Blog Posts by David Rothschild, Yahoo! News

  • Obama still on defense

    Woody Allen is often quoted as saying that "80 percent of success is showing up." Hackneyed though this expression has become, it applies quite accurately to the election as it stands today. President Barack Obama showed up at the debate on Tuesday night and stabled his teetering campaign.

    Given the wide consensus that Obama did not mentally show up for the first confrontation with former Gov. Mitt Romney, his combativeness and general vigor appeared to convince the television audience that he still has some fight left in him. Instant polls suggest that Obama scored well overall and, more critically, with undecided and leaning voters. Polls of overall voters are not that meaningful, because most people will say their candidate won. But surveys of undecided and leaning voters, like those from CBS and Xbox/YouGov, give us valuable clues. Obama clearly outperformed Romney in both.

    The Signal's real-time forecast, heavily influenced by prediction markets at this point in the campaign, ticked up nearly 3 percentage points during last night's debate.

    Obama vs. Romney before and after the second debate

    Sources: Betfair, Intrade, IEM, HuffPost's Pollster, RealClearPolitics

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  • The Senate is the Democrats’ to lose as five more states shift

    The six-year terms in the Senate produce a curious electoral quirk: The party that controls the chamber going into the election is not necessarily the one in the best position to control it coming out of the election, even in a neutral political environment. This is because the 33 or 34 seats up for election each cycle are usually unevenly divided between the parties. In 2006, for example, Democrats took control of the Senate by a hair, even though 40 of the 55 Republican seats were not up for election that year.

    The Democrats currently control 53 of 100 seats in the Senate. Nearly half of those—23—are up for re-election this year, while the Republicans are defending only 10 seats. That fact, combined with an electorate none too pleased with incumbents, made for a grim picture for the majority party at the start of this cycle.

    And yet, the Democrats now have a 75 percent likelihood of controlling the next Senate, possibly by a comfortable margin.

    In early September, we saw four critical races shifted to the Democratic column: Missouri, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Virginia. Today, the Democrat is up in all four races, though three of the four remain competitive. Now, we're seeing five other races once considered safe for the Republican showing signs of equivocation: Nevada, North Dakota, Indiana, Arizona and Montana.


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  • Who won the vice presidential debate? Doesn’t matter.

    Both campaigns declared victory in last night's debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, with Democrats focusing on Biden's passion and Republicans focusing on Biden's aggression. Neither acknowledged that it is a futile point.

    Immediate polls from CBSNBC, and Xbox Live all reported that a majority of undecided voters believed Biden won, and the prediction markets ticked up a few points in President Barack Obama's favor in the hours after the confrontation. The Signal couldn't care less. The question pollsters should have asked was this: Is Obama still bleeding?

    Electoral odds before and after the Biden-Ryan debate.

    Sources: Betfair, Intrade, HuffPost's Pollster, and RealClearPolitics

    As we have pointed out before, every day that elapses in which GOP challenger Mitt Romney does not gain ground on the incumbent is a net gain for the Democrats. (This is true for any challenger in any election.) In the past week, Romney has succeeded in that battle, effectively turning an unequivocal debate victory into a steady march in the polls. The instant polls and market movement suggest Biden succeeded in diverting that narrative.

    Follow the state-by-state and overall presidential predictions in real time with PredictWise.com.

    David Rothschild has a Ph.D. in applied economics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter at @DavMicRot.

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  • Romney chips away at Obama’s lead, but electoral math still favors president

    Last week's debate between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney has inflicted severe turmoil on Obama's standing in the polls, breathing new life and energy into Romney's bid. If the United States elected its presidents by popular vote, the way sane electoral systems operate, Obama's odds of re-election would have plummeted in tandem. Unfortunately for the Romney campaign, it will take more than one good night to overcome the steep uphill climb it faces in the Electoral College this year. The first debate between Obama and Romney radically altered the dynamic of the 2012 election, but it did not change the math.

