Nathan Sass

2012 Election Prediction

In 2012 Elections, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Politics on November 2, 2012 at 10:34 AM

With the election a few days away, I think it is a good idea to step back and look at the big picture, and perhaps focus a bit less on polls, regardless of who you support.

Recall that in 2008 we experienced something very unusual in US elections.  Barack Obama reached cult status in the run up to the election.  His campaign focused on pleasing generalities like “Hope and Change”, and stayed very vague on specifics that may upset voters.

He was very much like a hot new boy band.  Crowds for his appearances were huge.  People were overcome with emotion at the mere sight of Obama.  Remember the Oprah led rallies?  Remember the rock star status?  Remember all the people in the “Hope Poster” t-shirts.  Everywhere you went for months before and after the election, people were wearing Obama gear.  You couldn’t drive 3 miles without seeing a bumper sticker, even in the reddest of areas like Waukesha.

John McCain was exactly the opposite.  He was a dry, dull and uninspiring candidate that excited almost no one.  His running mate Sarah Palin did inject excitement for the conservative base, but she had almost no cross over appeal and may actually have worked as a net negative overall.

A rock star vs. Mr. Rodgers on Valium.

Even with this matchup, Obama’s margins in key swing states was not nearly as large as you may recall.  Most people believe he won by humongous numbers in these states.  But take a look at the margins the highest Dem turnout ever, combined with independent and new voters swept up into the movement produced:

  • CO (9): 215,004 votes
  • FL (27): 236,450 votes
  • IN (11): 28,391 votes
  • IA (7): 146,561 votes
  • NV (9): 120,909 votes
  • NM (5): 125,590 votes
  • NC (15): 14,177 votes
  • OH (20): 262,224 votes
  • VA (13): 234,527 votes

These states added up to a total of 116 electoral votes, which put Obama over the 270 required to win.

However, this is NOT 2008.

In 2012 Obama is no longer the hot new boy band.  He is not the rock star.  There are no more 40,000+ adoring fans in every town; no more Oprah led rallies; no more fashion statements; very few bumper stickers and signs.  The fad is over.

In 2012 Obama has a LOT of specifics for voters to dislike.  He has a record, and it is far from a stellar one, by any objective measure.  His approval has been barely at and more often below 50% for almost 3 years running.

“Hope and Change” is no longer even discussed.  He has gone from being the positive uplifting candidate of 2008 to a snide, snarling attack dog in 2012.  All the positivity that swept up huge parts of the voting public into his “movement” is gone.

2012 has Obama as the sitting President and his opponent is not Mr. Rodgers on Valium.

He faces a candidate with a positive record of his own as Gov of MA.  His opponent is the one drawing ever larger crowds where ever he goes.  His opponent is the agent of change for an unhappy population this time.  His opponent is not the grumpy old man McCain was, but a likable and pleasant guy, no matter what you think of his politics.

2012 is a totally different election.

Understanding this is key to understanding the polls we have seen.

Almost every polling firm, except perhaps 1 or 2, are expecting the turnout to be very much like it was in 2008.  This means they expect another record turnout for Democrats, a record number of excited “new voters”, and a depressed and low Republican turnout.

Understanding the dynamics of 2008 compared to 2012 makes these assumptions almost laughable.

There is little to no chance the GOP voters will be unmotivated.  Many of them have been looking forward to this opportunity to vote Obama out for almost 3 years or more.

Independent voters are no longer swept up in the euphoria of a rock star candidate, and see Obama as “just another politician”, not an outsider agent of change.  Actually, Romney has more of that vibe this time around.

And Democrat voters are not nearly as whipped into a frenzy as they were in 2008.  The t-shirts and bumper stickers have all but disappeared.  The base of the Democrat Party will vote as they always do, but the less engaged voters will probably have better things to do on Tuesday.  4 years ago voting for Obama was “THE thing to do” and people who don’t normally vote made a point to do so.  In 2012, they will probably go back to their old ways, sitting this one out.

All this adds up to much, if not all the margins in the states above evaporating for Obama.

For example, if only 1 of 10 Obama voters in OH in 2008 either A) change their minds, or B) don’t show up, Obama loses OH.  That is not a far-fetched possibility given the dynamics of 2008 vs. 2012.  Early voting is already showing a huge drop off for Democrats in OH, which is a very bad sign for Obama.

Before you say that not everyone will show up for Romney, either, remember that GOP voters were dejected and turnout was very low in 2008, especially in OH.  His turnout will likely exceed anything McCain was able to produce.

The polls will show a horse race on Tuesday, but I don’t believe that.

The polls showed a horse race in WI during the Walker recall just months ago.  Those polls showed a 51/49 race on election day.

Total voter turnout was close to the same level as the 2008 election (just 15% less overall).  The results were very different, and the makeup of the electorate is why.  The polls assumed the 2008 turnout, and 2008 was long over.

I was actually stunned when the Walker recall election was called just 45 minutes after voting closed.  I told my wife to expect a long night and a nail biter.  I believed the polls.

Fool me once, shame on you…

I expect a few results on Tuesday night that will be “shocking” to the pundits and much of the public.

I think the race for President will probably be over before the polls close on the west coast.  Romney will win FL, NC, VA, and OH by convincing margins (3 – 5 points).  He will also win New Hampshire, which when added to the 4 other states plus “safe states” give him 270 electoral votes and the White House.

Later states to close will also end up in Romney’s column include WI, IA, CO, and NV.

The final count will be 301 for Romney and 237 for Obama.  It may even be a wider spread if states like PA and MI shock the world and end up going red this time around. 

I think those are likely Obama close wins, but this may end up being a landslide defeat where even usually blue states go red.

Obama was a man of destiny in 2008.  He was a hot fad, a cult of personality.

In 2012 he is a damaged incumbent with a poor record and the fad is long over.

  1. Your logic makes such sense. I have felt for months now that Romney will win the popular vote, but without a ‘blow-out’ of sorts, those Democrats won’t concede. Already I hear chatter of law suits being filed in Ohio and stories about it will take days to count the votes, etc. I do worry about that ‘Chicago machine’, but your logic will keep me sane these next few days.

  2. Your reference to the polls before the recall are way off. Perhaps one or two polls (and at least one of those a doubtful internal poll) showed the race between Walker and Barrett as close as 51-49. Most polls as well as the all-important aggregate of all polls showed Walker ahead by around 6 points which was exactly what he won by. In the 538 blog gave Walker something like an 85-90% chance of winning. What’s important to know about Obama’s slender lead in the majority of swing states is that it is not based on one or two polls, but rather an aggregate of dozens and dozens of polls so the cumulative sample size is huge and outliers are smoothed out. There would need to be a systematic and biased failure of all the state polling.

    • A systemic, likely unintentional, bias is exactly what I am calling it. The polls are largely assuming that 2008 turnout will be replicated, and that 2010 election turnouts and voter sentiment was an anomoly, thus it is to be ignored. These polls are only as accurate as the underlying assumptions of voter turnout and composition will be. It is unreal to expect that the record turnout among many groups such as younger voters (who traditionally do not vote in large numbers) will be repeated. Further, party identification has been trending against Democrats for several years.

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