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Posts Tagged ‘election 2008’

I have often expressed my admiration for Nate Silver’s wonderful polling aggregate/analysis website, 538. However, there are at least two other very popular sites which aggregate polls : Real Clear Politics and Pollster. How did Nate do in comparison to them?

First of all, all three sites were pretty good in calling the winner of each state. 538 only got Indiana — and possibly one of Nebraska’s congressional districts — wrong. Nate called these two slightly for McCain, and Obama won. RCP missed these two as well; they also got North Carolina wrong. Pollster missed both these as well as Missouri. However all these states were really close and it would be unfair to read too much into them.

Time for a more thorough analysis. I will do the following thing – list all the IMPORTANT states, see by how much 538, RCP and Pollster were off in their predicted margins, and calculate who made the least error.

I define an important state as any state in which the final actual margin was 15 points or less. Thus, this definition includes all the swing states as well many of the ‘safe’ states. The reason I only take these states is that it seems somewhat more important for a polling site to get these right. Besides, it saves me some labor.

State            EVs       Obama Margin       538 error      RCP error   Pollster error

AZ                10                      -8.6                  3.7               5.1               3.7

CO                 9                        7.8                  1.2               2.3                 .2

FL                 27                        2.5                   .8                 .7                 .8

GA                15                       -5.5                 1.8               1.5               2.6

IN                 11                          .9                 2.4               2.3                2.1

IA                   7                         9.3                 2.4               6.0               3.6

MN               10                       10.2                   .1                .4                2.2

MS                  6                       -13.8                 2.5             2.4               3.3

MO                 11                      -.2                     0                  .5               1.3

MT                  3                        -2.5                   .2                1.3               .3

NV                  5                        12.4                 7.5               5.9               5.3

NH                  3                         9.5                   .3                1.1              2.4

NJ                   15                      14.6                 .1                 .9                 .9

NM                  5                       14.7                 5.0                 7.4             5.8

NC                 15                          .4                  .6                  .8                0

ND(*)              3                        -8.6               5.9                9.6               9.3

OH                 20                         4                   .6                 1.5               .9

PA                  21                      10.3               2.2                 3.0               3.1

SC                  8                        -8.9                  .8                1.1                .4

SD                   3                       -8.5                  .2                 .2                 .5

TX                  34                     -11.7                 .9                1.3               1.4

VA                 13                          5.5                 .1                 1.1                .1

WV                  5                       -13.1              3.3                 4.1              1.7

WI                 10                         13.9              2.4                 2.9              1.9

Ok, so who is the winner?

One way to see that is to simply take the median error. Pollster has a median error of 1.8, while RCP gets a surprisingly good 1.5. But 538? It’s median error is an amazing 1.05.

A slightly different measure is to take the root-mean-square error. This number is 3.1 for Pollster and 3.58 for RCP. The clear winner, once again, is 538, with a root mean square error of only 2.71.

Other methods, such as weighting the errors by electoral votes, only increases 538’s advantage.

Nate Silver rocks.

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Andrew Sullivan is effusive in his praise of Five Thirty Eight, the polling aggregation and analysis website created by Nate Silver:

The only state their model got wrong was Indiana, where they expected a narrow Obama loss. He won the state by a hair. Nate Silver owned this election on the polling front: one young guy with a background in baseball stats beat out the mainstream media in a couple of months. And he beat out the old web: I mean if you consider the total joke of Drudge’s recent coverage and compare it with Silver’s, you realize that the web is a brutal competitive medium where only the best survive – and they are only as good as their last few posts.

If you want to know why newspapers are dying: that’s why. They’re just not as good as the web at its best. This election proved that beyond any doubt. For the record, I think the WSJ and the WaPo and the NYT and the Anchorage Daily News rocked in this election. Most of the rest of the old media: not so much.

I completely agree. Five Thirty Eight revolutionized the polling analysis business and was far and away my favourite haunt during the elections.

