we give Romney all the breaks, he still loses. I don’t have to resort to convenient assumptions. This is the mark of a strong argument, not a weak one.

      • Michael Hart

        That is what I thought. You wanted to make an argument — that the outcome of the election is certain and the President will win reelection.

        But in order to have such certainty or “strong argument,” as you put it, you needed to give both VA and OH to Obama. So you gave a “tied” state, CO to Romney to demonstrate objectivity and lack of bias.

        In VA, however, Romney is in the lead, and he will win there. The only reason why RCP average shows VA even close is because it includes several bizarre polls that over sample Democrats. Without this skewing Romney would be shown where he really is in VA — far ahead.

        OH is close. It can still go either way. To simply give such a close state to a candidate 12 days before the election seems premature.

        I am not sure who will win OH, but I think it is going to be Romney because polls that show Obama ahead in OH are skewed severely toward Democrats.

        While I think Romney is going to win the election with 51 to 52 percent of popular vote and more than 277 EC votes, I cannot guarantee that. This conclusion is based on my reading of the polls.

        As I demonstrated, polls do not have the precision that people sometimes think they do. To declare election results certain almost 2 weeks before the election day with several key close states is jumping the gun.

        Your article argues that if you know how to read the polls, then you know that President Barack Obama has already won. What I see in the polls (and what I saw on Oct. 25, the day of the article, too) is that the outcome of the election is uncertain but Mitt Romney is a slight favorite to win.

        • Carl Woodward

          Wait, you are just now figuring out that I “wanted to make an argument — that the outcome of the election is certain and the President will win reelection”?

          I have been making that point ad nauseum throughout this entire ridiculous discussion. Yes: I want to argue that the thing that is going to happen is going to happen. That it happens to be Obama who will win is irrelevant. The point is that the matter is certain.

          An obvious way to make a strong argument is to handicap yourself and still win. That’s why I gave tied states to Romney.

          An obvious way to make a weak argument is to start impugning the other guy’s motives. You can have the second-to-last word here. Obama will have the last :)

          • Michael Hart

            What I meant is a sound reading of the polls does not support your categorical conclusion about one candidate having already won the election, because:

            (1) polls are fleeting and public opinion can change, especially given enough time, like if you make a prediction 2 weeks before an election.

            (2) any incumbent who is consistently running below 50% is in danger of losing.

            (3) the election is close based on the totality of the polls

            (4) many of the polls are consistently skewed in favor of one candidate by modeling voter turnout on the turnout of 2008 which, given what we know about voter party affiliation and voter turnouts in recent elections seems unrealistic.

            The American people will have the last word on Tuesday. So we’ll just have to wait and see how they vote in 4 days.
            Thanks,
            M.

        • http://twitter.com/GreatTimbini Great_Timbini

          Obama won Ohio and Virginia … oh yeah, and Colorado.

  • LordSaviour

    I would tend to agree, but adding the [Wilder Effect] and the fact the certain groups of people tend to vote from their subcutaneous; when the guy you favor is not White, could alter the outcome. The Associated Press Article and the School of Psychology talks about this in their survey. Yes the Economy is improving, yes Obama is part White, Yes he is a strong Commander in Chief. Yes he has passed Health Care Reform, Save the Auto Industry and Got Osama. But Many Whites Like Trump, Sunnunu, Coulter, Hanity and many in All parties, despite Bill Clinton’s efforts to adopt Obama as America’s Native Son, does not take away from the fact that Whites will vote against their own self interest in order for Obama not to have a 2nd term!

    This is I have seen in the school of Psychology a predominately White Establishment with Racist students!

    • Carl Woodward

      Racism will hurt Obama in 2012 just as it did in 2008, but studies suggest that this is already accounted for in the polling: http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/09/how-racist-are-we-ask-google/

      The Wilder effect predicts that people will claim to support Obama and secretly vote against him because of racism. What happens far more often, however, is that racists, instead of pretending that they’ll vote for Obama, pretend that they oppose him for some different reason unrelated to racism.

  • Carl Woodward

    Also, note: R has a 6.1 lead in AZ, and RCP calls it for him. But O has a 5.7 lead in MI and it’s a “toss up”. RCP can only even give Romney a pretend lead by arbitrarily drawing the “it’s a toss up” line somewhere between 5.7 and 6.1 – and even then R doesn’t have enough EVs to win!

