Sunday, May 13, 2012

The not-so-volatile electorate

The 2004 presidential election was the first one I watched with access to the internet. I was just as addicted to watching the polling results back then as I am now. At the time, the one that was aggregating state polls to track the electoral map was Electoral Vote Predictor and I checked in there daily to see what was up in the race. There are many to choose from now.

What I've been thinking about lately is how, as I watched it unfold, the news wasn't all that good. But I kept watching for trends or signs that things were changing. They never did.

This morning I went back there to see if any of that had been archived. What I found was this map from May 2004 that shows the race at Bush 281 Kerry 257. When the election was over the following November, it was Bush 286 Kerry 251. In other words, not much changed in the intervening 6 months.

That's the reason I keep suggesting that Romney is going to need a game changer to pull this one off. If we look at state polling aggregates and assign states based on those, its currently Obama 294 and Romney 170 with 5 states (74 electoral votes) as basically ties.

When we watch the national popular vote totals (that are dominated by Gallup and Rasmussen), we can get the idea that the electorate swings with a fair amount of volatility. But I'd suggest that's not the case. The truth is that things get locked in pretty early with only a few states up for grabs.

So I'd love to see someone like Nate Silver take a look at how often a state like Virginia - where Obama leads by 5 based on current polling averages - actually swings the other direction. I don't know the answer to that - but I suspect not very often.

Taking this one step further, Harry Enten wrote a column last week demonstrating that 5 events we think of as game changers in presidential elections really didn't have much impact at all.

I'm not saying all this to suggest that the race is over or to claim any pre-emptive victory. Instead I'd simply suggest that the idea of a volatile electorate plays into certain people's hands...namely the media. They need to keep us thinking that the latest dose of daily hysteria is of profound importance so that we'll give them our eyeballs and ears. We need to remember that this is a long game we're waging on an ocean liner that doesn't change course on a dime.

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