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Election aftermath

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  • I was right about 47 states (perhaps 48 when Florida makes up its mind), which was better than George Will and Michael Barone, but worse than Nate Silver, who will have at least 49 scalps in his pocket, and can take credit for calling Florida close no matter which way it goes. I thought that the Silver model had a "house effect" that overestimated how well Obama would do on election day, but that it wasn't likely that that house effect would be big enough to overcome how far ahead Obama was doing in the polls the 538 model relied upon. That's perhaps correct—538 appears to have overstated the Obama-Romney margin by 0.5% nationally and 1.7% in Ohio—but that could just be lucky on my part, since 538 also overstated Romney's performance in Virginia by 1.0%. Silver can be proud of his results, and will be handsomely rewarded for his success.
  • If exit polls are right, whites were only 72% of the electorate. The difference between that and the 75% prediction I credited is the difference between Silver's predictions and mine. Logistically, the GOP needs to learn from the impressive Obama turnout machine.
  • An interesting question is whether the Democrats can repeat that machine in 2016, but they might not need to between demographic changes and the massive change in the relationship between the people and the federal government. Once Obamacare takes effect, a majority of the country is going to be net takers from the government, and will have resistance to any effort to shrink government, even if the spending is unsustainable, even as these programs wreck the economy and create marginal effective tax rates above 100% for middle-class families.
  • That the polls were right shows that the country has moved left. The existing coalition isn't going to cut it for Republicans; the demographics are going to be even worse in 2016 and 2020. And if Texas goes blue in 2024, that's the end of things. Conservatives are a minority of the country. They need to expand the big tent if they're ever going to get back to 270. And there's an easy painless way to do that: stop pandering on purely symbolic social issues that have no feasible chance of becoming government policy but permit the Democrats to raise strawmen attacks against Republican candidates.
  • The scare tactics on abortion and contraception in this election by the Obama campaign were ridiculous, but, judging by my Facebook feed, they worked: an appalling number of otherwise-intelligent under-40 voters seemed to think that a President Romney was going to outlaw abortion, contraception, and homosexuality. There was no reason for the Republicans to hand Democrats anything that opened the door to the opportunity to create those scare tactics. Abortion is going to be legal in this country even if Roe v. Wade is reversed; demographics of the electorate mean that gay marriage and gay equality are inevitable no matter what the Supreme Court decides to do this term. Even aside from the right and wrong of it, the only thing Republicans are doing by agreeing to make gay marriage and abortion campaign issues is alienating a generation of voters and hurting the brand of the party. Mitch Daniels is correct: the Christian right needs to agree to a truce on social issues if we're ever going to have a chance of restoring the country to fiscal sanity. Even if you think gay marriage and abortion is wrong, it's just stupid to keep costing conservatives votes on purely symbolic things where the president's positions have next to no real-world consequences.
  • The messages of the election are not a hopeful sign for fiscal sanity. Bailouts, entitlement sanctity, and other economically illiterate populism won Ohio, and perhaps the nation. The Republicans ran in Virginia on complaining about Democratic cuts to Medicare and education spending and on opposing free trade. Neither campaign was intellectually honest about the unsustainable fiscal problems we face. The only bright side of this national election is that Obama now owns those problems. Force him to accept or reject reasonable compromises, and accept that the 39.6% top tax rate will be back—unless the GOP is willing to trade keeping the Bush tax cuts for a large gasoline tax to avoid even more economically disruptive carbon regulation.
  • The most misunderstood Supreme Court decision of the last thirty years, Citizens United, made absolutely no difference in this election. Which is no surprise to anyone who read the case. Let's hope we stop seeing attacks on free speech based on faulty premises.
  • Let's hope the Supreme Court justices are healthy over the next four years. The libertarian insistence that there's no difference between the two parties is nicely skewered by Randy Barnett and Richard Epstein, who have each individually done more to promote libertarian ideals than everyone working at Reason magazine combined. That 0.8% of the vote for Gary Johnson didn't make a difference in this election, but could in future elections.
  • McCain supported immigration amnesty and lost Hispanics 68-31. Romney moved harder to the right on immigration and lost Hispanics 71-27. Hispanics are voting on economic issues, not on immigration, and that isn't going to shift to Republican ideals any time soon. Any political gains the Republicans can make by yielding on immigration are going to be more than offset by the adverse effect on the economy for the lower middle class and the increased number of Democratic voters.
  • One bright light in the election was the victory of Ted Cruz in Texas. He'll make a great Supreme Court justice some day. The Republicans need to find more people like him, and do more to promote their candidacies. Far too many resources were wasted ensuring that Cruz won a primary over a party hack with no long-term future.
  • A dark spot in the election was the degree to which the media promoted the Obama campaign's talking points, especially with the veneer of fact-checking. I leave to others how to counteract that, but in an election this close, it made a difference.

  • I'm amused at the cynical pundits who think voting doesn't make a difference, but their op-eds do.