There’s something else that I am happy about. Nate’s detailed posts were full of conditional probabilities, Bayesian analysis and related tools; yet, they were presented in a layman’s language. Modern probability is one of the core ingredients of rational thought. In its concise and practical demonstration of the power of numbers, Five Thirty Eight, I suspect, has taught a lot of people the basics of probability and the importance of cool, rational thought.

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Election tidbits

The election results matched pre-election predictions fairly closely. In particular, almost all my predictions, such as this and this have come true. The credit of course, goes to the pollsters who did a great job, and a man called Nate Silver who created the best polling analysis website ever.

One of my favourite results of the election is Indiana. It is not just that Obama won, it is that his margin of victory was less than then the number of votes won by Libertarian Bob Barr. Undoubtedly many of Barr’s voters were disgruntled Republicans. This election will have truly served its purpose if it makes the GOP realize that they cannot abandon liberty and expect to win. It seems like we are on the right path.

Of course, the icing on the cake would have been if Obama won Montana on account of Republican votes being siphoned off by Ron Paul, who is on the ballot there (and has won a fair number of votes too). Well one can’t have everything!

And lastly, I hadn’t watched McCain’s concession speech till just now. And I agree with those who have watched it already, it is as classy as it gets. McCain’s unbelievably generous and well-scripted speech — and his visceral disgust at his boorish supporters — is a reminder that even a long campaign cannot take away the inherent graciousness of a good man.

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Matt Welch, editor of Reason, hangs out with some Obama supporters.

Unlike in 2000, the crowd outside was much more celebratory, much less shouting angry taunts in the direction of the presidential bedroom, for whatever little that’s worth. It’s a bit startling to have people roll down their windows and yell “O-ba-ma!” at you, but they seemed pleasant enough. Not for the first time, I wonder what it must feel like to vote for the winning team.

I wonder too. Perhaps always will.

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Congratulations

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Here, in short, is what to expect tomorrow:

Who will win?

The outcome of the election is not in doubt. Barack Obama will be the next president of the USA.

When will we know the results in each state?

Check out this article by Nate Silver for a nice time-line of when polls close in each state and when one can expect the networks to call them.

How low can Obama’s tally possibly go?

A variety of factors can go against BHO tomorrow. It may turn out that the pollsters were overestimating the youth and black votes. Obama may suffer heavily from Coal-gate, especially in some of the midwestern and Appalachian states. There may be a unexpected emergence of some kind of Bradley effect.

Several states, including biggies like FL, MO and NC, remain too close to call. On a bad day, Obama could lose them all. However, some things are not in doubt. Obama will win all Kerry states. He will win IA and NM easily. And even if he has a very bad day, he will still carry CO and NV, albeit by a small margin.

Taking these into account, the lowest Obama can go is 278. And he needs only 269 EVs to be the next president. Obama getting 278 EVs corresponds to a scenario like below:

How high can Obama’s tally go?

A very good day tomorrow, fuelled by massive youth and black turnout, will mean that Obama not only carries all the swing states, but also states like GA, ND and MT. And if he ends up winning these deep red states, he will probably also triumph in AZ, McCain’s home state. However, I do not see him winning WV or AR, notwithstanding some old polls suggesting he was close there.

If you do the math, you will see that the highest Obama can go is 406 . That would be a massive blowout. See the map below for the scenario that leads to this number:

So, what’s the likely range?

A variety of factors make this election rather hard to call. However, let’s face it, the scnearios that lead to Obama geting over 400 EV’s, or keep him under 280, are unlikely. Obama will probably lose GA and AZ . And most likely, he will win VA. So with a fairly high probability, Obama’s final EV count will lie between 291 and 381. My personal hunch is that he will get towards the high end of this range.

And finally, this is just an election. It is useful to remember the following points, articulated by Michael Totten before the 2004 election:

People who vote for the other guy aren’t stupid, brainwashed, or evil. They are your friends and family. Someone you love will almost certainly cancel your vote. (My wife cancels out mine.)

