Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Key Numbers For This Exciting Election Day

Election day in the United States is awesome and it has dawned. Today the people decide the government of the greatest nation  in the world.  And this great nation is closely divided politically.  The course of the election has underlined that the Republican and Democratic Presidential candidates started the election with 47%, while the third party candidates attract 1.5% to 2%.  Less than 5% of the electorate has been truly undecided and floating.

Indeed, the voting today will be close, and third party votes could be the difference in Virginia, Florida, Colorado and possibly other states.  The structure of the electorate and all the polls point to this race not being decided until the early morning hours of tomorrow.  And possibly even later.

Yet, could the polls all be wrong? And could the President or Governor Romney win comfortably?

In fact, all the public polls were wrong in the Nevada Senate race in 2010.  They all predicted that Senator Reid would lose to Sharon Angle in 2010 and by an average of nearly 3 points.  Harry Reid pulled an electoral surprise, winning by more than 5 points, and proving the public polls were off by an average of 8 points. So perhaps yesterday's polls were wrong and Governor Romney or President Obama is on the way to a 5 point win today.

In the case of the Reid race, his internal pollster--Mark Mellman--had the result nailed. Alone among pollsters, Mellman correctly assessed the turnout of Latinos that rushed to the polls for Senator Reid and to defeat Sharon Angle. Mellman's accuracy rested on his use alone of bilingual interviewers to conduct his polls and so got an accurate survey response, by including those who speak Spanish as a first language.

Polls are science and art or judgment.  Turnout of particular demographic groups makes all the difference. What portion of the electorate will be Republican, Democratic, and Independent?  What portion of the electorate will be minority or white?  What portion of the electorate will be below 30 and above 65?  What portion of registered voters will actually vote?  The accuracy of every poll rests on getting right answers to those questions.

But nobody knows the precise answers to those questions, even at this moment.  And we only have imperfect exit poll data to answer them after the election.

Exit poll data, for example, tells us that 87% of the electorate was white in 1992, 77% in 2004, and 74% in 2008.  Today 70.9% of the eligible electorate is white so the electorate will be 70.9% white, if there is equal turnout across racial groups. Since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, no Democratic candidate for President has won a majority of those who are white, but Democratic support among African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans has been soaring.

There is also a sharp partisan difference in the voting preferences of women and men as well as those below 30 and above 65.  Who votes and in what numbers makes all the difference in American elections, because the nation as a whole is closely divided politically.

Though the polls could be wrong, they are all we have prior to the final vote count.  As of yesterday, two national polls had Governor Romney up 1 point, while three had President Obama up 3 and another had him up 2.  The trend over the last 10 days has been toward the President, with most polls moving 2 to 6 points in his direction. Yet, all polls are within the margin of error.

State polling paints an equally close race, with Romney narrowly favored in North Carolina and possibly Florida. Virginia is close to a pure toss up, with perhaps the slightest edge to the President.

The President has had narrow but consistent leads in credible polls in Nevada, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  Those states are probable for the President but not guaranteed.
Despite some fervent hoping from the Romney camp, Minnesota and Michigan are almost locks for the President.

So where do things stand? Perhaps there is no better answer than provided by yesterday's betting line offered by the bookies in the UK.  There the President is a strong favorite. Last evening, you had to bet $5 dollars on the President to win $1.

As we go to the polls, pause and reflect that the power we have in our hands is the liberty paid with blood by our founding revolutionaries, our troops time and again and to this moment, abolitionists, suffragettes, and voting rights activists who died and bled less than 50 years ago so that all could vote.  Every citizen should honor that sacrifice and vote today!

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