Location: Fairfax, Virginia, United States

Friday, November 07, 2008

'Twas a Famous Victory: A Campaign Diary

November 7, 2008:

I had hoped to have the final electoral vote by now, but Missouri is still too close to call. In addition, the Times is still showing Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District – which has one electoral vote – as too close to call. However, CNN has called it for McCain, which makes it Obama 364, McCain 163, with 11 undecided (Missouri). McCain is leading in Missouri by 5,859 votes, so for our purposes, let’s say it goes to McCain, which makes it 364-174.

CNN reports this for the popular vote:

Obama 65,089,510 53.2%
McCain 57,167,197 46.8%

This does not include the third-party vote, which was one percent of the total in 2004. If we assume a similar figure for 2008, then the percentages become Obama 52.7, McCain 46.8, others 1.0, and the total vote would rise to 123.5 million.

This was of course the highest popular vote for any presidential candidate, ever. It was the highest percentage of the popular vote for any candidate since 1988, and the highest for any Democratic candidate since 1964. Only Clinton, LBJ, FDR and Wilson won more electoral votes for the Democratic Party in the last 100 years.

Also worthy of note is that this was not a record turnout, despite everything you have heard to the contrary. The total vote in 2004 was 122,295,645, so this year’s vote was only 1.2 million more. Turnout was good in 2004, 60.7% of the population 18 and older, the best since 1968 when 18-year-olds could not vote. This year the population 18 and older is estimated by the Census Bureau at 222.3 million, which indicates a turnout of only 55.6%, substantially less than in 2004 but on a par with 1992 and prior election years. Even if one accepts Larry Sabato’s estimate of 212 million people eligible to vote, cited in an earlier Update – an estimate presumably discounting some 10 million non-citizens and other ineligibles – the turnout was only 58.3%, well short of 2004. Given record turnouts among young voters and black voters, it would appear that a number of potential McCain voters simply stayed home.

Now for my predictions: I had predicted 52.3 for Obama, so I underestimated him by four-tenths of a point. I gave him 349 electoral votes; he apparently will have 364. I gave him Missouri, but I didn’t give him North Carolina or Indiana. My consolation is that all three were decided by very narrow margins and could have gone either way.

Oh, did I forget to mention? Fantastic, incredible, unbelievable election!

October 28, 2008:

The latest Gallup tracking poll is a bit of a surprise: 49-47 among "traditional" voters, that is, those who are traditionally likely to vote. This is the first time Obama has been under 50 % since October 18, and the first time he has had only a two-point lead since October 17. According to the "expanded" definition of likely voters - that is, those who say they are likely to vote, which indicates a higher turnout among groups traditionally less likely to vote (minorities, young people) - the Gallup tracker is at 51-44. Among all registered voters, likely or not, the tracker is 50-43.

The Washington Post tracking poll published this morning is 52-45 among "likely" voters, as the Post defines them.

Despite this apparent narrowing, every major electoral map now gives a clear victory to Obama: 286-163 in the Times, 286-163 in MSNBC, 306-157 in RealClear Politics, 306-142 in, 318-171 in Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, and 349-189 in Chris Cillizza's map in the Post. This means that even if McCain wins every single "tossup" state, he would still lose. Moreover, Intrade bettors have Obama at 87.8 and McCain at 12.2, odds of seven to one. Their electoral map, based on betting, gives Obama 364 and McCain 174.

As we are now one week away from the election, I will now make my own predictions: popular vote, 52.3% for Obama, 46.7% for McCain. That would be the best performance by a Democratic candidate since incumbent LBJ in 1964, but I believe it's likely given all the circumstances.

For the electoral vote, I did my guesstimates and found myself exactly where Cillizza is: 349-189. Both of us give Indiana to McCain and Virginia, Florida and Ohio to Obama; if the economy is the overwhelming issue, how can Florida and Ohio not vote Democratic? The hardest calls are the three states virtually on an east-west line with each other - Nevada, Missouri and North Carolina. Obama is ahead by 4 points in Nevada polls; the other two are much closer. In the end, I just cannot see redneck North Carolina going for Obama, even with that heavy Afro-American turnout. Missouri, on the other hand, I think could surprise (those 100,000 people at the arch...). However, I freely admit it could be the other way around.