If, by some chance, everyone you know votes for the loser it won’t mean the election was stolen. It will only show that you live in a bubble.

If this thing is close (the victor could easily win by 0.1 percent) try not to read too much into it. We’ll still be closely divided.

If the election doesn’t go your way, don’t pop off as though America were Guatemala under the generals. You’ll get lots of attention, but it won’t be the kind you want. People will laugh, not near you but at you.

To which, let me add: both Obama and McCain are big government statists. Nothing that happens tomorrow will prevent tragedies like this, this or this. Both Obama and McCain will use your money to stop you from enjoying pot, driving without a seatbelt or eating bacon dogs. So chill out and enjoy.

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According to the latest Five-Thirty-Eight projections, the Democrats’ odds of getting a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the senate are getting longer (currently Nate gives a less than 25% chance of this happening).

A filibuster proof Senate majority by a party that also has control of the Presidency and the House is always a disaster. I am glad this looks unlikelier by the day.

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I am not an American citizen and hence not eligible to vote. If I did though, I’d vote for Bob Barr.

Yes, that Bob Barr. The guy who authored the insidious “Defence of marriage Act”. A former drug warrior extraordinaire.  Socially conservative ex-Republican.

And the Libertarian candidate for President.

Suffice it to say that Barr is the real deal. There are many who have always stayed — by luck, circumstance or vision — on the correct side. This post is not meant to dishonour them but to praise Barr. For he is a man who actually saw the error of his ways. He didn’t start off libertarian but was won over by the power and reason within our ideas.

The Libertarians were responsible for Barr’s loss in 2002, when he was a Republican running for Congress. They opposed him because of his stand against medical marijuana (one of the many positions that he has reversed since). That loss and disillusionment with increasing government power under Bush caused Bob Barr to look hard at some of his basic political stances. Here is what Barr said during the Libertarian convention:

Well, let me tell you: I have made mistakes. But the only way you make mistakes, the only way you get things done, is by getting out there in the arena and making those mistakes, and then realizing, as things go on, the mistakes that you’ve made. And I apologize for that.

Cynics may say Barr is a hypocrite. I have watched countless interviews of his and here’s what I think. He is the real deal.

Reason Magazine has a wonderful feature on Bob Barr, read it if you wish to know more about the man.

If you care about individual liberty and are eligible to cast a ballot on November 4, please go out and do so for Barr. Why waste my vote, I hear some say. My answer is, you won’t. I fact, voting for the Barr is your best shot at not wasting your vote.

Yes, Barr is a third party candidate. He won’t win. But it is important to make a statement. The libertarians need more votes to make their voice heard. And here’s the deal, the outcome of the election is no longer in doubt. Barack Obama is going to be the next president however you vote. But — bigger shares by the third parties are essential to break the stranglehold of the big two. A substantial Libertarian total will perhaps make those guys take us more seriously, for purely selfish reasons of course. And libertarians who vote for Barr will be voting for the person closest to their beliefs. If you prefer Obama over McCain, like I do, and would like to ensure that the Republicans lose, consider this: Obama has a healthy 6 to 7 point cushion currently. He won’t lose even if all Obama supporting libertarians pull the plug for Barr. In particular, if you live in a non-swing state, there is absolutely no reason to add to Obama’s totals. So please consider voting for Barr.

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Charles Krauthammer in October, 2006:

When just a week ago Barack Obama showed a bit of ankle and declared the mere possibility of his running for the presidency, the chattering classes swooned. Now that every columnist in the country has given him advice, here’s mine: He should run in ’08. He will lose in ’08.

And the loss will put him irrevocably on a path to the presidency. Obama’s political challenge is to turn his current fame and sizzle, which will undoubtedly dissipate, into something concrete. In physics, it’s the problem of converting kinetic energy into potential energy: Use the rocket fuel behind his current popularity to propel him to a higher national plane from which he would eventually move almost laterally to the presidency.