  • Carl Woodward

    Even that link predicts O will win – click “no toss ups”. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2012/president/2012_elections_electoral_college_map_no_toss_ups.html

    RCP calls MI – where Obama averages a 5.7 lead – a “toss up”. RCP calls PA – where O averages a 4.8 lead – a “toss up”. You can only pretend that Romney even has a chance by assuming that O will lose multiple states where he maintains a significant lead well outside the margin of error, and that R will win multiple states where he’s statistically tied at best. Wishful thinking. Bad math.

    • CloseCall

      Just saying not to bet the farm. That’s all I’m saying. Keep a couple of chickens for yourself.

      • Carl Woodward

        On the contrary, this is the very definition of a situation where you’d want to bet the farm. There are still lots of people who are harboring doubts, which means that there’s a big market to bet against. But all of their reasons for doubt (such as your RCP link) immediately collapse under scrutiny, and all of the reliable indicators point in the opposite direction.

        I am exactly as worried about Mitt Romney winning as I am about the pretend Martian in my article abducting me and taking me to Mars. I guess it’s technically possible, in a kind of hypothetical academic sense, that there are Martians waiting to abduct me as soon as I step outside. But it really doesn’t make sense to spend much time worry about things that are extremely unlikely to happen.

        • Michael Hart

          Polls over sample Democrats by a wide margin, plus undecideds break 3 to 1; or 4 to 1 for the challenger.

          I do not know why the media pollsters like Reuters and CBS show it a close race, perhaps this is for business purposes to keep the public interested or perhaps they are trying to help reelect Obama or both. I do not know. But I do know how to read the polls. A CBS poll today Oct 30 that shows Obama up by 1 point over Romney with D+5 sample and 10% undecided and Obama polling just 48% means a HUGE win for Romney. The real turnout will be R+1 or R+2. And the undecideds will break 80% Romney to 20% Obama. By oversampling Democrats by 6 or 7% they masked where the presidential contest really stands. Again, I am not sure about their motives but Obama is not ahead by 1% as this poll reports. He is behind 6 or 7 points.

          • Carl Woodward

            “The undecideds will break 80% Romney to 20% Obama” – Guy Making Up Crazy Numbers

          • Michael Hart

            The way to view voters that are still undecided in the final days before the election is to consider them as voters who have decided not to vote for the incumbent. If 4 years of knowing the incumbent have not convinced them to vote him, most of them will not decide to vote for him in the final days of the campaign.

            Asking late undecided voters how they are going to vote is like asking a person “are you going to be married to the same person a week from today?” If the answer is: “I am undecided,” then it is a bad sign for the marriage.

            Eight to twenty breakdown is roughly what tends to happen with the vote of the late undecided voters when one of the candidates is the incumbent president. Bush was able to buck the trend and win undecided votes over Kerry. But no other incumbent president was able to do it since Gallup has been keeping track.

          • Carl Woodward

            “Eight to twenty breakdown is roughly what tends to happen with the vote of the late undecided voters when one of the candidates is the incumbent president.”

            You’re repeating a hilarious myth that gets repeated every cycle by the opposition when it’s losing to the incumbent. It’s based on a terrible misreading of an old article: http://www.pollingreport.com/incumbent.htm

            “challengers received a majority of the undecided vote in 82% of the cases studied”

            Do you get the difference between saying that 82% of challengers get a majority – and challengers always get 82% of the majority?

          • Michael Hart

            Right, in 82% of the cases, challengers win about 80% of the late undecided vote. The article you link to shows exactly that. Please read the entire article, though.

            Pay particular attention to the first bullet point. They give an example of what they are writing about. And in their example the undecideds go 80% to 20% for the challenger.

            Now, there are rare cases, to wit, 18%, according to this report (100% – 82% = 18%) in which this is not the case. I even gave an example of such a rare case– Bush winning undecided voters over Kerry. But these are very rare and in presidential elections that is the only known example of the incumbent president winning undecided voters, since Gallup has been tracking such statistics.

