Blog Posts by David Rothschild, Yahoo! News

  • Search data shows wildly divergent narratives on right and left

    Did Democrats really hold a Muslim prayer service during their convention? And what about Paul Ryan faking his marathon time?

    Search engine queries tell us a tremendous amount about the sort of fears and concerns unique to either political party. But scanning search engine data doesn't tell you much, even if you're able to filter it down to only political inquires. People of both parties search for things like "Romney speech time" or "Clinton speech video," and it doesn't tell us anything about their politics.

    To get an insight into the sort of questions that liberals and conservatives uniquely pose to search engines, the Yahoo! Research team in Barcelona has developed an ingenuous tool called Political Search Trends. To find the most interesting data, they look at the search results for queries and identify those that turn up on reliably conservative or reliably liberal sites. (This is all done with anonymous, aggregate data for popular queries, not with what an individual person types in the search box.)

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  • Romney’s chief opponent is not Obama. It’s time.

    The daily push and pull of the 2012 election—who said what stupid thing, which party threw a better convention—is unfolding against a backdrop of economic catastrophe unseen in recent history. To predict the outcome, we have to somehow reconcile the broad historical trends, which do not favor President Obama, with the more immediate factors that do.

    Data from the Signal's prediction model for the past 10 months tells the story of this tension starkly. When Republicans miss a step or drag their feet, the odds that Obama will win a second term rise. When economic news is front and center, those odds decline. If everything stays the same from one day to the next, the odds list toward Obama for the simple reason that challenger Mitt Romney is running out of time to make his case.

    At the moment, that tug-of-war favors the president, whose postconvention poll bounce was larger than expected. That, combined with strong fundraising numbers for August, propels Obama to his highest likelihood of re-election since the Signal launched. Obama currently has a 64 percent likelihood for re-election over Romney.

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  • Markets sour on both Romney and Obama speeches, but conventions still boost Democrats

    While the purpose of the political conventions was to draw clear distinctions between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, the two men remain identical in one key respect: When they open their mouths before a national audience, their odds of winning in November suffer.

    As you see here, the likelihood of Obama's re-election jumped about 1 percentage point immediately after Romney's address last Thursday evening, and fell slightly after Obama's turn last night. (The Signal's model for predicting the outcome of presidential elections relies on many contemporary and historical factors, but the fine-tuned reactions you see here are driven by prediction markets.)

    Likelihood of Reelection For Obama

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

    Romney received a tempered bounce in the polls from his own convention, leaving the polls virtually tied. The Democratic convention appears to have been slightly better received. While first lady Michelle Obama's speech did not move the markets much by

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  • Romney catches up in polls with convention bounce, but now it’s Obama’s turn

    If only Mitt Romney could have convinced Congress to muster the votes for a law moving Election Day to Sept. 1, there's a very real chance he could have walked away with this contest.

    As expected, the Republican convention was good for a small boost in Romney's standing, bringing the race to a virtual tie in the polls. (Romney leads, well within the margin of error, for the first time since early August.) Now he has to hold that ground as attention turns to Charlotte.

    Polls since August 5

    Sources: HuffPost Pollster

    Unfortunately for the challenger, there's a catch. The standard poll question asks something like, "If the election were held today, who would you vote for in the presidential election?" Polls create a snapshot of how the election might play out under present conditions. This envelope in time between the conventions will soon expire, and many more factors will materialize between now and Nov. 6.

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  • Republican convention fails to move markets, but expect a bounce in polls (and ignore it, for now)

    Two stories will play out today as the floors are swept and the balloons popped at the Tampa Bay Times Forum: That Republican nominee Mitt Romney will receive a bump in the polls after accepting the nomination, and to pay no attention to this bump. These stories evidently do not cancel each other out.

    The prediction markets we follow are generally uninterested in temporary inflations like these. (The same will probably be true for President Obama this time next week.) In fact, the spread in the gambling markets moved slightly in Obama's favor from before to after the Republican Convention. This does not mean the Republican convention was unsuccessful. Sure, there were some strange moments, but most of the events went off without a hitch. It simply means it was not a homerun. Romney is challenging an incumbent president, so anything less than a picture-perfect convention is going to give the market a sense that he's running out of time to make his case for a change of leadership.