[…] In any circumstance, it is fairly audacious for any freshman senator to even think of the presidency. When freshman Sen. John F. Kennedy began his preparation for 1956, he was really seeking the vice presidency. And, unlike Obama, he had already served three terms in the House, which in turn had followed a celebrated military tour in the Pacific in World War II.

In 1956, Kennedy was preparing for a serious presidential run in 1960.

Obama should be thinking ahead as well — using ’08 to cure his problem of inexperience. Run for the Democratic nomination and lose. He only has to do reasonably well in the primaries to become such a compelling national figure as to be invited onto the ticket as vice presidential nominee.

[…] He’s a young man with a future. But the future recedes. He needs to run now. And lose. And win by losing.

Now that Krauthammer’s unlikeliest nightmare is about to come true, his columns contain less prediction and more valiant captainship.

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There are at least two good reasons why libertarians should not be supporting McCain this election.

One of those is fairly straightforward: Obama is better. I have written several posts in the past elaborating on this point. To put it briefly, Obama is no libertarian, not even close, but on some of the most important issues facing us — foreign policy, civil liberties, war on drugs, thwarting the Christianist agenda — he is better than McCain. Even on the economy, where libertarians usually agree with the conservatives, I’d go with Obama — McCain has been an erratic, populist, nightmare.

The second issue is one that I have not posted on as often but it is as important, if not more. The libertarians and the country need to teach the Republicans a lesson. The party of Goldwater and Reagan — once a friend to so many libertarian principles — is in its present avatar a populist, dogmatic, anti-intellectual, collectivist nightmare.

No one has expressed this second viewpoint more eloquently than Radley Balko. In a recent article, published at Fox and Reason, he writes:

While I’m not thrilled at the prospect of an Obama administration (especially with a friendly Congress), the Republicans still need to get their clocks cleaned in two weeks, for a couple of reasons.

First, they had their shot at holding power, and they failed. They’ve failed in staying true to their principles of limited government and free markets. They’ve failed in preventing elected leaders of their party from becoming corrupted by the trappings of power, and they’ve failed to hold those leaders accountable after the fact. Congressional Republicans failed to rein in the Bush administration’s naked bid to vastly expand the power of the presidency (a failure they’re going to come to regret should Obama take office in January). They failed to apply due scrutiny and skepticism to the administration’s claims before undertaking Congress’ most solemn task—sending the nation to war. I could go on.

[…] A humiliated, decimated GOP that rejuvenates and rebuilds around the principles of limited government, free markets, and rugged individualism is really the only chance for voters to possibly get a real choice in federal elections down the road.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that’s how the party will emerge from defeat. But the Republican Party in its current form has forfeited its right to govern.

Here’s the whole article.

And while I am at it,  if you are an eligible voter and a friend to individual freedom, do consider voting for Bob Barr. I’ll post more on Barr in the future, but suffice it to say that he is the real deal — a man who was won over by the power of libertarian ideas. He is an intelligent and experienced politician and his conversion to libertarianism — from every piece of evidence I have seen — is a genuine one. So do consider him,  especially if you live in a non-swing state.

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The Wall Street Journal points out some of the things that I wrote in this post.

Though we doubt most Americans realize it, this would be one of the most profound political and ideological shifts in U.S. history. Liberals would dominate the entire government in a way they haven’t since 1965, or 1933. In other words, the election would mark the restoration of the activist government that fell out of public favor in the 1970s. If the U.S. really is entering a period of unchecked left-wing ascendancy, Americans at least ought to understand what they will be getting, especially with the media cheering it all on. […]

One program certain to be given right of way is “card check.” Unions have been in decline for decades, now claiming only 7.4% of the private-sector work force, so Big Labor wants to trash the secret-ballot elections that have been in place since the 1930s. The “Employee Free Choice Act” would convert workplaces into union shops merely by gathering signatures from a majority of employees, which means organizers could strongarm those who opposed such a petition. […]

Yet, and yet, the only way good ideas can really win in a democracy is by winning the people over. We need people to see the ills of collectivism before we can effect real change. It took a French revolution to begin the era of free speech. It took the new deal and the wild 60’s before a modest return to classical liberal economics could take effect under Reagan.