            In other words, approximately 80% of late undecided voters go to the challenger in 82% of the cases. And in presidential elections approximately 80% of undecided voters go to the challenger since we have reliable data on this going back to 1964. The only exception was 2004, when the challenger (Kerry) did not win late undecided voters running against incumbent president George W. Bush.

          • Carl Woodward

            Two points, and then I’m wrapping this up.

            First – Gallup shows no advantage among undecideds for the challenger. In fact, among incumbent races Gallup only records two with an undecided margin: 2004 and 1976. Those elections show opposite trends. Don’t take my word for it – anyone can go to the website and see for themselves.

            Second – the article does not “show” that “in 82% of the cases, challengers win about 80% of the late undecided vote.” It establishes that “that challengers received a majority of the undecided vote in 82% of the cases studied”. A “majority” and “80%” are two different things.

            There is a reason he never says what you’ve attributed to him. His 80% average was pulled from an extremely limited data set spanning only two years, with “a few” going back to the 70′s.

            This is important because the long-term trend you are trying to extrapolate from a 25 year old study simply does not exist. The incumbent advantage was dropped from 80% in ’88 to 65% in ’94, jumped from 73% in ’98, dropped to 60% in ’00, and to 58% by ’04. If anything, the pattern is dropping.

          • Michael Hart

            That’s right. They show that in 82% of the cases the challengers wins the majority. But as an illustration they use an example where the challenger wins 80% of that vote.

            Also, what is really relevant here are presidential elections rather than all elections. In presidential elections, the challenger gets on average about 80% of the late undecided vote, excepting that 2004 Bush v. Kerry election.

          • http://www.facebook.com/ric.mason.94 Ric Mason

            Hi Michael,

            I read the link, and I don’t think it says what you are saying, that “in 82% of the cases, challengers win about 80% of the late undecided vote.” I think Carl has the correct read there.

          • Foo Bar

            The supposed “oversampling” is because there are in fact MORE Democrats than Republicans (both officially registered and self-identified). Whether they vote or not is a separate question, but the pollsters are getting accurate samples of US citizens.

          • Michael Hart

            According to Gallup, self-identified Republicans outnumber self-identified Democrats by 1% among likely voters and by 3% of independent leaners are included. So a national sample with a D+5 misrepresents the party breakdown among likely voters and produces inaccurate results.
            A more accurate sample would be R+1 to R+3

            Just as CBS oversampled Democrats by 6 to 8 points in its national sample, so did CBS and a number of other pollsters oversampled Democrats in state polls by a similar margin.

  • CloseCall
    • ArizonaDem

      What planet do you live on? Without Ohio, Romney is DONE!!! There is no possible way on the face of this universe that Romney can win without Ohio. There is not a single poll anywhere that shows Romney winning Ohio. Also, Guess what? Ohio has early voting and the polls have been open for about a month. Obama right now leads by about 30 points in the early voting. Even if something would happen to shift it towards Romney OHIO IS ALREADY DONE!! THE EARLY BALLOTS HAVE ALREADY ELECTED OBAMA IN OHIO!!!! Even that real clear politics website you just quoted is predicting Obama will win the state by 2 points. Nate silver says it is a 76 percent chance that Obama will take Ohio!!! CNN today releases a poll that Obama was up 4 in Ohio. No candidate ever has come back in Ohio that was down by 3 points to win it in 10 days. No one EVER EVER EVER EVER!!! Romney is DONE!!!!!!!!!!

      • Michael Hart

        Rasmussen shows Romney is ahead in Ohio. The only polls that now show Obama ahead in OH are polls that obscenely overstate the difference in voter turnout between Democrats and Republicans.

        For example, today, Oct. 30 a SurveyUSA poll has Obama leading Romney by 3. But this poll had 6% more Democrats than Republicans. This is bizarre. In 2008, there were 5% more Democrats than Republicans voting in Ohio. This poll actually assumes there will be even more self-identified Democrats relative to self-identified Republicans this time. It makes no sense at all…..

        Also, I looked at the turnout by age and the poll shows that 18 to 34 year olds will make up 25% of the voters, while 35 to 49 year olds will also make up 25% of the voters in Ohio. I nearly fell off my chair laughing. But the bizarre numbers continued. They showed 50 to 64 being 31% of voters and seniors who are 65 and older just 19% of the voters.

