I'm writing this Tuesday morning, November 6, and the polls in the east have just opened. I promised to give my predictions about today's election winner, so I'll give it a try.
First, let me remind you that at the beginning of this year, most observers would have agreed that this is a "change" year in the presidential election. That means that many/most voters were unhappy with the President's performance and would be more inclined to vote for a change. A similar circumstance happened in 2008, when many voters were unhappy with President Bush's performance in his second term, so were ready for a change (sorry, John McCain).
We also know how close the overall national polling preference is, and how close the race is in most of the battleground states. Given those factors, there are several possible outcomes. At this point, a key factor is voter turnout, which could easily determine which candidate wins (and factor in the possible effects of Hurricane Sandy on turnout in the northeast U.S.).
As I look at the Electoral College vote, it seems that Ohio is the key state. I think Florida is important too, but I now think that Florida will go for Mitt Romney. However, I don't see Mitt Romney winning the election without winning Ohio (indeed, there hasn't been a recent Republican President who didn't win Ohio).
Ohio is close, although I think President Obama has gained a couple of polling points in recent days. This is partly due to the back-and-forth about the auto bailout, and the recent controversy about whether Chrysler intends to make Jeeps in China or Ohio. I think Mitt Romney is losing that argument, and he may lose Ohio as a consequence.
It's also uncertain how Hurricane Sandy and the aftermath of the storm has affected voters. Mitt Romney's "leave it to the states and volunteers" approach doesn't seem to make sense, given the large scope of the storm and the need for a more coordinated effort to recover and rebuild.
I give Barack Obama between 271 and 289 Electoral College votes, which will win the election. There are a couple of scenarios that give Mitt Romney a victory, but it would require him to win Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Colorado. Romney will win lots of states in the West, but remember that many of them (Montana, N Dakota, S Dakota, Wyoming, and Idaho) have only a few Electoral College votes each. I also found a possible scenario in which the candidates each earned 269 votes, thus throwing the election to the U.S. House. I think Mr. Romney will have an advantage in terms of turnout, which could help him win a couple of crucial states that most believed would go to President Obama.
Finally, may I point out that some states may face a recount or will not be able to officially call a winner tonight because the election will force a recount, or some late arriving absentee ballots will need to be counted to officially declare a winner. It's possible that we won't know who won by tomorrow morning, and we'll face a situation similar to the 2000 Bush/Gore election, when we didn't know who won until December. I hope not.
We have one more day until Election Day, and we continue to speculate about how Ohio and Florida will vote. We also wonder about how voters in New York and New Jersey will be able to vote -- and whether they will bother at all.
New York State has said that is considering allowing an extra day for voting if Tuesday's turnout is less than 25%. Not sure of how they are counting this, but I"m guessing an extra voting day is unlikely for two reasons. First, many voters typically vote absentee in any given election. It's quite normal for a substantial percentage -- about 33% or so -- of a state's voters to vote absentee anyway. Not sure if New York's voters are typical in this way, but most absentee voters would have voted up to a month ago, when no one was thinking about Hurricane Sandy.
Moreover, news reports indicate that a fair number of New Yorkers have been voting absentee in person over the past few days. In some states, if a voter wishes to vote absentee, but it is three days before the election, they are allowed to vote "in-person absentee" at their city or county clerk's office.
Assuming that New York will count absentee voters as part of the 25% turnout, there wouldn't need to be many (or any) voters who would vote on Tuesday. Also, a number of polling places have been consolidated, so some voters will need help finding their correct polling place tomorrow.
I'll make my prediction of a winner early tomorrow, before the polls open in the East. While I won't tip my hand now, I will say that the race has remained very close, and that in one realistic scenario, the candidates tied at 269 Electoral College votes each. I hope that doesn't happen.
We have only two days until Election Day, and much of the northeast U.S. is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Sandy. We know that many people in New Jersey (and other states) are still without power. While power is being restored, there are still many disruptions (including barriers to traveling to a polling place) that will likely affect voting turnout on Tuesday.
