Saturday, June 2, 2012

Electoral College 2012

The media noise in a Presidential election is very confusing, with national and state-wide polls and partisan commentary blending together to confirm (or not) our own bias, opinions and beliefs.  To get a clearer picture of the state of the race one must focus on the only metric that matters in the end, which is the electoral college. Each state has a set number of electoral college votes based on the population of the state. In general, the total number of electoral votes of each state is awarded to the candidate who obtains a majority of the votes within the state on November 6, 2012. The winner of the Presidential election needs to receive 270 of the 538 electoral votes that will be cast based on the election in November.

There are sixteen main opinions (listed in no particular order) published on the web regarding how the electoral college votes might currently break down.  Click on a link below to go to the current opinion map.
Opinions vary based on how each political analyst (1) selects and weights the statewide polls of the general adult population, registered voters and self-identified likely voters that are publicly available, (2) uses different lookback periods for the number of polls to be included in the analysis (and weights thereof), (3) interprets adjustments for poll bias (the proportion of Republicans, Democrats and Independents within each poll relative to their proportion of the voting population within each state, the proportion of cell phones versus landlines polled, the use of human pollsters versus automated telephone polls and the unique challenges of internet polls) and (4) is influenced by opaque subjective factors. 

The total electoral votes assigned to each candidate combines states that are "leaning" for a particular candidate (just outside each candidate's 3% or so statistical margin of error), "likely" (well outside the margin of error) and "solid" states that have large polling majorities for a particular candidate (typically colored on the map as either Republican Party red or Democratic Party blue).  Toss up states tend to  poll within the statistical margin of error, but subjective factors (agendas?) may also influence that categorization.  Thus it is easy to understand why the sixteen opinion maps differ significantly from each other.

Fortunately, the electoral opinion map makers have done the heavy lifting for us.  But how do we handle their disparity of opinion and still shed some light on the race as we progress toward the election in November?  With a nod to Occam's Razor, examining how a simple average of the various opinions changes each week may yield the following major clues:
  • It may show the relative challenge (in general order of magnitude) that each candidate faces in their campaign to reach 270.  Thus one candidate may only need to win a small portion of the toss up votes, while the other candidate may have to pick up the lion's share of the toss ups to get to 270. 
  • It may show trends and momentum, which are increasingly important the closer we get to November.  Political trends and momentum tend to be self-reinforcing over time for various reasons and are difficult to reverse.
  • It will show the range of opinions.
Here are the results of the week ending June 3:

Total Obama average                                           219
Needs to win                                                          51

Total Romney average                                         181
Needs to win                                                          89

Toss ups                                                               138

Highest Total Obama opinion
     Fox News                                                         293
Lowest Total Obama opinion
     270towin                                                          174              

Highest Total Romney opinion
     tied: Fox News, NY Times,
             Associated Press & Rothenberg               206
Lowest Total Romney opinion                 
     270towin                                                           124

Highest Total Toss Up
     270towin                                                           240
Lowest Total Toss Up
     Fox News                                                           39



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