        They over sampled Democrats by 6 to 8 points in OH, oversampled youngest voters and under sampled oldest.

        Romney will win Ohio, probably by 2 or 3 percent. And he will win the election. The Democratic operative Nate Silver will simply say “we did not see it coming.”

        Remember how exit polls said Walker and Barrett was tied in the June recall election? Then 1 hour later CNN said: sorry, the actual votes are now in and we can project a win for Scott Walker. He won by 7%, even though the exit polls oversampled Democrats (who are more willing to talk to pollsters in person). I am sorry that so many people believe the really skewed polls. Romney will win OH narrowly and he will win nationally by a wide margin.

        • Carl Woodward

          “This poll actually assumes there will be even more self-identified Democrats relative to self-identified Republicans this time. It makes no sense at all…”

          Honestly I don’t even know why anyone bothers polling anymore. We should just ask this guy what he thinks “makes sense” and what makes him fall off his chair laughing. Probably just as accurate!

          • Michael Hart

            There is a difference between good polling and bad polling. Just as there is a difference, say, between good driving and bad driving.

            If someone wrote about the dangers of speeding or driving under the influence, you would not reply, “honestly, I don’t know why anyone bothers driving anymore…”

            The question is not whether or not we should do it, the question is: how do we do it well?

            A poll that that weighs results by party affiliation in a way that contradicts known facts about party affiliation is a poll that produces inaccurate results.

          • Carl Woodward

            Gotcha.

            There are no “known facts” about voter affiliation in Ohio, because Ohio does not require voters to declare affiliation when registering.

            If you have personal opinions or conjecture about affiliation in OH, that’s fine. But don’t try to mislead people by calling them “known facts”, and don’t pretend that your personal opinions or conjecture have the same evidentiary weight as actual polling.

          • Michael Hart

            Of course, there are known facts about voter affiliation in Ohio. And they are derived from polling. Gallup reports that in OH, affiliation is D+3.6% as of August 2012

            http://www.gallup.com/poll/156437/heavily-democratic-states-concentrated-east.aspx

            You are thinking about voter registration by party, not voter self-identification/self-affiliation.

            It is true that in OH voters do not declare a party when they register to vote. But we can find out what their self-affiliation is through public opinion polls.

            In predicting presidential outcome, self-affiliation is exactly what we want to know. It is more telling than party registration. Self-affiliation is a fluid concept and can vary significantly, even from month to month. Voter registration by party is more stable, because some people do not change party registration for months or even years after they stop self-identifying with one party and start self-identifying with another.

            Since we know that in OH, self-described D’s outnumber self-described R’s by about 3.6% and since we know that voter enthusiasm among R’s is greater than among D’s, the difference in turnout between D’s and R’s on election day is likely to be smaller than 3.6%, perhaps appreciably so. Hence the polls that weigh their samples as D+6 significantly over sample the D’s.

          • Carl Woodward

            Wait, I thought we can’t trust the polls! I ruled out polls as “facts” because your entire argument disputes the fact, as demonstrated by the polls, that Obama is winning Ohio:

            http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2012/president/oh/ohio_romney_vs_obama-1860.html

            Only 1/9 polls put Romney in the lead: Rasmussen. Which averaged a 4 point Republican bias in 2012 – notably, almost the exact different between their current number and the RCP average.

            So to clarify: we can’t trust eight different polls based on one poll (Gallup) that allegedly demonstrates a methodological bias. But we should trust one poll (Rasmussen) that is not only an outlier, but that is off by almost exactly the same margin it always is. Hmm…

          • Michael Hart

            It is not a matter of trusting or not trusting the polls, rather it is about knowing how to read them.

            Even Rasmussen & Gallup still over sample Democrats, though not as much as other polls.

            Putting more accurate results together with less accurate results does not lead to even more accurate results — it leads to less accurate ones.

            There is nothing that suggest that Democrats will have the same or even greater voter advantage over Republicans as they did in 2008. Yet the skewed polls you use to conclude that Obama has already won assume exactly that–they weigh their data to match the 2008 turnout difference between Democrats & Republicans.

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