Is Obama really going to win a second term?

Many thanks to Diane for the kind introduction of me and my wife, Sabrina (who might be joining in from time to time). It’s great to be part of the conversation here at Ricochet!

I’ve been told that I’m bad at small-talk, so let’s get right to the point . . . is Obama really going to win a second term?

Let’s face it, this is the big question. The one that keeps supporters and opponents of the President up at night. It’s why each new poll shift and fundraising total sends the politically-obsessed on both sides of the aisle swinging toward relief or depression.

For Romney supporters/Obama opponents, it seems preposterous to think the President could win with the sputtering economy, a fizzled “stimulus,” Obamacare, and all the trouble in the world. 

And yet . . . the polls show a tight election, with Romney typically close but trailing. The election forecast models mostly predict an Obama victory. These models look primarily at economic indicators and presidential approval from recent polling. The economic indicators, at least those used in the models, are bad for Obama but not so bad that they tank his prospects. Same goes for the President’s standing in the polls.

But the polls don’t tell us who will make up the actual electorate this November. Polling does a pretty good job of telling us a few things; a) the opinion, right now, of all adults, b) the opinion of all those who say they are registered voters (sometimes actual registered), and c) the opinion of “likely voters,” which means a pollster’s best guess at the kinds of people who will actually turn out.

I come at all of this from an academic political behavior background, not from straight polling/public opinion. What I find most interesting are what message experiments, like our PocketTrials, reveal about how certain kinds of voters move in response to political “treatments” like campaign ads, news clips or articles with new information. These kinds of experiments identify causation and add to knowledge in a way that traditional polls simply can’t. 

But we have to start somewhere for a baseline. So what’s the best baseline? The polls, or are they hopelessly biased or inadequate? Which models, or are they hopelessly simplified for an election in a time like this? 

I have some thoughts and some really interesting, big, but mostly overlooked academic datasets that I think help ground us, but I wanted to see what everyone thought about this at the outset. 

Is it President Obama’s election to lose, or Governor Romney’s?

  1. Rodin

    While I do believe many of the polling samples are flawed, the main reason Romney is not running easily ahead of Obama is that he has not found enough support among the “none of the above” voters.  Many people of color want to support Obama simply because he is “of color”. Rent-seekers also support Obama because of his vision of government and their short-term needs/desires. 

    Many voters  think a severe natural disaster within the Beltway would be a good start to fixing this country and should be on board with Romney. But they aren’t going to come out to vote in large enthusiastic numbers unless they see a path for a sustained policy change in DC. Putting Paul Ryan  on the ticket raise the possibility that this might be in Romney’s thinking. Tell us the specific targets for the first 100 days, the first 1000 days. Tell us how you’re going to beat Reid like a mule if he is still Senate Majority Leader, and how much better things will be if we capture the Senate. We have something to vote against. Give us something to vote FOR. 

  2. flownover

    It’s the MSM’s to lose. Obama has to stop and think of dumber ways to do things and worse things to happen to him. With the cover he has now, it is really in their inkstained hands and coiffed heads to get him over the top by whatever combinations of lies, distractions, and faux events they can conjure.

    And that is really a question back to you, along with a hearty welcome to Ricochet !

  3. Keith Preston

    Only thing I can figure is that we have a different electorate from the 50+ years I have been alive.

    Who the heck wants four more years of this?

    I would like to believe that the voters who turned out in 2010 are the proper “data set”.  I feel like I’m living in an alternate universe.

  4. James Of England

    I think that Romney is somewhat behind, but that the race is close. I think it will be decided by the volume of volunteer turnout and enthusiasm.

  5. EThompson
    Adam Schaeffer, Guest Contributor:

    I have some thoughts and somereallyinteresting, big, but mostly overlooked academic datasets that I think help ground us, but I wanted to see what everyone thought about this at the outset. 

    Is it President Obama’s election to lose, or Governor Romney’s?

