Enough already. I'm calling this one for Obama.

by JS O’Brien

The mainstream media is reminding me more and more of football announcers struggling to keep viewers from changing channels.

Bud:  Well, the Bumblin’ Bombers are down by 15 with just under two minutes left, Clint, but the game is far from over.

Clint:  That’s right, Bud.  They have no time-outs left, but if they run their two-minute drill effectively, they can certainly move the ball down the field, get the touchdown, make a two-point conversion, then cover an onside kick, drive for another touchdown, and send the game to overtime.

Bud:  Though the Bombers have been held to only 42 yards in total offense in the second half, this is an explosive team, and they’ve come back from situations like this, before, right Clint?

Clint:  Right you are again, Bud.  Why, just five minutes ago, the Raiders were down by 18, recovered a fumble on the Kickin’ Keesters’ 15-yard-line, and put the game within reach with a field goal.  So, don’t go away folks!  We have an exciting finish coming up right after these messages from our sponsors.

Give me a break.  Sure, I have seen amazing comebacks in many sports (or at least their reruns), but they are extremely rare, and election comebacks of that magnitude are even rarer.  We’re not talking about the Heidi Bowl, here.

Why is this one over?  Let me count the ways.

The polls

Has there been some tightening in the race in recent days?  Yes.  A bit.  But the tightening is well within what’s expected at the end of a campaign.  The Real Clear Politics national average stands at +6 for Obama as I write this, and that’s down from a high of +8 on October 14, which is an average gain of a bit over a tenth of a point per day for McCain — and there are only four days to go before Election Day.

The range (standard deviation) among the major polls is quite wide, and that gives many people pause.  I have pored over the cross tabs and polling methodologies of those polls that publish such things (and not enough do), and it is clear that the discrepancies come from two pollster assumptions:  (1) the number of Democrats vs. Republicans that are interviewed and/or weighted, and (2) a further screen to determine “likely voters.”  Even the polls with the most favorable (for McCain) D vs. R assumptions and the most favorable likely voter screens still have Obama with at least a +3 lead, and those polls anticipating record Democratic turnout and much-heavier-than-normal turnout among African Americans and young voters are producing Obama leads as high as +15.

In other words, it’s highly unlikely that the +3 national number is correct and just as highly unlikely that the +15 number is the right one.  The real number is most likely somewhere in between, and the RCP +6 poll average is a realistic guess.

Ground game

Virtually every story in the media, from Sean Quinn’s excellent series of on-the-road observations on FiveThirtyEight to Liz Sidoti’s piece on the resources both campaigns are putting into the ground game lauds Obama’s organizing effort.  It seems very likely that the Democrats will out hustle the Republicans in getting their voters to turn out come election day, and there is evidence that, in some states, they are already successful in turning out large numbers of Democratic leaners in early voting.


Obama has an enormous financial advantage, and has been spending as much as four times what McCain is spending on advertising in battleground states for weeks.  McCain has husbanded his limited resources until the last weeks of the campaign, and is now matching, or is closer to matching, Obama’s ad expenditures in key states.  Still, the Obama campaign announced today that they are taking out new advertising time in Georgia, North Dakota, and McCain’s home state of Arizona. They feel they have an outside shot at winning in those states, and have so much money available, and so much confidence, that they feel they can devote resources to outside shots.

In the meantime, the GOP is changing its message strategy to try to convince voters not to let the Democrats “have it all.”

Clearly, despite public pronouncements to the contrary, both campaigns think this presidential contest is over, and the GOP is trying to salvage what it can.

The Electoral College

According to RCP’s electoral map, Obama currently has 311 votes either solidly in his camp or leaning towards him, and McCain has 142 votes.  Much has been said about how important Pennsylvania is to this election, since this is the only state Kerry took in 2004 that he is now trying to capture.  Sure, Pennsylvania is important, but ONLY if McCain can win ALL of the toss-up states (which gets him to 227 of the 270 votes he needs) and then takes states away from Obama to get the other 43. Without running the table on toss-up states, Pennsylvania is very nearly irrelevant.  IF he runs the table and IF he can take Ohio and Pennsylvania away, he’s still two votes away from victory.  If he  takes only Ohio away (more likely than taking Pennsylvania), then he needs to find a way to get 23 more votes, and that would require taking one of the following combinations:  Virginia, New Mexico, and Nevada; or Virginia, Colorado, and either New Mexico or Nevada.

Some pundits have called this an uphill battle and I suppose it is if, by uphill battle, one means climbing Mt. Everest in a howling blizzard at -50F without oxygen.

This one is over, folks.  Don Meredith, one of the original sportscasters on Monday Night Football, must have felt the same way I do about talking heads who try to make a game that’s over still seem exciting.  He used to sing a little song at the end of a game that seems apt for this presidential race:

Turn out the lights, the party’s over.

16 replies »

  1. If anybody needs an illustration what the political version of your sports scenario sounds like, stay tuned to the news over the next four days. The networks have a strong financial interest in everybody believing that this is a toss-up, so they’ll flog that monkey within an inch of its life.

    Bet the farm on it.

  2. What about what the polls might not be showing as well, likely in Obama’s favor? The youth vote, widely believed to be underrepresented, with a small flame kindled by Dean that Kerry didn’t quite set fire to. If they come out in their potential record numbers, and highly in favor of Obama (my state’s youth mock election vacross 75 schools voted Obama 65% – McCain 35%), could that be the overe the top vote in battleground states?
    Also, could there be many of what I imagined to be the silent conservatives left behind, the ones that will not admit they are going to vote Obama to a pollster, but who might just do so in the privacy of their vote? (Sort of a reversal of the mythical Bradley effect)
    Next week will certainly be interesting and perhaps the unique nature of this election counters traditional polling techniques.

  3. I agree about the youth vote. I’m not so sure about silent conservatives or the Bradley Effect, though.

    We shall see.

    And very soon.

  4. I agree about the “tightening” it is minimal at the most. Voting machine irregularities would seem to be the best hope for McCain. That said, there is no one like the Democrats for snatching defeat… But then as the indispensable 538 has been pointing out, Obama’s campaign is kind of Organnnisseeeeddddd!!!!!!

  5. I suspect the Bradley effect and the reverse-Bradley effect will wash each other out.

    Great analysis on the poll numbers. While numbers are quick and easy to recognize (and they make for sexy headlines), it’s quite another thing to make them truly understandable. You’ve done an invaluable job at doing just that.

  6. Actually, the party’s just beginning. What will have me poring over election returns include:

    — governors’ races: Who gains, Dems or GOP?
    — control of statehouses
    — did Dems get 60 seats in the Senate?

    No one writes about polling as well as you, JS. The fullness of the coverage far outweights the soundbites on CNN. As a voter, I appreciate it.

  7. I agree. The state races concern me a lot more nowadays than the presidential does. Then again, I live in toss-up North Carolina, so there’s some tension hanging in the air.

  8. Hey Denny,

    I appreciate the compliment, but I’m afraid it’s not so. Nate Silver on is the best there is on the polls and polling. I do my own research on methodology, read his site and several other polling sites, and try to distill what I’ve learned here for those who aren’t following the race as closely as I am. I hope some find that useful.

    I agree that the governor’s races and, even more importantly, the statehouse races are extremely important and extremely under-reported, given the gerrymandering we can expect in 2010.

    I sincerely doubt the Dems will get 60 seats in the Senate UNLESS turnout overwhelmingly favors them. Right now, I have them winning seats in Virginia, North Carolina (sorry Liddy you religious bigot), New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Alaska (if Stevens doesn’t convince the state that he’s “innocent”), and probably Minnesota, though that’s iffy. They may win one in Georgia, given early turnout numbers there, but Georgia requires a runoff if the winning candidate doesn’t reach 50% of the vote, and it’s hard to imagine Saxby Chambliss losing if his opponent, Jim Martin, isn’t riding Obama’s coattails. I can’t believe that Kentucky or Mississippi will elect a Democratic Senator, so that leaves the upside at a gain of nine seats for the Dems, which would be 60 votes if you include the two independent senators, including Lieberman who is hardly popular among Democrats these days. But with an upside of 60, the odds are that the Dems will fall short.

    I think the media has overplayed the 60-Senator aspect, though. It’s rare that one party can marshal every single vote to break a filibuster, or the other party doesn’t lose a single vote. No matter what, the Dems should be in a very strong position in both the Senate and House after the election.

  9. My wife and I have a nice bottle of Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (the best U.S. pinots are from Oregon – California can’t even compete) that we’re going to break out and either a) celebrate or b) drown our sorrows.

    With all the boneheaded Constitutional amendments in Colorado, however, it’ll probably be a little of both.

  10. As long as the Dems get close to 60 I think they will be filibuster proof. With all the republicans that are endorsing Obama they will not really have a choice. As the Republican party fractures itself the Dems are going to be the only game in town.

    Can you imagine McCain leading an overwhelmingly democratic house and senate? HA talk about gridlock.

  11. The Dems are centrists at this point, aren’t they? Content to ignore the rights of gays, content to leave free trade in place, tax cuts as incentives, supporting the right to bear arms..

    Aren’t today’s Dems mostly yesterday’s centrist Republicans? And with how far the right has shifted to the right.. most centrists don’t seem to have a stomach for the “new face” of the right-wing.. that “real America versus the fake big city America” beast that’s rearing its ugly head.

    We’ll see, though. . I just read an article that says 1 in 7 are still undecided. That’s a lot of toss up votes right there. A few lost memory cards, 10s of thousands tossed off the rolls in each state, people not wanting to wait 10 – 12 hours in line to vote.. I fear its still quite stealable.

  12. Funny. I’ve been thinking about Dandy Don singing “Turn out the lights” for the last two weeks. I agree. If this one is close or if McCain manages to squeak out a victory, it’s time to form a lynch mob at the Diebold gates.

  13. I agree with some of Savanster’s thoughts on the DEM’s being the party closer to the center. I have never voted for anything other than a Republican before, but “wow” how that party has gone off the lunatic fringe.
    I early voted yesterday and voted for Obama (as well as Kay Hagan in her race vs Dole) because I think they are the more reasonable people. Unlike eight years ago when I felt like Republicans were more reasonable. Here’s hoping to some grown up politics soon.

  14. Hey Bob! Good to have you back. So, you’re now officially an Obamacan, huh?

    Also didn’t know that you’re a Tar Heel. We have a couple of scrogues who are Tar Heels, too, originally, and I’m from Southside Virginia.

    Once again, good to see you back.