8 Comments


I very much enjoyed your articl.It is concise,well structured,adressing clearly the important issues.It is hard to believe ,but the abortion issue seem to have the greatest importance even among the women long passed child bearing age,and even for surprisingly large percentage of men.You'd think by now the Republican candidates would be prepared to answer abortion related questions coherently.Thank you for your very useful and much appreciated work.Mirjana Blokar

I thought the polls were over sampling Democrats by 6% to 10% through the summer and into the early fall. Exit polls seem to indicate it was D +6 this time around. So the majority of the polls were probably a little high for Obama, but not much.

Living in a Red State, I can attest it got much redder this time around. Many long serving RINOs were shown the door and replaced with fiscal conservatives at the state level.

While Nate is to be congratulated for his efforts, Rasmussen got it more correct. Both he and Gallup picked up on the surge in Obama job approval to about 50% in the last few days. They both have said final job approval will mirror the vote percentage of an incumbent. Raz had it at 50% the day before the election. So just enough broke for Obama in the last few days. Obama had been running at about 47% job approval for about a year. So he got the break and won the election.

We must keep things in perspective. Obama appears to have won by about 2 1/2 million votes out of 120 million cast. That is about the same as his winning margin in California. So it isn't a gigantic mandate. The House Republicans were also sent back with a mandate from the more conservative elements of the the Republican Party. They have no incentive whatsoever to compromise with Obama. They come from safe districts, for the most part.

The one failure is the inability of the national Republican Party to nominate viable Senate candidates. They have dropped about eight to ten winnable seats in 2010 and 2012. That is the fault of the primary system.

I used to work with a trial lawyer who was big into Democrat politics. He loathed the primary system because it selected unelectable candidates, only on the Democrat side. As he said, "Everyone hated those smoke filled rooms where deals were cut, but those old time guys knew who could get elected and who couldn't. Now all we get are the nuts and extremists in the primaries."

We also have to understand that McCain was a poor candidate. And Romney isn't really a conservative. And there is still a pall in the national stage from George W. Bush who ruined the Republican brand. He wasn't a conservative, either.

In politics, these things have to play out. Just enough of the people still have a love affair with Obama. Just enough in the right states to get him elected. Give it two more years. And four more years.

We have a gigantic problem. It is called the debt. At some point, servicing it will consume all available tax revenue. So far, the only plan I have heard from Obama is "It was George Bush's fault and Romney will send you to a back alley for an abortion." We shall see what he can come up with now. We can't tax out of it. And we can't grow out of it.

The irony is that Bernanke is printing dollars to keep the whole thing afloat. Those dollars aren't really helping the poor and the middle class. They are going directly into the coffers of the banks and onto the spreadsheets of corporations who aren't investing them in anything useful. So for all the rhetoric, Obama has been the best friend the 1% has had in a long time. At the expense of the poor and middle class who will pay for it with inflation, taxes and lost opportunity. As a 1%er, I can attest to that.


Ted, thanks for putting your thoughts and analysis out here. As a Democrat, I wish I heard voices like yours more prominently from the Republican side. Principled, reality-based willing to engage in an honest discussion without name calling. Thanks and hope we see more effective leadership from both sides of the aisle over the next four years.

It appears Obama got about 9 million fewer votes in 2012 than in 2008. Black participation increased less than a percent. Hispanics were up about 1.7%. Youth also was up. This went against all standard predictions. So Obama won with less than a million more votes than Kerry had in 2004.

However, it also appears that Mitt got fewer votes than McCain did in 2008. This is a real shocker. Most of these (about 3 to 4 million) were white Republicans or Republican leaning. Had Mitt gotten a fraction of these in Ohio, Iowa and Florida, he would have won. So Mitt didn't excite the base (or the peripheral base). He didn't make the sale. And the branding was off. Being a business man, and surrounded by business men, one would think they should know about branding.

Mitt had trouble selling himself as a "conservative," which of course he isn't. And we still have the backdrop of George W. Bush and the damage he did to the brand. He wasn't a conservative either. It is only by political accident that conservatives end up in the Republican Party, which isn't conservative. So conservatives are destined to be continually frustrated.

We tend to forget there was tremendous Clinton fatigue back in 2000. Now Clinton is viewed in more nostalgic terms. Bush won a narrow victory, losing the popular vote. And he won in 2004 with a late surge in job approval, just like Obama. But he got a much bigger turn out.

So the most recent election would appear to be less about changing demographics (which are real) and more about selling the brand. The unelectable senate candidates didn't help. And neither did Rick Santorum. Newt was interesting, until he suggested arresting federal judges. That kind of talk doesn't help either.

So the election was more about apathy and yawning, and less about giving either side a mandate.

One question emerges about Nate Silver. He showed that a large number of polls, taken in the aggregate can be added and averaged. This proved to be predictive in this election. But what of his probability projections? That always bothered me.

The one consistent predictive data point for incumbent vote total is job approval. Obama was running in a channel between 45% and 48% for most of the year. This was apparent in Rasmussen and Gallup, and also in the Real Clear Politics average. He surged in the last weekend to a little over 50% in the RCP average and Raz had him at 50% on the last day. This is quite close to his final vote percentage.

