Tuesday, November 04, 2008

This Is It

Today the endless campaign finally culminates in a decisive showdown. Actually, in some states significant proportions of the electorate have already cast their ballots in early voting (more than 29 million of them), but tonight we will get to find out the overall results--assuming, of course, that we don't wind up with major post-election litigation and a return trip to the Supreme Court.

One always has to preface any mention of polls with the caveat that their results are far from consistent, open to different plausible interpretations, and shaped by various empirical and statistical assumptions that may prove to be wildly misleading. But as far as I can tell, all signs continue to point to a nation-wide electoral catastrophe for the Republicans in today's voting.

The website FiveThirtyEight.com, whose analyses this year have seemed especially sophisticated and reliable, predicts today that Obama will win the national popular vote by about 6 percentage points and, more significantly, will get an Electoral College majority of 349-189. (For more details, including summaries of the national- and state-level polls on which this analysis is based, see HERE.)
This race appears to have stabilized as of about the time of the second debate in Nashville, Tennessee on October 8th. Since that time, Obama has maintained a national lead of between 6 and 8 points, with little discernible momentum for either candidate. Just as noteworthy is the fact that the number of undecided voters is now very small, representing not much more than 2-3 percent of the electorate. Undecided voters who committed over the past several weeks appear to have broken roughly equally between the two candidates. [....]

Nor does McCain appear to have much chance of winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote; in fact, our model thinks that Obama is slightly more likely to do so. McCain diverted many of his resources to Pennsylvania, a state where he narrowed Obama's margins somewhat, but which our model concludes that Obama is now virtually certain to win. This may have allowed Obama to consolidate his margins in other battleground states, particularly Western states like Colorado and Nevada to which McCain has devoted little recent attention.
The election-eve average of major national polls by the heavyweight (Republican-leaning) political website RealClearPolitics shows Obama leading by 52.1%-44.5%--and it should also be noted that not a single major poll shows McCain leading, though some of the results are within the statistical margin of error. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which showed McCain essentially tied with Obama in early September (47% Obama vs. 46% McCain), now shows Obama ahead by 51%-43%.

It has been clear for a while that the Republicans would lose seats in the Senate and House races, and the only question is how badly they will do. The Democrats now control 51 Senate seats (if one includes Joe Lieberman), and there is an outside chance that they might get a filibuster-proof 60 seats, but most projections I've seen suggest they will probably wind up with 58 or 59 seats at the outside. That would still represent a dramatic victory, and it could well include the defeat of some very high-profile Republican Senators (like Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina--and possibly even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, though he looks likely to squeak through).

In the House of Representatives, where the Democrats presently hold a 35-seat advantage, they could well pick up another 25 seats or so.

=> As Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com properly cautions:
Any forecasting system is only as good as its inputs, and so if the polls are systematically wrong, our projection is subject to error as well.
A lot will depend, for example, on how many of the young and newly-registered voters who have been telling pollsters they favor Obama actually turn out to vote. (The first reports suggest that turnout has been heavy across the country today.)

Republican efforts at vote suppression and the disenfranchisement of potentially Democratic voters have been especially active this year (linked to an artificial hysteria about alleged voter-fraud threats that showcased a heavily orchestrated and totally cynical propaganda campaign to demonize the community-organizing group ACORN, including an embarrassingly deranged claim by John McCain himself--and I say deranged advisedly, since describing it as just transparently absurd, cynically dishonest, and ludicrously exaggerated would be misleadingly euphemistic--that ACORNis now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history ... maybe destroying the fabric of democracy”). But so far, according to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, Republican voter-suppression gambits have been getting countered fairly effectively. Let's hope for the best.

=> Meanwhile, a collaboration between TPM and Google has produced a terrific Election Night 2008 Map to which you can go this evening to get steadily-updated results from both the Presidential election and various state elections. (Have a look--it's in the upper right-hand corner of the TPM website.)

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub