There’s been probably too much attention paid to New York Times blogger Nate Silver over the last few weeks. Some of the criticism he has received (including some from this page differing with his conclusions if not necessarily always with his methodology) has been justified. But in fairness to Silver, he appears to be sticking to his guns about the accuracy of his forecast that continues to show President Obama as a heavy favorite to win re-election. While not intending to belabor the issue of his accuracy more than necessary, I think it’s worth returning to the subject one more time both in order to clarify my differences with his approach.
Silver explained his forecast again this morning as he surveyed the latest round of polls on the presidential race:
Mr. Obama is not a sure thing, by any means. It is a close race. His chances of holding onto his Electoral College lead and converting it into another term are equivalent to the chances of an N.F.L. team winning when it leads by a field goal with three minutes left to play in the fourth quarter. There are plenty of things that could go wrong, and sometimes they will.
But it turns out that an N.F.L. team that leads by a field goal with three minutes left to go winds up winning the game 79 percent of the time. Those were Mr. Obama’s chances in the FiveThirtyEight forecast as of Wednesday: 79 percent.
Not coincidentally, these are also about Mr. Obama’s chances of winning Ohio, according to the forecast.
That is a reasonable sounding point of view, especially when it is coupled with Silver’s disclaimers about the possibility that his forecast could be wrong and noting that a lot of tossup states that he believes Obama will win are still closely contested. But the problem here is that despite Silver’s confidence that what we are looking at is a three-point lead for the president, it may be nothing of the kind, either in Ohio or in the country as a whole. The probabilities he alludes to in sports–such as those that can give us precise statistical odds about what happens when an NFL team has a field goal lead with three minutes to play or a Major League baseball team has a two-run lead in the ninth inning–are entirely accurate and reliable because there’s no doubt in a game as to what the score is. In politics there is no such certainty, rendering Silver’s rational Sabrmetric approach to political polling mere guesswork.
New York Times blogger and statistical analyst Nate Silver did his usual thorough job yesterday explaining why he’s not taking Mitt Romney’s strong performances in the Gallup tracking poll too much to heart. His piece, “Gallup v. the World” rightly pointed out that the firm’s tracking polls, which have given Romney leads of 6, 7 and 6 points in the last three days, are the most favorable yet published for the Republican. He conceded that Gallup is the most reliable of the tracking polls in that it employs the largest samples and employs a methodology for counting cell phone owners as opposed to landlines only. But he claimed that Gallup has a history of inaccuracy in recent elections that ought to cause us to take their conclusions with a grain of salt. That’s a fair point, though it should be noted that we never heard much about Gallup’s shortcomings in recent months when its results (which showed Obama with a lead) were unquestioned while the rival Rasmussen poll (which generally gave Romney better numbers) was consistently called into question.
But as long as we’re discussing methodology, it’s worth pointing out that the only surveys keeping the president’s head above water in the national average of polls are two whose credibility are very much in doubt. I wrote earlier in the week that the Washington Post/ABC News poll published on Monday that showed President Obama with a three-point lead was called into question by the sample employed by the pollsters. That poll was based on a sample that had nine percent more Democrats than Republicans; a figure that is far more than is reasonable. The same thing can be said about a new Hartford Courant/University of Connecticut poll that also shows Obama up by three but on the basis of a sample that has eight percent more Democrats than Republicans. If you adjust both of these samples to create a more representative group of Americans, even one that showed the Democrats with an edge in affiliation, it would mean they would show Romney and not the president ahead in the race.
A week is a lifetime in politics. Just seven days ago, even some Republicans were writing off Mitt Romney’s chances of being elected president. But as the latest polls taken since his victory in Wednesday’s debate show, the race is up for grabs again. Even more significant, the altered political environment that stems from the puncturing of the Obama balloon of inevitability may be having some effect on other races as well.
The first polls after the debate showed a dramatic movement toward Romney in swing states. The national tracking polls also showed either a reduced margin for Obama, as in the case of Gallup, or an Obama lead being turned into one for Romney, as Rasmussen reported. But the key swing state of Ohio showed not only movement in the top ballot race but in the one below it. Rasmussen’s latest survey of the Ohio Senate race between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Josh Mandel indicates that this crucial battle has changed from one in which Brown had a strong lead into a flat-footed tie. That not only alters the odds about that seat, but with Ohio moving from leans-Democratic to tossup on the national Senate map, it means control of the upper house may once again be back in play this year. While the youthful Mandel has been running a surprisingly strong underdog effort, it can only be supposed that a surge for him is not unconnected to the boost Romney got in Ohio in the days after the debate.