And, of course, there is the fact that 19 of the last 25 presidential elections, going back 104 years, were won by the taller candidate (there were three ties and three exceptions to the rule, notably 2004). Seventeen of the last 25 were won by the heavier, more well-nourished candidate (one tie, 7 exceptions, the most recent 1976). Barack is ahead by 6 and a half inches and 15 pounds. If you think that's just silly, remember we're talking about political behavior and think again.

Finally, here are some interesting words from Larry Sabato, professor of political science at the University of Virginia:

"We've been monitoring early voting in states such as North Carolina, Georgia, Nevada, and Colorado and it is abundantly clear that registered Democrats are turning out at extraordinary rates, at least so far, and Republicans are not. Take the Tar Heel State, for example. Already 629,296 people have voted early, well above the pace of 2004. Democrats are over 56% of the 2008 total, compared to just 45% in 2004. African-Americans are about 30% of the early vote total, compared to only 17% in 2004. (Our thanks to Crystal Ball contributor Justin Sizemore for this data.) True enough, registered Democrats could be voting for McCain, and if you are a Republican and want to whistle past the graveyard, feel free to believe that. Also true: Late votes count just as much as early votes, but the early voting disparity between the parties in many states is another indication of the "enthusiasm gap" favoring Democrats--a phenomenon we have observed and written about here at the Crystal Ball since the start of the nominating season in early January.

"In the nation as a whole, there are approximately 212 million people who are age 18 and over, a universe that constitutes "potential voters" in the presidential election. It is looking increasingly likely that a massive turnout is occurring, with voting already underway in some form almost everywhere. In 2000 we saw 105.4 million people vote in the Bush-Gore contest, a mere 51.2% of the potential electorate. By 2004, when Bush faced off against John Kerry, the turnout soared to 122.3 million, about 60% of the potential voters. This year we will be surprised if turnout isn't between 135 million and 140 million out of the 212 million universe of voters. A turnout like this, representing two-thirds of the electorate, would even exceed that of 1960, when 63% of adult Americans voted (age 21 and up, at that time). The 1960 turnout represented the modern high water mark for voter turnout."

And if you haven't voted early, don't forget to vote next Tuesday.

October 15, 2008:

Well, there's not much point in rehashing the polls - you've all seen them. I will simply note that the latest Gallup tracking poll gives Obama 50%, McCain 43, undecided 7. Obama hasn't had less than 50%, nor less than a 7-point lead, since October 3. On this same date four years ago, Bush was leading Kerry 52 to 44.

The New York Times shows Obama leading in states with 264 electoral votes, McCain in 185, the rest tossups. It shows Nevada, Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida as tossups. Real Clear Politics gives Obama 286 to 158. It now shows Colorado and Virginia as leaning to Obama, and adds Indiana, Missouri, and West Virginia to the tossups. gives Obama 320, McCain 155. It adds North Dakota to the tossups and gives Florida to Obama.

October 4, 2008:

The conservative business newsletter Kiplinger reported yesterday:
"With a month to go, Barack Obama is widening his lead over John McCain. There is still plenty of time for McCain to reverse the contest’s direction. But he needs a big event...a sudden national security crisis, for example, or an Obama change the dynamics of what has become a steep uphill fight.

"The financial crisis is helping Obama. A majority of voters say Democrats
would do better at handling the economy. They also tie McCain to Bush,
whom many blame for failing to prevent the crisis. In addition, economic concerns push foreign policy, McCain’s strongest suit and Obama’s weakest, to a back burner. Also hurting McCain: Lingering doubts over running mate Sarah Palin, although her solid debate performance reassured many worried Republicans.