And there is also the problem of alternatives. Despite all his flaws, Obama is better than McCain. And yes, the intellectually bankrupt GOP of today is far worse than the Dems. They deserve to lose.

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Watch McCain lose the remaining undecided women :

So how many EV’s will Obama get? 333? 348? 375? More?

Right now I am guessing 364 369 , on the assumption that he will win NC, MO and WV but lose IN.

[Update] Five Thirty Eight has a post today, where they … basically agree with me, though they leave West Virginia as a toss-up.

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If you go to Las Vegas and gamble, you will probably lose money. If you keep betting, you will certainly lose money and a lot of it. That’s because everything from blackjack to roulette to slot machines have negative expectation, meaning you are guaranteed to lose in the long term.

Not so with real life events, like the outcome of a election. The thing is, unlike in casinos, we do have a lot of relevant information here — opinion polls, previous trends, demographics, events. You would think that most betters (and consequently the betting company setting the odds) will take these into account. The reason that does not happen is that most people are simultaneously passionate about their preferred candidate and politically ill-informed. Even those who take a look at the opinion polls rarely do it at sites like Five Thirty Eight, but instead rely on a few polls highlighted by the main-stream media. For instance, everyone knows today that Obama is almost surely winning the election and very likely also winning red states like Virginia and Florida. The thing is, these facts were obvious even three weeks ago, if you did the appropriate trend-line analyses. But when I bet some money (actually quite a bit) then, I got astoundingly good odds on Florida and pretty good ones even on the overall result!

So the purport of my message is this: If you are a political junkie like me, bet. You will make a lot of money at the expense of less-informed mortals.

And since I am bragging, let me remind the reader of two predictions I made a fair while ago, at a time when it must have appeared rather bold. Now though, I think even Rush Limbaugh would agree with it.

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Both candidates running for presidency are bad from a libertarian perspective, but, my opinion, as I have often stated on this blog, is that McCain is clearly worse. Radley Balko, who shares that view, has a fine post explaining why.

Obama is a seriously flawed candidate. And yes, Obama united with a Democratic Congress is a scary proposition. But on the issues I cover and that I think are most important this election, Obama is clearly the better choice. Will he disappoint, even on those issues? Almost assuredly.

But we’ve had eight years of a GOP administration, and before that eight years of a mostly GOP Congress. The result has been an explosion in the growth of government that by every measure has been the largest since at least the Johnson administration, and by some measures since FDR. I see no reason why a McCain administration would be any different, particularly given that he has made bipartisanship and deal-making the hallmark of his career (and let’s face it, “bipartisanship” is rarely a case where the parties come together to shrink the government–it almost always results in more government). In other words, the GOP has consistently been worse than the Dems even on the issues where they’re supposed to be better.

I agree. And as I point out in his comments, it is not just about the issues. Obama might have positions I strongly disagree with, but anyone who has followed his career closely or read his works will see that he possesses undoubted intelligence, a good temperament, intellectual curiosity and above all an ability to see both sides of a question (more than McCain does, anyway). Also, as he has demonstrated with his stand on several issues, he prefers a ‘nudge’ to outright force in influencing behavior (see this post of mine). That’s much more than one can say about McCain, who epitomizes authoritarianism.

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Some of Obama’s speches, like the 2002 one on the Iraq war, the 2004 one in the DNC or the one earlier this year in race, are magnificiently written and rich in content.

By contrast, the one he delivered in Virginia on Saturday night is unremarkable, indeed trite in content, but stylistically brilliant. It starts off slowly, almost lamely and slowly builds up to a crescendo. The last five minutes or so should be mandatory viewing for anyone who wishes to learn how to send 25,000 people into crazed rapture. If you had any doubts about Obama’s oratory skills, or wondered what is it about this guy that sends chills up Chris Mathews’ legs or leads Oprah to declare him as ‘the one’, you need to watch the video below.

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