Some states have reported that they are moving some of their polling place locations, which will be helpful, but there will be voters who won't find it easy to travel to their (correct) polling place. The simple act of election administration has become very complicated this year because of Sandy.
Moreover, the presidential race has remained incredibly close overall, and is still very close in some of the important battleground states such as Florida and Ohio. If one candidate is more effective in getting out the vote in a state, that could easily determine who wins the election. We also might see several recounts in those states where the vote totals are close.
It is difficult to predict exactly what effect Sandy will have on the election, but it's clear that there will be an impact. Political scientists often note that voter turnout can rise or fall depending on the relative convenience of voting, including bad weather conditions on Election Day. I wonder if even marginal voters will make an extra effort to vote on Tuesday because Sandy has made it more difficult.
For the 2012 election cycle, most of my blogs have focused on the presidential election. I've occasionally dipped into some state races, but of course, most of our attention remains fixed on the presidential race.
Today, I want to mention the recall election of Troy, MI mayor Janice Daniels. This is an unusual local election, because we typically hold our municipal elections in odd-numbered years (and they are non-partisan). The only exceptions are local township races, which are partisan and held in even-numbered years along with other partisan races.
Shortly after her election in November 2011, Mayor Daniels quickly emerged as a controversial figure. A before-the-election Facebook posting of hers became widely circulated, in which she had written "I think I am going to throw away my 'I Love New York' carrying bag now that queers can get married there."
She didn't help her image at all in a series of meetings with residents and high schoolers who had asked her for an explanation and apology. In later public statements, she also has compared the dangers of the "homosexual lifestyle" to smoking cigarettes.
Just recently, she incorrectly indicated that the 2012 Troy Distinguished Citizen Award given to Council member Mary Kerwin came from the "Democrat Club," which was both factually incorrect (it was a nonpartisan award) AND a commonly used slur of the Democratic party (often used by George W. Bush, other Republican elected officials, and conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh).
While all of this has received local and even national attention, I would argue that the best reason to recall the mayor has nothing to do with the above-mentioned incidents. During her inauguration, she had referred to the city charter's language as "whimsical" and removed any reference to the charter when she took her oath of office. This is like the U.S. President refusing to give the oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, in my view.
Any local elected official who refuses to abide by the city's charter SHOULD be removed from office, in my view. They likely would be using their own personal judgments rather than relying on a document that is the product of many years of experience, which has included many different voices and perspectives, to create. A city charter is created and revised through a democratic process, with individuals and groups allowed access into the decision-making process that creates the charter. No one person's judgment is superior to that process, and it is by definition, undemocratic.
I think those who support the recall of Mayor Daniels have a good case. Not because she appears to be homophobic and an ideologue, but because she doesn't seem willing to abide by the Troy City Charter -- the basic governing and operating document of the Troy City government.
In the period just before and just after Hurricane Sandy reached landfall, there was considerable media speculation about how the storm -- and the response to the storm -- would affect the presidential campaign. A number of observers argued that the President could gain votes by effectively coordinating the recovery and rebuilding efforts on the east coast.
I did not necessarily agree with that observation a few days ago, and here's why. I think in these kinds of situations, a President can certainly lose support (remember Hurricane Katrina and the criticism of the Bush administration's ineffectiveness in the period after?). So, while I felt that a President could lose support, I wasn't so sure that a President could pick up support by handling the crisis effectively. It would be what voters expected, so no extra points for doing the right thing.
I still think that this is true. However, what I have seen is a couple of twists to the "aftermath" story that I believe has helped the President. Probably the most significant were the comments made by New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie, who praised the President's compassion and dedication in helping his state recover from the devastation of the storm.
Remember that Christie gave the keynote address at the Republican national convention this year, and is considered a leading light in the Republican party. Praise from the Governor in a climate where no Republican seems willing to compromise or otherwise give credit to any Democrat is both refreshing and a big boost for President Obama.
