Archive | October 2012

Nate Silver’s wisdom

So Nate Silver was on the Daily Show this week.  Watch the clip, and then comment briefly on what opinion(s) he expressed about campaigns, the media, the value of opinion polls, etc.  Each of you who comments only need to identify one of his opinions, so you can leave room for others to weigh in.



How not to connect with voters in a debate

Nate Silver today posted this video clip from the second debate in 1992 between President George H.W. Bush and Governor Bill Clinton (and Ross Perot, although he does not appear on this clip).  This is a town hall-style debate, just like tonight’s format.  Check out the connection, or lack thereof, made by the candidates and the woman who poses the question.

The Gender Gap

From today’s NY Times, a timely article about Romney and the gender gap.  Keep an eye on this tonight during the debate.  Note the complaints by Democrats about polling methodology (ironic, given that two weeks ago the criticism came from Republicans).  Once you watch the debate, comment on whether Romney did anything to further close the gender gap.

October 16, 2012, 11:46 am

Debate Could Provide Romney Chance to Close Gender Gap


Mitt Romney’s second debate appearance Tuesday night will provide him another high-profile opportunity to offer an image of reasonableness and moderation that could be crucial in winning over key voting blocs, especially women, with whom President Obama has had long-standing leads.

The candidates must find ways to be both assertive and understanding during the 90-minute debate on Long Island. But Mr. Romney, in particular, has a chance to close the gender gap if he can dispel Mr. Obama’s criticism about the impact his policies would have on women.

Polling released Monday by Gallup and USA Today suggested that Mr. Obama’s double-digit edge among women has evaporated in the wake of the first debate with Mr. Romney. The survey found Mr. Romney, the Republican candidate, leading slightly among women in battleground states and tied elsewhere.

That survey result was strongly contested by Mr. Obama’s top advisers, who said the poll was flawed. And the Democratic advantage among women still persists in other polls, including surveys conducted by The New York Times in several battleground states last week.

But for Mr. Romney, the challenge remains: to use the debate to try to further erode the president’s usual advantage among women.

Top aides to Mr. Romney said there would be no specific effort to tailor his message to women during the town-hall-style debate. Rather, they said they hoped Mr. Romney could continue to present himself as the best alternative to the president for all of his constituencies, including women.

“Our internal polling shows strong movement toward Governor Romney over the past two weeks,” said Rich Beeson, the campaign’s political director, in a memo released to reporters Tuesday morning. “It also shows serious movement by independent voters, women, and those who were soft supporters of President Obama toward the Romney-Ryan ticket.”

The format of the debate could provide Mr. Romney the opportunity to make further inroads with women.

The questions from voters will give both candidates an opportunity to prove that they can identify with the plight of voters. If Mr. Romney can make that connection with a female questioner, it could help his cause.

There are risks, too. An awkward exchange during the debate could set back the Republican outreach to women just as the campaign is reaching its closing days. It could be hard to recover in the time left.

Advisers to Mr. Obama have been stressing Mr. Romney’s opposition to abortion and his position on contraception in the days since the first debate, hoping to energize women. Many women had said they were disappointed that Mr. Obama did not bring the topic up during the first exchange.

That will likely change tonight. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. made a point of raising the issue during his debate last week with Representative Paul D. Ryan, Mr. Romney’s running mate. Mr. Obama is likely to try to find a way to to do the same tonight.

Top strategists for Mr. Obama on Monday insisted that the Gallup poll was flawed and that the president retained a strong lead among female voters.

In a memorandum to reporters, Joel Benenson, the president’s lead pollster, said the poll’s findings regarding women underscored “deep flaws” in the way the survey identifies which voters are most likely to actually cast ballots in the November election.

Mr. Benenson noted that the poll showed Mr. Obama with a nine-point lead among all registered voters. That lead disappears when the poll is limited to likely voters, a result that Mr. Benenson says is evidence that Gallup is misidentifying who is likely to vote.

Other recent polls have shown little evidence of a shift among women toward the Republican ticket. A New York Times/CBS News/Quinnipiac University survey of Virginia last week showed Mr. Obama with a 14-point lead over Mr. Romney, essentially unchanged from before the first debate.

A similar poll in Wisconsin showed Mr. Obama with a 10-point lead. In national polls from ABC News and The Washington Post from before and after the first debate, there was no significant swing among female voters.


So here, in a very timely piece, is Jon Stewart’s take on polls.  (Many, many thanks to the student who sent me this clip.  You know who you are.)  It’s pretty clear where Stewart comes out on this topic.  But do you think that the election can be overanalyzed by statheads?  Or do you think that the more data, the better?

Polling Perspective

Here’s the latest from Nate Silver, the guru of all polling gurus.  (You’ll read more about him, and his blog, next week.)  Silver adds something missing from the breathless speculation about the meaning of the latest polls: perspective.

October 8, 2012, 6:54 pm

Amid Volatile Polling, Keep an Eye on Election Fundamentals


After a summer in which the polling in the presidential race was exceptionally stable – with Barack Obama generally holding a lead of about two percentage points in national surveys – the numbers since the party conventions have been a wild ride.