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  • Christie’s keynote address comes with awkward political calculus: An economist’s view

    Economists tend to view events like the Republican convention in the agnostic light of strategy and incentives, in which lawmakers are rational creatures trying to maximize their political profit. (Yes, that view of politicians as rational can be lonely.) This view exposes a curious dilemma for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as he prepares to deliver the keynote address at the convention Tuesday night.

    Let's assume that, like virtually every politician in America, Christie wouldn't mind being the president. He made a mistake not running this year, in which Republicans reluctantly nominated a former blue-state governor with low favorability to go up against a vulnerable sitting president. But economics counsels us not to make decisions based on sunk costs or regrets. Let's game this out.

    If Romney wins in November, the soonest Christie could run is 2020, barring a historically disastrous first term for the former Massachusetts governor. First, he will have to decide whether or not to

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  • All signs point to a Romney victory except one (a very big one)

    When you squint your eyes and look only at the broad historical trends at play in this presidential election, all signs point to a victory for Mitt Romney in November.

    Back in February, the Signal's first draft of its elections model, which relied only on historical data, predicted that Obama would win the election with 303 electoral votes. This model relies heavily on economic indicators and was published before the dismal second quarter economic figures. If you apply that same model through June, Romney wins with 290 electoral votes to Obama's 248.

    The upcoming issue of the peer-reviewed PS: Political Science & Politics includes two models from other researchers that reach the same conclusion. One study by a pair of University of Colorado political scientists, announced yesterday, predicts that Romney will walk away with 320 electoral votes on the back of high unemployment. A second study, by Douglas Hibbs, concludes Obama's weakness includes the death toll in Afghanistan.

    I have serious reservations about both papers; for example, our methodology is very conclusive that recent movement in economic indicators correlate with election outcomes, not the overall levels. But I will not subject the readers to the brutal crossfire of warring presidential forecasters. The point is that all of these fundamental models point in the same direction: Romney. And as of today, they are all wrong. That is, all these models look at only half the picture and are not useful today as standalone forecasts.

    Those of us in the business of predicting elections rely on two broad sets of data: what has happened in the past, and what polls and markets suggest will happen in the future.

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  • Akin’s ‘Macaca moment’ could flip the Senate race

    Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin woke up Sunday morning with a 65 percent chance of unseating incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in the upcoming Senate race. By the end of the day, after facing a torrent of criticism over his claim that women rarely get pregnant as a result of "legitimate rape," the tables had turned: Our real-time predictions now give McCaskill a 60 percent chance of retaining her seat.

    It is not too soon to speculate that this could be the 2012 variety of George Allen's 2006 "Macaca moment," which was instrumental in the incumbent senator's defeat. That narrow loss, as well as several others, cost the Republicans control of the Senate by one seat that year.

    The Senate hangs in an equally fine balance this year. Before Akin's odds went south, the Republicans were on track to control 50 seats to the Democrats' 49, plus one independent. While that figure will almost certainly wobble between now and November, it is eminently possible that one seat will make the

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  • Romney’s path to victory goes through Florida, Ohio and Virginia

    Mitt Romney has one clear route to victory on Nov. 6: In addition to winning all the states we know he will win, he has to capture Florida, Virginia, Ohio and at least one of five other swing states.

    It's very possible Romney will win more than that. Our model of presidential elections, for example, has him with a 17.2 percent chance of winning Pennsylvania. Were he to manage that, however, it would almost certainly be part of a national landslide in his favor that includes most of the swing states. While I'm sure the Romney campaign would be delighted to win Pennsylvania, if it manages that it will be because Romney won far more than the 270 electoral votes he needed.

    Here is where things stand today:

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  • Ryan pick damages market odds of Romney victory in Florida

    Mitt Romney's choice of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate has thrown the state of Florida back into play in the prediction markets, suggesting political handicappers do not think the Republican wunderkind's budget proposals will play well in the retiree-heavy state.

    To be fair, these same markets gave Ryan only a 15.8 percent chance of getting the nod from Romney as of Friday morning. While those are non-negligible odds, the markets were more certain that Romney would play it safe and go with the more vanilla Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman. As rumors of a Ryan pick gathered steam, his odds in the markets grew to well over 50 percent by 8 p.m., about four hours before the pick was confirmed.

    When the markets were leaning in the Pawlenty/Portman direction, they gave Romney a 70.7 percent chance of winning the state of Florida. With Ryan officially on the ticket, Romney is clinging to a 56.3 percent likelihood of taking the state. We expect polls to follow this path in the next

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