The Romney campaign made public a memo from their pollster intended to buck up the spirits of activists discouraged by the release of polls over the weekend that show President Obama emerging from his convention with a bounce in his ratings. Neil Newhouse, the campaign’s pollster tells them to “not get too worked up” about the latest numbers and dismisses the reaction to the conventions as a “sugar high” that changed nothing. He may be right about the bounce, as it is more than likely that the few points gained by the Democrats in the past few days will soon evaporate and that we will be looking at a statistical tossup within the week, if not sooner. But any Republican lulled by Newhouse’s “State of the Race” into thinking that everything’s still coming up roses for Romney may be in for a rude awakening in two months. The Obama bounce is an unexpected blow to the Romney campaign that makes it clear the challenger has an uphill slog until November.
Romney entered the conventions trailing the president, and even if the Obama bounce dissipates quickly, he will likely remain behind. Failing to gain ground over the last two weeks is troubling. But even more troubling is the fact that the president managed to pad his small lead even after the release of another terrible jobs report on Friday. Those numbers added considerable weight to Romney’s arguments that the president had run the economy into the ditch from which he cannot extract it. But if more Americans are swayed by a week of liberal rhetoric and the oratory of Bill Clinton to stick with the Democrats than are influenced by the collapse of the jobs market, then exactly how is Romney going to get to 50 percent plus one in 58 days?
Over at his New York Times blog, Nate Silver probes the question of whether the polls that have come out in the last few days indicate any bounce for the Republican ticket in the days since Mitt Romney announced that Paul Ryan will be his vice presidential nominee. Though, as Alana noted earlier, a series of swing state polls brought some good news for the Republicans, he’s right to say there’s nothing in the data to indicate any real surge in their direction. Pollsters and analysts have in recent election cycles become obsessed with the idea that vice presidential picks and conventions must produce some sort of bounce in the polls to be justified. But, as Silver concedes, Republicans were not claiming that picking Ryan would have an immediate impact on the polls.
While Ryan is a well known, and at least as far as the liberal media is concerned, a controversial figure, he doesn’t have the sort of celebrity that would create a quick change in public opinion about the race. What he does have — and what Republicans who cheered the choice are counting on — is the ability to have a long-term impact on the election. The GOP is counting on Ryan’s intellect, charm and powers of persuasion to impress voters as the race wears on this fall, not to mention, the possibility of a mismatch against Vice President Biden in their debate. Indeed, Romney’s choice of a serious and thoughtful man to run with him is looking even smarter if only because the more Biden roams the country committing gaffes and throwing out wild and irresponsible slurs against the Republicans, the better Ryan looks.
Watch this clip of Mitt Romney sparring with a heckler at the Paul Ryan homecoming rally in Wisconsin last night and tell me where this candidate has been the whole campaign. This is not the same stiff, cautious Romney we’ve been watching for the past year and a half:
Democrats are supposedly happy about Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan because it helps them transform the election from a referendum on the last four years (which Obama cannot win) into a choice about the next four (which Obama hopes to win by labeling Romney-Ryan “extreme” — the word used three times by David Axelrod in his mass email yesterday).
But the referendum on Obama has already been held. The 2010 election was a personal rebuke (Obama referred to it the next day as the “shellacking … I [took]”); two years later, the verdict on his performance is, if anything, worse: his approval rating among likely voters is at 45 percent, and 43 percent of them “strongly” disapprove – the same “strongly disapprove” percentage George W. Bush had in January 2009; likely voters want ObamaCare repealed by a lopsided majority (55-39); and Obama has been reduced to claiming he always said things would take much longer to get better, when he never said anything of the sort.
One of the most entertaining scenes of the seemingly endless Republican primary debate season was Juan Williams’s “food stamp president” question to Newt Gingrich, which Gingrich handled as Manny Ramirez used to handle unprepared pitchers: bait them into throwing the pitch he wanted, hit it out of the park, and give the pitcher a good stare-down as he began to round the bases.
It typified the reason many conservatives wanted to take on President Obama with Gingrich—namely, his ability to effectively challenge the premise of a question and change the conversation. This is a useful skill because the mainstream political press will always seek to force conservatives to play by whatever rules are most advantageous to the liberal establishment, and Gingrich was able to set his own rules, to an extent. But people tend to forget the rules automatically change during a presidential general election: the exposure nominees get, through public appearances, speeches, rallies, and debates, gives candidates an ability to speak over the din of the media and directly to the American people. It raises the volume.
Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have plateaued, according to today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll. It’s not much of a surprise, considering the barrage of anti-Romney news during the past few weeks, but it still must be weighing on his mind this week as he makes his final decision on a running mate:
Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings have stalled over the course of his campaign’s bumpy summer months, with his earlier improvements as he was wrapping up the Republican nomination in the spring appearing to flat-line, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.
