Well, the election is almost over, and with that done we can get back to the stories that matter – petty squabbling over the legitimacy of the election results, bitter partisan fights over the looming fiscal cliff and brutal recriminations inside the losing party. Wait, was I supposed to make you feel better? OK, how about this – no more ads. No more robo-calls. No more surveys. Pretty soon we’ll be into the college football conference championship games, and then we’re into the bowls and NFL playoffs. Soon we’ll be eating Thanksgiving turkey and putting up Christmas lights. All will be right with the world, regardless of who wins. The news cycle will be back to semi-normal, filled with nothing but groundless speculation about the 2016 election by political junkies desperate for a fix. Darn, I was doing well there for a second.
Anyway, since the election is tomorrow, and this blog is at least nominally about making predictions I figure I should probably make some, though you’re probably a lot better off just listening to Nate Silver. I’ve found the attacks on him over the last week or two to be somewhere between distasteful and disgusting. If you want to criticize the results, criticize the model, not the man – he’s been extremely transparent about his methods. He’s not a pundit, if you don’t like what his numbers say, figure out why the numbers are wrong, but don’t attack his motives or character – it’s clear to any one paying attention that if the numbers were for Romney he’d reporting them in the same way.
So here’s some predictions:
1. Obama will win the election – Obviously this is not a earth shattering prediction, but it’s also consistent with the one I made last year, when Obama appeared to be a much more vulnerable candidate. I was wrong, though, about the reason – I suspected that Romney would lose a couple percentage points off of his base due to his Mormon faith, and there’s been no evidence of that so far. Whether I overestimated the negative effect that Mormonism would have or underestimated the hatred for President Obama, I think Romney will have troubles locking down his base.
The problem, though, is that he’s having a tough time locking down any one else. The Democrats have done a pretty solid job of locking down a wide array of different voting blocs, and Romney’s extreme positions in the primaries severely limited his tactical mobility in going after some of those blocks.
Ultimately, I think Obama will win in 2012 for the same reasons that Bush won in 2004. Obama and Bush both came into a reelection bid with a notionally weak position, but a reserve of goodwill and likeability. The Democrats in 2004 and GOP in 2012 both saw blood in the water, and figured their best chance was with an “Anyone-but-_____” candidate. Kerry and Romney present a similar appeal to the voters – a smart but stiff guy who you’re not quite sure where he stands. In the “Who would I want to have a beer with?” test, Kerry and Romney both lose pretty solidly to Obama and Bush.
Mini prediction – expect to see a lot of 2004 2012 comparisons once the dust settles on this election.
2. The popular vote will be extremely close, and might even break to Romney – but you shouldn’t care. Signs are pointing that Obama may be gaining slightly in the national polls, indicating the popular vote might go his way. That said, I think the popular vote will be really, really tight. It’s been that way throughout the cycle, and I think the Democrats in particular are going to suffer from an enthusiasm gap in their “Safe states” like California where they would pad their vote totals. Compound that with solid-blue states New York and New Jersey recovering from Sandy, and you’ve got a lot of Democrats potentially not voting – this won’t effect the Electoral College too much, but might depress Obama’s margins enough to flip the popular vote.
If that happens…
3. Hilarity will ensue. A popular/electoral college split is extremely rare – there have only been 3 in history, so it would be pretty unlikely, but it’s interesting that the last one happened in very recent memory. This means that unlike in 2000, each side’s pundits and talking heads will have taken positions on the legitimacy of a President who fails to win the popular vote – and will have to scramble to reverse themself.
This blog was inspired by Philip Tetlock, a political scientist who has studied predictions extensively. One of the things he says is most notable about our system of pundits and “experts” is that there is virtually zero accountability for past predictions and positions that turned out to be wrong. If Obama wins the Electoral College but loses the popular vote, we will all get the joy of watching people on both sides of the aisle scrambling to reverse the positions they wrote so eloquently for their 2000 Op-Ed pieces about the brilliance/stupidity of the Electoral College. And that will be hilarious to watch.
*: Interesting conspiracy theory/note: The first two Electoral/Popular splits happened in 1876 and 1888 – 12 years apart. The last one happened in 2000 – 12 years ago. Maybe we’re due. The Redskins also lost, so a popular vote split allows the true believers of that theory to keep it alive for a little while longer.