The positive media reports about the clean-up and the costs associated with full recovery also have given President Obama an edge over Mitt Romney on the question of FEMA and the proper role of the government in such situations. Governor Romney is on record as wanting to disband FEMA, but I'm guessing a lot of voters now believe that a private sector/non-profit/volunteer only solution to this crisis wouldn't be enough, and would be too ad hoc and uncoordinated (and therefore extremely inefficient).
I applaud both candidates for stepping down from the campaign for a few days, as they acknolwedged the seriousness and importance of this natural disaster compared to a political campaign. I have friends in New York and New Jersey whose lives have been greatly affected by the storm. My heart goes out to all of those who now must struggle to recover, rebuild, and in general re-establish some semblance of their normal routines.
The eastern part of the U.S. is bracing for Hurricane Sandy, which already has the presidential candidates altering their final week appearances and is causing lots of concern about how the storm will affect voter turnout on Election Day -- and whether polling places will be open and have power!
For many years, it was believed that weather caused at least a small drop in voter turnout, especially in the northeast and midwest states, where rain or snow (even in early November) might have kept some voters away from the polls. The magnitude of this storm and its predicted long-lasting effects could cause lots of problems into next week. Many power outages are expected, with some lasting 8-10 days. That would put us into and past Election Day if it were to happen.
Moreover, there is the natural speculation about what differential impact the storm might have. For example, most of the affected states are in the northeast, which have tended to support Democratic candidates (NY, PA). For those states in the east that have early voting, it could be argued that more voters who tend to be Republican party supporters use early voting opportunities (although it depends on the state). If both are true, this could help Mitt Romney.
I am not aware of any provisions that would allow states to extend Election Day past Tuesday, November 6. While there are many early voting provisions, I'm not sure what legal authority a state would have that would extend Election Day beyond the U.S. Constitution's "first Tuesday after the first Monday in November" provision.
It's already been an interesting campaign this year. We now have something else to talk about -- stormy weather!
It's common for political scientists to make some mention of third parties during a Presidential election, if only to discuss the lack of media attention they receive or why their candidates are not invited to the televised debates. (Note that C-SPAN recently aired a "third party debate" that featured the 3rd party candidates debating each other).
While everyone recognizes that third party candidates won't win a presidential election, it can be useful to talk about a possible significant role that these candidates can play in an election. For example, it's possible that third party candidates can affect the outcome of an election. We believe this happened in 1992, when Ross Perot took 19% of the popular vote. He didn't earn any Electoral College votes, but he certainly took votes away from the major party candidates -- hurting George H.W. Bush more than Bill Clinton, we believe. In some large part, it's possible that Perot gave the election to the Democrats that year. In the 2000 election, Green party candidate Ralph Nader picked up more than 94,000 votes in Florida. Even if only a thousand of those voters had voted for Al Gore, the Democrats would have won the Presidency in 2000 (since George W. Bush won Florida -- and the election -- by only 537 votes).
What about this year? Libertarian party candidate Gary Johnson (a one-time Republican presidential candidate) and Virgil Goode of the Constitution party could take away votes from Mitt Romney. Jill Stein of the Green party would more likely draw votes away from Barack Obama. Is it possible that these third party candidates could affect the outcome?
Even though each of them will receive a fairly small number of votes, remember that we have a very close election in several important battleground states. If these candidates combine to pick up even 1-2% of the votes in a close battleground state, it could easily affect the election outcome in that state.
In an election year that is this close, we've spent time discussing how just about every voter group (Latinos, females, young people, etc.) can decide an election, it's not a far stretch to believe that another important voting block is the group of third party voters. They too could decide this election.
A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about the important percentages in this year's presidential race. One of them, of course, was "47%," which had gained notoriety after the release of the secretly-made videotape of a Mitt Romney speech to large contributors.
