• 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.

    Read More »from Debates don’t move polls. Debate winners do.
  • 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.

    Read More »from Academics love models, but their window of opportunity has passed
  • After Week 4, NFL still predicting a Romney victory

    According to our highly scientific 31 rules for using the NFL to predict the election, Mitt Romney now has a 69 percent chance of winning in November.

    Two weeks ago, I published a rule for every NFL franchise to compete with the Redskins Rule, which demonstrates a strong correlation between Washington's last home game before the election and the outcome of the presidential race. Four of those rules involve games played Sunday or Monday. The total score now stands at nine rules pointing to a Romney win and four pointing to an Obama win. The update is below.

    The Bears Rule: If, in Chicago's fourth game, more than 5 percent of the quarterback's completions are for touchdowns, the Democrat wins. Otherwise, the Republican wins.

    Verdict: Obama wins. On Monday, Bears QB Jay Cutler threw 18 completions for two touchdowns, an 11 percent rate.

    The Buccaneers Rule: If Tampa Bay scores more than 14 points in its fourth game, the out-of-power party wins the White House. Otherwise, the incumbent party wins.

    Verdict: Romney wins. Tampa Bay scored 22 points vs. Washington on Sept. 30.

    The Bills Rule: If the opposing team in Buffalo's second home game throws for more than 160 yards, the Republican wins the election. Otherwise, the Democrat wins.

    Verdict: Romney wins. New England threw for 340 yards on Sept. 30.

    The Titans Rule: If Tennessee fumbles at least twice in its second away game, the incumbent party wins the White House. Otherwise, the out-of-power party wins.

    Verdict: Obama wins. Tennessee fumbled twice at Houston on Sept. 30.

    Read More »from After Week 4, NFL still predicting a Romney victory

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About The Signal

The Signal is the Yahoo! News predictions blog featuring real-time forecasts and sentiment on politics, economics, and more. MEET THE TEAM: David Pennock, David Rothschild

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