    It has been clear at least since February that Romney has to win Florida, Ohio and Virginia to have a viable shot at victory. This troika, along with the states safely in the Republican column, would bring Romney to 266 electoral votes. From there, he would need just one more state—say, New Hampshire—to push him over the 270 mark. All three states have moved in his favor over the past two weeks.

    Sources: Betfair, Intrade, HuffPost's Pollster, RealClearPolitics.

    The overall odds for Obama remain well above 60 percent for one simple reason: Romney needs all three swing states to win, while Obama needs only to deny him one of them. Right now, that rearguard action is occurring in Ohio, where Obama is maintaining his lead in the aftermath of the debate.

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  • Debates don’t move polls. Debate winners do.

    Mitt Romney won the first debate; virtually every snap poll and snap pundit agrees on this point. As the 90-minute debate wore on, the Republican challenger's odds of unseating President Barack Obama rose about 5 percentage points to 31 percent in the Signal's election model, driven by gamblers who dumped the president's stock during and immediately after the faceoff.

    We are unlikely to see as large a movement in the polls, at least right away. By themselves, debates seldom move polls precipitously. Political scientist Thomas Holbrook has found that the average change over the last 16 presidential debates is less than 1 percentage point. The maximum change was 2.26 percentage points before and after the first debate in 2004, when John Kerry came out swinging against George W. Bush.

    Before and after the debate

    Sources: Betfair, Intrade and IEM

    But debates have a reach beyond the immediate bump or slide in the polls as they seep into the narrative and offer up ammunition for campaign commercials. With nearly two full weeks until the next presidential debate, the results of this one have a long time to hang around. Romney's solid performance can lead to new donations that, in turn, lead to better poll numbers in the following weeks.

    In this way, debates are the opposite of conventions, in which we advise you to ignore the bump in the polls since it inevitably fades. After debates, we advise you to ignore the nonbump in the polls, because it may grow.

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  • Academics love models, but their window of opportunity has passed

    In case the new issue of PS: Political Science and Politics is still on your junk mail table, here's a primer on the journal's recent publication of 13 distinct predictions of the 2012 election: Five academics predict an Obama victory, five predict a Romney victory, and three say it's too close to call.

    And here's a prediction I feel good about: Five of them will be correct.

    All 13 of the predictions in this peer-reviewed journal are the product of fundamental models, which examine broad historical trends that influence elections rather than simply aggregating polls and prediction markets. Some of the models use polls as a guidance, but the focus is on information like economic indicators, incumbency, past election results, the state of war, and other lofty data points divorced from public opinion surveys.

    I wholly endorse the idea of academics working alongside journalists in the popular election prediction industry—obviously—but PS looks silly publishing these forecasts at the end of September. Models are useful in painting a broad electoral picture six months ahead of time, before public opinion has coalesced. They typically cannot account for the narrow margins of victory that shake out weeks or days before polls open. Relying on fundamental models in October is like relying on pre-season baseball predictions in October. I would look stupid—or at least delusional in my fandom—if I forecasted the Philadelphia Phillies winning the National League East today, when they are eliminated from the running, even though they were pre-season favorites.

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  • Even before debates, electoral map appears largely written in stone

    Many see potential for Wednesday's presidential debate to be a deciding moment in the 2012 election. From the Signal's perch here on Forecasting Mountain, we don't see a whole lot left to be decided.

    Since we posted our first forecast of the state-by-state presidential election on Feb. 16, 2012, six months before the Republican Party even had an official nominee, only three states have flipped camps at any point in time. Virginia pointed toward the Republican nominee for several months during the summer, while both Florida and North Carolina have recently shifted to President Barack Obama's column. Almost all of the other 47 states have moved further in whichever direction they were leaning in February as the game clock has ticked down from more than 250 days to fewer than 40 until the election.

    In February, we predicted that Obama would win re-election with 303 electoral votes. That estimate fell to 290 when Virginia flipped to the Republican column, and now stands at 347 with the restoration of Virginia and the addition of Florida and North Carolina.