"Obama has moved ahead in key swing states. His lead in Mich. is so large
that McCain has pulled his television ads and effectively conceded the state. Obama also has small but perceptible leads in Wis., Iowa, Colo. and N.M. And he’s gaining ground in Ohio, Fla. and Minn., although we still rate those states as toss-ups. Some normally Republican states...Va., Ind. and N.C., for example...are also in the toss-up category, forcing McCain to defend a lot more territory. Obama leads in states with 259 electoral votes, 11 short of the 270 needed for victory. And that’s with 116 electoral votes up for grabs in nine toss-up states." reported yesterday:
"Here's a wrap-up of the four major national tracking polls for today (Oct. 3):

• Gallup: Obama 49%, McCain 42%, with a ±2% margin of error.

• Rasmussen: Obama 51%, McCain 44%, with a ±2% margin of error.

• Hotline/Diageo: Obama 48%, McCain 42%, with a ±3.2% margin of error.

• Research 2000: Obama 51%, McCain 40%, with a ±3% margin of error.

"Adding these polls together and weighting them by sample sizes, Obama is ahead 49.9%-42.5%." That's a margin of 7.4 points.'s average of the polls also shows a 7-point margin; Real Clear Politics gives Obama a 5.7 point margin. The Gallup tracking poll published October 4 shows Barack Obama (50%) over John McCain (42%), an 8-point margin. "Obama has held a statistically significant lead for eight consecutive days."

Intrade has Obama at 67.8, McCain at 32.4, which is the lowest McCain has been since mid-July. That's 2 to 1 odds in favor of Obama.

The New York Times gives Obama 260 electoral votes to 200 for McCain, with 78 as tossups: NV, CO, OH, VA, NH, and FL. Real Clear Politics gives Obama 264 and adds MO and NC to the tossup states. Pollster gives Obama 250 and calls NH and MN tossups, states that RCP says lean to Obama.

September 14, 2008:

The race continues to be a statistical dead heat, with the difference that McCain is now slightly ahead in most polls. Here are the three polls taken nationwide between Sept. 11 and 13:
Gallup 2,787 regd voters M 47 O 45
Daily Kos 1,100 likely voters 45 47
Diageo 904 regd voters 45 43
Average 45.7 45.0 undecided/DK/other 9.3%

We were at 11% undecided a month ago, so not many of them have made up their minds.

We are clearly beyond any bounce from either convention, but some polls indicate that the GOP is enjoying a Palin bounce, a shift among white women voters due to the inclusion of a (very) white woman on the Republican ticket. gives Obama 238 EV to 224 for McCain and 76 tossup. Real Clear Politics says it is 207 - 227 - 104. Difference is that Pollster has PA and MN leaning Democratic and Montana as a tossup, whereas RCP has the first two as tossups and MT as leaning Republican. Both agree that MI and NM are now tossups.

Intrade bettors now have McCain ahead, 52.4 to 47.5, which is the equivalent of 1.1 to one in favor of McCain. Obama's price has fallen sharply since the beginning of September.

September 5, 2008:

Well, the long dark week is over. What I find most striking and remarkable is that this convention was almost totally devoid of any discussion of policy. (Not that we weren't warned - Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, told reporters on Wed. that "it's not about issues.") The second most remarkable thing is that he's campaigning to reform and change a Washington in which his own party controls the presidency and for 6 of the last 8 years the Congress as well.

What do we know about McCain's policies?

1. He is for offshore drilling ("Drill, baby, drill!") and simultaneous exploitation of all forms of energy from coal to nuclear to wind - and to hell with the environment.
2. He is against abortion ("culture of life")
3. He wants judges who won't legislate (except to outlaw the right to choose, of course).
4. He wants "reform" - whatever he means by that - and "change" - he used that word 10 times; Obama used it 15 times in his acceptance speech.

Other than that, zip. Zilch. Nada, as Fred T. said. I know far more about what Obama will do on any given issue - how his mind works and how he would approach a problem - than I do about what McCain would do. He was honest, sincere, decent - and opaque.

In fact, I'm sure thoughtful Republicans are privately worried as well - what would this guy actually DO as President? Would he in fact appoint judges like Scalia and Thomas? Probably, but who knows? If he runs across somebody who appeals to his maverick, outside the box streak, he's likely to appoint them. What kind of energy development would he give priority to? Who knows? How would he prevent earmarks - veto every bill sent to him? How would he work with a heavily Democratic Congress?