Mr. Obama got a bounce coming out of Charlotte, and it had some staying power – with his national lead appearing to peak at about five or six percentage points. But polling released immediately after the debate seemed to suggest that Mr. Romney had drawn into a rough national tie.

By the weekend, however – after the release of a favorable jobs report last Friday – Mr. Romney’s bounce seemed to be receding some. Tracking polls released on Monday by Gallup and Rasmussen Reports actually showed a shift back toward Mr. Obama, although another poll by Pew Research showed Mr. Romney with a four-point lead among likely voters.

Polling data is often very noisy, and not all polls use equally rigorous methodology. But the polls, as a whole, remain consistent with the idea that they may end up settling where they were before the conventions, with Mr. Obama ahead by about two points. Such an outcome would be in line with what history and the fundamentals of the economy would lead you to expect.

Because economic data can be as noisy as the polls, the FiveThirtyEight forecast model uses seven different economic statistics to calibrate its predictions. Some of these make a more favorable case for Mr. Obama than others. The stock market has shown very strong growth over the course of his term, especially in the past six months. Inflation has been low, although gas prices have sometimes been an exception. And the manufacturing sector of the economy has been reasonably sound.

G.D.P. growth, however, has been sluggish – and growth in take-home income has been worse, barely keeping up with population growth. Although consumer spending on some products like cars is up, a broader-based measure called personal consumption expenditures shows that Americans aren’t spending all that much.

The one measure that has been closest to the consensus of the data, however, is jobs growth, as measured by the increase in nonfarm payrolls. (This should be distinguished from the unemployment rate, which is calculated through a separate survey and which is subject to a higher degree of statistical error.)

The economy has added an average of 146,000 jobs per month so far this year, according to the government’s latest figures. That is slightly higher than the average gain in past election years. Since1956, monthly job growth has averaged 135,000 in January through September.

However, because the population and the labor force are now larger than they once were, the economy needs to add more jobs to keep pace with it. As measured on a percentage basis, jobs have grown by 1.0 percentage points since December, slightly below the election-year average of 1.4 percent.

There are four election years – 1956, 1960, 2000 and 2004 – when jobs growth was broadly similar to the trend this year. The 1956 election serves as a reminder that the economy isn’t everything:Dwight D. Eisenhower won in a landslide. But the 1960 and 2000 elections were virtual ties, whileGeorge W. Bush won by 2.5 percentage points in 2004.

A more systematic way to analyze the data is to chart the rate of jobs growth against the margin of victory or defeat for the incumbent party. If past trends hold, that analysis predicts a very narrow victory for Mr. Obama – by 2.1 percentage points over Mr. Romney, similar to Mr. Bush’s margin of victory in 2004.

But the exact math is probably not as important as the broader conclusion: that the economy is line with Mr. Obama being a very modest favorite.

Had Mr. Obama been on track to win by five or six percentage points, then we could say that Mr. Romney was underperforming the fundamentals.

In Denver, however, Mr. Romney presented himself as an acceptable and competent alternative. Challengers also generally profit from the first debate: in 8 of the 10 election cycles since 1976, the polls moved against the incumbent, and a net gain of two or three percentage points for the challenger is a reasonably typical figure.

At the same time, incumbent presidents just aren’t that easy to defeat. Mr. Obama’s approval ratings are now hovering around 50 percent and don’t seem to have been negatively affected by his performance in Denver. Although Mr. Obama’s approval ratings may be slightly lower among those most likely to vote – meaning that Mr. Romney could win with a strong turnout – historically that number has been just good enough to re-elect an incumbent. (Mr. Bush’s approval ratings were in the same range late in 2004.)

In some ways, then, the election might not be quite so unpredictable as it appears. There was reason to believe that Mr. Obama’s numbers would fade some after his convention – and the first debate has quite often been a time when the challenger drew the race closer.

Young people and voting

As we will see over the next couple of weeks in class, the 18-25 age-group has traditionally had the lowest voter turnout rate of any age group.  In 2008, however, turnout for this group was up.  Moreover, young people voted overwhelmingly for Obama in the 2008 election.

The following analysis was aired by PBS about ten days ago.  Watch the piece, and then consider the following questions.  Do your friends and/or family members who are between 18 and 25 intend to vote next month?  If not, why not?  How engaged do they seem to be in the election campaign this year?

Soon we’ll conduct a survey of our upper school students.  Whom do you expect students to support in that poll:  President Obama or Governor Romney?



Presidential debates: French Style

Last spring, French presidential candidates Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy met in a single televised debate, which is excerpted below.  Would US presidential debates be more useful to voters if they were presented in the style of the French?



Should debates matter?

The following is an excellent video from the Wall Street Journal that places this week’s debate in historical context.  Watch it, and then answer one of the questions raised by the video:  Is it fair that some people base their voting decision on which candidate is the “better debater”?