Now, with two weeks to go until Election Day, we're back to talking about 47% again. This time, however, it's because yesterdya's NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has Mitt Romney and Barack Obama tied at 47% each in a national poll. Of course, the poll has a margin of error (between 3 and 4 percentage points), so we shouldn't take these results literally. However, we know that the race has been close for a few months, and for the most part, Mitt Romney has been closing the gap over the past several days.
Tonight's third and final debate is the last chance the candidates have to score points with voters in a more spontaneous forum (compared to TV ads and prepared speeches). It will be interesting to see if President Obama can convince voters that our standing in the world has improved, or if Mitt Romney can persuade voters that our foreign policy can be better.
In all of this, don't forget that a fair number of people have already voted through various ways (absentee ballots or early in-person voting in some states). Should something unusual happen in this last debate -- or in the next two weeks -- it won't change the votes that already have been cast.
One of the commonly used predictors of an incumbent President's re-election success is the result of the polling question, "Do you think that things in the nation are headed in the right direction or do you feel that things are off on the wrong track?" Different pollsters have slightly different wording, but all feature the "right direction" and "wrong track" choices.
The bad news for President Obama is that he's been in a 15 - 20% deficit on this question for many months. While the gap has closed somewhat recently, the most recent polls (taken over the past two weeks or so) still show a deficit on this question of about 15%.
Real Clear Politics averages the results from several polls, and for these past two weeks, an average of 39.5% of the respondents from multiple polls say we are headed in the right direction, but 55% say we are headed off on the wrong track.
Now, there are those who would argue that some of the "wrong track" respondents believe that, for example, the Republicans in Congress are to blame for blocking initiatives and otherwise doing nothing in the past year. Further, even if some respondents blame the President for our "wrong track," maybe they believe that because he hasn't been assertive enough with his own policy preferences. Or maybe people just don't like the gridlock that exists in Washington and they blame everyone.
Any one of those explanations may be true for some voters, but I'm guessing people look at the economy, look at unemployment, and look at the collapse of the housing market, and blame the President whether he deserves all of the blame or not. This is a part of being a leader -- you take credit sometimes when it's not deserved and you must accept blame sometimes when it's not deserved.
All told, the "right direction" and "wrong track" question reveals a substantial unhappiness with the current administration, and that's not a good sign for the President's re-election chances.
The two presidential candidates squared off last night in their second debate of the 2012 campaign. This debate was in the "town hall" format, where candidates sat in chairs without podiums, walked around the floor, and responded to questions asked by an audience of Independent voters.
In this format, each candidate had two minutes to respond to a question, then there was a 2-minute period where the candidates could/should interact with each other by asking questions and otherwise having a discussion that isn't possible in the more structured debates.
While this 2-minute "free for all" period has great possibilities, I don't think it worked very well with the candidates last night. They each complained about the other candidate receiving more time or simply interrupted each other. In my view, this detracted from the debate -- and from my opinion of the candidates too. In both presidential debates, the time that each candidate spoke is close to 50-50, which I think is amazing given that the debates last 90 minutes.
It seems juvenile to me that the candidates waste so much time complaining about time. They interrupt the other candidate and they admonish the moderator. It feels like I'm watching a middle school debate.
The fight over time is all the more odd, because I think the candidates waste a lot of their 2-minute time periods. For example, when Mitt Romney was asked a question:"We have problems with the economy -- how will you fix that?"; or "Unemployment is high -- how you will lower it?" (hope you get that job, Jeremy!), he typically spent most of his 2 minutes re-stating the problem. This is why voters keep demanding specifics from him, but he's mostly been vague ("I know how to create jobs!").
President Obama needs to make his case better too. I want to know what he's going to do that's different from his first term that will improve the economy (since we all agree that his first 4 years hasn't been great on the economy), but mostly he criticizes Mitt Romney and avoids that question.
Let's have a more civil third debate, gentlemen. You're not making points with voters by interrupting each other or by complaining about your time.