    Sources: Betfair, Intrade, HuffPost's Pollster, RealClearPolitics

    The forecasts were flat until mid-May, as we had little new information to update the forecast, which was then totally reliant on economic and historical data that doesn't update daily. We then added in polls and prediction market data, which gradually takes over the forecast as Election Day approaches. The forecasts from February are the best estimation we can make about a generic Democratic incumbent running against a generic Republican challenger. By Election Day, the forecast is full of information about how the public views the actual Democratic incumbent against the actual Republican challenger.

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  • The downside of outside spending: Candidates are hard to shop for

    Mitt Romney's campaign understands that almost every reasonable scenario for victory includes winning Ohio, Virginia and Florida—a troika that, along with all the states safely in the Republican column, would award the challenger 266 electoral votes, four shy of the magic number. Campaign spending figures published by National Journal verify this in no uncertain terms. Since May 1, the Romney campaign and its allies have spent more on advertising in these three states than in all other competitive states combined. The same is true of the Obama campaign, whose clearest path to victory involves denying Romney any one of these battlegrounds.

    Where the campaigns blow their overflowing fountains of cash is only half the story, of course, due to the torrents of outside spending flooding this campaign. Overall, the Republicans and their supporters have outspent the Democrats $257 million to $218 million since May. This is a little misleading, however, because of a simple economic fact: The marginal value of a campaign dollar is significantly higher if raised by the campaign than if raised by a super PAC.

    Outside spending groups are not allowed to coordinate with campaigns, though they can coordinate with one another and operate in the same political reality. In an era of incredibly precise political targeting, however, outside spending that is not privy to a campaign's precise strategies and messaging is not as effective. Consider the difference between spending $100 on yourself and having a friend buy you something for $100, especially if this well-meaning friend is not legally permitted to ask you what you want. Economists call this the "deadweight loss of Christmas."

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  • Democrats likely to retain Senate as four critical races shift in their favor

    After weeks in which the fate of the Senate simmered at nearly even odds of flipping for Republicans or remaining in Democrats' control, the outlook has shifted dramatically in the Democrats' favor. The incumbent party now has an 80 percent chance of retaining its majority, according to the Signal's prediction model.

    The break is largely due to critical races in Missouri, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Virginia, all of which have favored the Republican at some point in the past month and now favor the Democratic candidate.

    The cards appeared heavily stacked in the Republicans' favor going in to this election season. The Democrats control the Senate, but they have only 30 returning senators to the Republicans' 37 returning senators among the two-thirds of the chamber not up for re-election this cycle. That, combined with strong anti-incumbent currents in the electorate, presented an uphill battle for the Democratic Party.

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  • Can Romney still win? Of course—just not the way things are going

    This is not where the Romney campaign wanted to be three weeks after Tampa.

    The bounce in the polls that President Barack Obama netted coming out of the Democratic National Convention might have vanished by now, as those postconvention bumps tend to do, if not for the bad press that has pelted Republican challenger Mitt Romney nearly every day since the Democrats returned from Charlotte. First, Romney's response to the death of the American ambassador to Libya was widely viewed as inappropriate, even within his party. Just as he was recovering from that stumble, Mother Jones magazine released a leaked video of Romney disparaging the work ethic of 47 percent of Americans.

    What everyone wants to know, of course, is whether historians will look back on these episodes as the effective end of Romney's chances at the presidency, to which we answer: Of course not. This is not just because the news media will tire of this story line by the end of the week, though that's part of it. ("Assignment editors: Now is the time to order up those 'Romney's coming back' pieces," one columnist quipped on Tuesday.) Mostly, it is the fact that new information and new story lines will relentlessly pile on for the next 47 days.

    As of Thursday morning, Obama leads Romney in the polls 48.3 to 45 percent on Pollster's aggregated average, his largest lead in general election. He has larger leads in several swing states. In our model, which reacts much faster than polls thanks to the influence of the prediction markets, he has gone from just below 60 percent likely to win on the morning of the Republican convention to a 73 percent likelihood in the aftermath of the video.

    Likelihood of Victory

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