While 40 percent of voters now say they hold a favorable opinion of the former Massachusetts governor–virtually unchanged from May–those holding negative views of Romney ticked higher in the new poll, from 45 percent to 49 percent.
Meanwhile, President Obama remained in positive territory on that measure, with 53 percent of voters reporting they hold favorable opinions of the incumbent. Only 43 percent say they feel unfavorably towards him.
Andrew Malcolm at Investors Business Daily has an interesting column on whether those who are telling pollsters they intend to vote for the president really are going to do so. The vast majority of them surely will, of course. But politics, like baseball, is a game of inches. If only two percent of those saying they will vote for Obama go into the voting booth and vote for Romney instead, that’s a four-percent shift, turning a comfortable 52-48 win into a 48-52 loss. If they simply stay home, that turns 52-48 into 50-50.
There are numerous signs the Obama campaign is very, very worried. His fundraising has not been the money machine it was in 2008, despite Obama’s burning out the engines of Air Force One going, hat in hand, from one group of fat cats to another. He is running through the money he does raise at a furious pace, mostly running negative ads in toss-up states. He is trying to shore up his base rather than reaching out to the center as he would if his base were secure. That doesn’t bear much resemblance to Ronald Reagan’s “It’s Morning in America” campaign of 1984, does it? There are even those who say Wall Street’s recent climb, despite very gloomy economic news, is due to a growing conviction on the Street that Obama is toast.
And yet pollsters all have the race tight as a tick, as Karl Rove terms it. What’s going on?
There’s been some concern that Republican-leaning evangelical voters might be hesitant to vote for Mitt Romney because of his religion. But the latest Pew Research Center survey found little justification for that theory:
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, among 2,973 adults, including 2,373 registered voters, finds that 60 percent of voters are aware that Romney is Mormon, virtually unchanged from four months ago, during the GOP primaries.
The vast majority of those who are aware of Romney’s faith say it doesn’t concern them. Fully eight-in-ten voters who know Romney is Mormon say they are either comfortable with his faith (60 percent) or that it doesn’t matter to them (21 percent).
Oddly enough, more voters (60 percent) correctly identify Romney’s religion as Mormon than (49 percent) correctly identify Obama’s religion as Christian. Seventeen percent still say Obama is Muslim, a statistic that the media always loves to jump on as “proof” of public stupidity.
Yesterday’s USA Today/Gallup poll found President Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital career have had little impact on the race. Today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll supposedly contradicts that finding, but don’t put much stock in that just yet:
Sustained attacks by President Barack Obama’s campaign on Republican rival Mitt Romney’s business history and refusal to release more tax records appear to be working, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.
More than a third of voters who are registered to a party or as an independent said in the online survey that what they had heard about Romney’s taxes and his time at Bain Capital private equity firm had given them a less favorable impression of the Republican candidate.
And particularly worrying for Romney is that a large slice of independent voters — whom he needs to win the November 6 election — are also buying into the Obama campaign’s portrayal of him as a ruthless businessman who may be hiding something in his taxes.
Last week, I wrote about how the sequester will trigger the WARN Act, which requires employers to warn staff of pending layoffs a minimum of 60 days in advance. That means potentially hundreds of thousands of public and private sector workers would receive layoff warning notices on November 2 — 60 days before sequestration hits, and just five days before the presidential election.
Needless to say, this is a BFD for President Obama. So you may not be too shocked to learn that the administration might be pressuring employers to delay these notices until after Election Day. HotAir’s Tina Korbe flags this key item in Sen. Jim Inhofe’s floor speech last week:
“I have every reason to believe, because I’ve heard from people in industry, that the president of the United States is trying to get them to avoid sending pink slips out until after the November 7 election,” said Inhofe. “I would remind him that we have something called the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the WARN Act. It requires these companies to give 60 days’ notice of pending layoffs.
“Since sequestration will take place on January 2, these workers must be notified of their pink slip by November 2. This is what I’d like to remind those companies: they don’t have to wait. If they want to notify workers today, they can do that. I think it is imperative that the workers who are going to be laid off work as a result of the Obama Sequestration be notified in advance of the November election. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”
Politico’s James Hohmann points readers of his “Morning Score” to a two-and-a-half minute web ad the Scott Brown campaign will deploy against Elizabeth Warren. It capitalizes on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line by tying it to Warren, who made similar comments earlier in the campaign. It’s a powerful ad, using audio and video of Democratic presidents–Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton–as well as a few Republicans to drive home the extent to which the current Democratic Party has veered leftward, away from historically bipartisan agreement on the virtue of private industry.