In other words, the appeal of last night's speech was, "elect me. Trust me. I will play it by ear, do whatever strikes me as the right thing to do, because my gut feelings are honest and patriotic. I have a better character than that other guy, decent as he may be. My character has been tested and proven" - although not my policies.

August 28, 2008:

As promised, I'm now moving to an every-two-weeks update.

The seven most recent nationwide polls (2 each by Gallup and Rasmussen and one each by CNN, Zogby, and Diageo), all completed between August 23 and 27, average 46.0 for Obama, 44.6 for McCain, with 9.4% other/undecided/don't know. This represents a further shrinking of Obama's lead from 2.6 points to 1.4 points. Of course these polls were only partially affected by the Democratic convention. In two weeks we'll see whether there is any of the supposedly traditional bounce.

Intrade, as of this morning, is giving Obama 59.7 to 41.1 for McCain, odds of 1.45 to one. They of course misguessed Obama's choice of veep, but the bettors seem more convinced than ever that McCain will pick Romney - he's up to 61.2 this morning.'s electoral map now shows Obama with 260 votes (down from 284), 214 "strong" and 46 "leaning" his way. It gives McCain 176 and 102 as toss-ups. gives Obama 228, McCain 185, and 125 as toss-ups. Principal difference is that RCP rates Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico as toss-ups, while Pollster has those three leaning to Obama.

For those of you who are skeptical of national polls, you will be pleased to know that Obama's campaign managers agree with you. Read an interview at

It's going to be an interesting couple of months.

August 12, 2008:

The presidential race has tightened further over the last month. The ten most recent nationwide polls (3 by Rasmussen, 3 by Gallup, and one each by Time, AP, CBS, and Zogby), all conducted between July 31 and August 9, average 45.8 for Obama, 43.2 for McCain, 11 percent undecided/DK. Obama's margin has therefore shrunk by one percentage point from a month earlier. As noted earlier, his lead is within the margin of error for these polls.

Obama's lead at Intrade has also shrunk: it is now 60.3 to 36.9 for McCain, odds of 1.6 to one. Intrade prices Sen. Bayh's chances of being the VP nominee at 35, Gov. Kaine at 18. They give Romney 33, Pawlenty 24.5. (Personally, I strongly doubt bettors' ability to guess VP choices, given that the mind of one man will make the decision in each case.) has a map showing how states are likely to cast their electoral votes on the basis of current state-by-state polling. It shows 224 votes in "strong" Obama states, and 60 in "leaning" Obama states, for a total of 284. (270, you will recall, is the number needed to win.) This total does not include any of the "tossup" states such as Virginia, Colorado, Indiana or Florida.

July 13, 2008:

Greetings from your friendly neighborhood election observer. The race has tightened somewhat over the last month. The five most recent nationwide polls (one by Newsweek, two by Rasmussen, and two by Gallup), all conducted during the first 10 days of July, show Obama with an average of 46.6%, McCain 43%, and undecided/DK 10.4%. That means Obama's margin over McCain has shrunk from 4.6 points a month ago (see below) to 3.6 points today, which is right around the margin of error.

On the other hand, Obama's margin at Intrade has grown. He is now being quoted at 65.2 to 31.3 for McCain, odds of better than two to one. This is a margin of 33.9 points, compared to 26.5 a month ago.

June 13, 2008:

One of my periodic updates. The average of five nationwide polls taken between June 2 and 10 show McCain at 41.6%, Obama at 46.2%, and undecided at 10.6%. It may be my faulty memory, but that seems like an unusually low number of undecideds this early in the race.

Over at Intrade, the bettors are offering 61.0 on Obama to win, and 34.5 on McCain. Obama has been over $50 since early May (just think, in early February you could have bought Obama futures at $20!). McCain hit $40 in mid-March and peaked at about 42 in late May. That New Orleans speech must have tanked his futures.



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