However, if this model is correct, then we can assume that Obama would have gotten 47% of the vote when the average showed a similar job approval. Yet Nate's probabilities of winning had Obama in a channel between 60% and 80% in this same time period.

Also, after the first debate it was popularly assumed that Romney's chances increased significantly. This is when Nate increased Romney's probability, and reduced Obama's. Yet Obama never suffered any loss in job approval in the week after October 4. In fact, he improved from 48% to above 49% in both Rasmussen and the RCP average.

Averaging the aggregate polls worked this time. However assigning probabilities is more propaganda than reality.

A word about world debt. World GDP is about $60 trillion a year. The US, Eurozone and Great Britain account for a little more than half of this. The aggregate national debt of these countries is 50 to 100 trillion depending on the source. Assuming an interest rate of 1%, that amounts to $1 trillion a year in debt service. Should the rates increase to a more natural 3%, then debt service goes to $3 trillion a year, which is close to the entire US federal budget. We can conclude the central banks can never let the interest rates go up. So they will continue print money. They have no choice. One must question the viability of the entire western economic model long term.

"If exit polls are right, whites were only 72% of the electorate. The difference between that and the 75% prediction I credited is the difference between Silver's predictions and mine."

That's the core of the issue, no? In essence, your argument was that pollsters were wrong about the composition of likely voters, but your "evidence" was essentially speculation and gut feelings about about GOP energy. So, your quote above basically says "I would have been right if I had been right."

Additionally, now that more votes have been counted, your claim that Silver's model overstated Obama's victory margin is wrong. As of this writing, it is 50.5% to 47.9%, for a margin of 2.6% compared to Silver's predicted 2.5%. Pretty much dead on.

@ Tony Francis

Your comment that Rasmussen got it "more correct" than Silver gave me a chuckle. That's really grasping at straws. Yes, he showed Obama's approval rating rising, but ....

-- His final poll had Romney 49 and Obama 48, so his margin was 3.6% off
-- He was an outlier on Ohio, showing a tie when the RCP average was Obama +2.9
-- He had Romney +2 in Virginia
-- He had Romney +6 in North Carolina
-- He had a tie in Wisconsin
-- He had Romney +1 in Iowa
-- He had Romney +3 in Colorado
-- He had Obama by only 2 in Nevada
-- On average across all 11 swing states, he got the vote margin wrong by a stunning 4.3 percent in Romney's favor

We are not talking being wrong within the margin of error. This is systematically wrong. I know it is difficult to accept this reality, but Rasmussen is leading you astray and you end up surprised by the election outcome because you wanted to believe his results.

Silver called all 50 states right, but Rasmussen was "more correct." Right. . .


Jon. If you look strictly at the job approval model, Rasmussen was more correct than Nate Silver.

Rasmussen's model was based on D +3, which was admittedly a guess. Rasmussen said so. According to exit polls, it was D +6. Had the three to four million white Republicans shown up and voted for Romney instead of staying home, it would have been closer to Rasmussen's D +3. No one predicted this. Not even Nate Silver.

As I recall, Nate had predicted Obama to get 50.8% of the vote, and Romney 48.8%. So, Nate was as wrong on this as everyone else.

What hasn't been explained is Nate's Probabilities. Where does he get those from? Smelling the vapors at Delphi? A Oaija Board? Certainly not anything based in reality.

All Nate showed was that the polls taken in aggregate could be added and averaged and the result was close to reality. This time.

What are we to make of polling firms that purposely skew their results? I read that the Greenburg Democracy Corp that they purposefully skew 3-4% Democrat to "make up for Republican skewed polling." That was on their site back in September. They have since taken it down, so far as I know.

How do we rectify the fact that Obama's job approval improved after the first debate, yet the polls showed he was losing ground? Who was correct? Nate Silver or the aggregate job approval which never went down? They can't both be right.

And what are we to make of all those sycophants posting on the NYTs? "Nate, please apply your model to solve the debt crisis!" "Nate, please use your model to bring peace to the Middle East!"

Chuckle indeed!

Jon, go back and look at Nate's predictions. He had Florida at 49.8% for both Obama and Romney. I don't think he called it one way or the other. Also, go back and look at the Read Clear Politics poll averages for the swing states. They correctly predicted all them, except for Florida which they indicated would go for Romney.

Considering the models for RCP and Nate Silver are similar, all they are doing it adding polls and averaging the results. Most of the predictions were within a point or two of the final results in both models. They were both right, and they were both wrong, depending on how much inaccuracy we are willing to accept.

All this proves is that one can take a lot of polls, add them together, and while assuming they are all more or less alike, get a number that is within a point or two of what actually occurred in real life.

Considering Rasmussen had the final job approval for Obama at 50% on election day, and 51% the next day, I stand by my assertion that Rasmussen was correct.

I live in Texas. I agree with the comment that we are lucky we have Ted Cruz elected to the Senate. I agree he would make a great Supreme Court Justice, one day. Too bad we cannot say he would make a great President some day, because he is disqualified for that office since he was not born in the US, he was born in Canada. As Republicans, we have to go by the rules, although...well, never mind.

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