The video then shows Obama delivering his infamous line, and closes with Warren’s–a much harsher version. Warren is frowning, raising her voice, and pointing fingers; as a demagogue, she puts Obama to shame (and that’s saying something). The contention that the Democratic Party has moved left is rather obvious; no one believes that Harry Truman, with his overt religiosity and lack of a college education, could earn the modern Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Equally out of place would be John Kennedy, simultaneously cutting taxes across the board–including for the rich–while promising that we would “pay any price, bear any burden” for the cause of liberty and to ensure the survival of “those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”
The heated debate about whether Ann Romney said “you people” during an interview yesterday (she didn’t) was an example of the sillier controversies that tend to engulf candidates’ wives. (For another example, see: Michelle Obama accused of spending $50,000 on lingerie).
But it’s strange how much partisan vitriol is actually channeled into these debates. Take Salon’s Joan Walsh’s enraged column on the Ann Romney “you people” remark that never actually happened:
Ann Romney is too well-bred to call African-Americans “you people” in public, of course, especially after what happened to Ross Perot. But she obviously has no problem referring to other folks she holds in contempt that way. Of course Romney has displayed contempt for certain African-Americans – like when she and her husband told the Obamas to “start packing,” because in Ann’s words, “It’s Mitt’s time. It’s our turn now,” to live in the White House. As if the Obamas were troublesome tenants who’d overstayed their welcome in the home that rightly belongs to the Romneys.
She displayed her plutocratic sense of entitlement when she proclaimed Hilary Rosen’s remarks about her stay-at-home-mom status “a birthday present.” Romney’s sincere reaction wasn’t outrage but opportunism; she enjoyed the sight of Rosen being grilled on a spit over a bipartisan open flame. Good to know it’s all about you, Ann.
So Walsh mishears one mundane line from Ann Romney, and takes it as evidence that she’s an elitist, plutocratic, entitled, narcissistic, opportunist? I wonder if Walsh’s criticism would have been so personal if Tim Pawlenty, Marco Rubio, or any of Romney’s other campaign surrogates had actually used the phrase “you people.”
Checking for context before slamming someone for a single line in a speech is always a noble endeavor. But there’s a point when the “benefit of the doubt” becomes ridiculous. A prime example is the liberal argument that President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment wasn’t directed at businesses:
When he made the comment in Roanoke, Va. Friday, Obama was arguing that businesses needed infrastructure investment to succeed.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” Obama said. “There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
The antecedent to “that” is not the business, but “roads and bridges,” as well as the “American system” as a whole.
To believe that Obama was talking about businesses, you only have to watch his speech in context and take it at its literal meaning. To believe Obama was talking about something else, you have to divine certain messages from his ambiguous body language, assume he mixed up his demonstrative pronouns, and concede that the context was structured oddly. Even then, it isn’t clear what exactly he’s referring to.
President Obama’s attacks on Bain, his deportation order, his gay marriage evolution, his massive spending advantage — all have failed to move the dial nationally, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The Obama campaign will argue that he’s focusing on gaining an edge in swing states and among certain demographics, but this is still a grim picture for them. Despite his significant advantages during the past few months, his national support has flatlined. What’s going to happen once the fundraising playing field evens out?
Despite months of negative advertising from Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies seeking to further define Mr. Romney as out of touch with the middle class and representative of wealthy interests, the poll shows little evidence of any substantial nationwide shift in attitudes about Mr. Romney. …
The new poll shows that the race remains essentially tied, notwithstanding all of the Washington chatter suggesting that Mr. Romney’s campaign has seemed off-kilter amid attacks on his tenure at Bain Capital and his unwillingness to release more of his tax returns. Forty-five percent say they would vote for Mr. Romney if the election were held now and 43 percent say they would vote for Mr. Obama.
When undecided voters who lean toward a particular candidate are included, Mr. Romney has 47 percent to Mr. Obama’s 46 percent.
Something seems to have clicked for Mitt Romney in the past few days. There were a few minutes when he was flailing on the tax return issue, but President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment appears to have reinvigorated Romney. His new web video out this morning which profiles a small business owner in New Hampshire is a prime example:
The president’s “you didn’t build that” statement has not only framed the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney exactly as Romney needed, it has transformed Romney’s campaign. He gave a very good speech last week at the NAACP convention, but even the strength of that performance was as nothing next to what he’s done over the past two days. I’ve now watched Romney’s speeches yesterday and today centering on the remark and its meaning, and what I’m seeing is a Mitt Romney come alive—or at least, a Romney new to me. He has always been articulate and with a command of facts and figures, but the distanced awkwardness that accompanied them has suddenly vanished. In their place is a loose, fluid, confident, and passionate spokesman defending the free enterprise system against Obama’s government-centered approach. Romney has done something you hear people talk about theoretically but which doesn’t often happen—he has found his voice as a presidential candidate. And it’s all due to Barack Obama. I hope a fruit basket is on the way to the White House. It would only be polite.