    Please don’t wait for my opinion; if you have any cogent info to share with us, don’t keep us hanging!

    James Of England: I think that Romney is somewhat behind, but that the race is close. I think it will be decided by the volume of volunteer turnout and enthusiasm.

    Pls explain why the worst president in our history (Warren G. Harding can relax now!) is still running a competitive race? (Hint: we could use a thorough J of E analysis right about now.)

  6. Merina Smith

    I am highly suspicious of polls right now because communication is so different than in any other year.  Who answers their phone any more, especially an unknown number?  How do pollsters contact people in order to get an accurate read on public opinion?  I’m very skeptical that they’ve figured out how to do this in the age of new media.  I think their tools are very flawed and that they can give us only the most crude estimate of what is really going on out there.  On the other hand, it is perfectly clear where the MSM stands.  There are signs that no one beleives a word they say, and it seems to me that they grow ever sillier, but I worry that for people who do not follow politics they might make inroads.  I’m firmly convinced, however,  that conservatives are far more excited to vote in this election, and IMO that is the reason that Romney is going to win.  I think that a close race consequently goes to Romney.  If there’s an upside to the current state of affairs, it’s that he won’t become overconfident. 

  7. The Mugwump

    My prediction is based on the trends since 2009:

    * Spring 2009:  the Tea Party erupts out of nowhere.

    * January 2010:  Scott Brown takes Ted Kennedy’s seat in a special election.

    *  November 2010:  The Democrats are routed in the midterms.

    *  June 2012:  Scott Walker wins his recall election.  The polls miss the final result by a wide margin.  

    I don’t think Obama’s personal popularity makes him immune from this trend.  Turnout will decide the election and conservatives are highly motivated.  Obama loses. 

  8. Steven Jones

    I’m with Dr. Rahe – in coming weeks, the polls will break decidedly in Romney’s favor, and he will win in a landslide.

    Up to this point, most of the electorate have not been paying close attention. Further, many of those polled don’t want to go on record as opposing the first minority president. Nor do I discount the possibility that some of those taking polls are framing questions to achieve the desired results – attempting to shape public opinion as much as to gauge it.

  9. Nick Stuart

    At this point polls are immaterial.

    If you want Romney to win, do something to help make that happen.

    Contact persuadable friends and relatives in swing states and ask them to get active.

    Sign up to make phone calls (the Romney campaign has a website you can use to make calls from your home toll free).

    Get in touch with your local Republican party organization and help walk precincts.

    Even if you live in a state (like my dear kakistocratic People’s Republic of Illinois) it’s important to turn out the Romney vote (and help the down ticket races) because the nation can’t afford a repeat of 2000, and it’s important Romney win the popular vote decisively.

  10. Fricosis Guy

    Ditto… IMO, the polls will end up even more skewed than Brown vs. Coakley and the Scott Walker recall.  People don’t want to admit they’ve gone sour on Dear Leader.

    Besides, free speech isn’t quite as free these days.  Answer a pollster the wrong way and the federal probation folks may pay you a midnight call.

    ~Paules: My prediction is based on the trends since 2009:

    * Spring 2009:  the Tea Party erupts out of nowhere.

    * January 2010:  Scott Brown takes Ted Kennedy’s seat in a special election.

    *  November 2010:  The Democrats are routed in the midterms.

    *  June 2012:  Scott Walker wins his recall election.  The polls miss the final result by a wide margin.  

  11. Keith Preston

    Is this president immune to economic conditions…and thus violate this “data set” for the first time since 1980?

  12. skipsul

    I can only offer the Ohio perspective, but Barry here is doing better than he deserves.  Barry bought Ohio with the Auto bailouts, and the unions here feel they owe him loyalty back.  Add in last year’s issue 5 debacle and and a lack of advertising by Romney, an unavailibility of Romney yard signs (I’ve got the only one in my whole development I think), and at least from here it looks like Romney has given up Ohio.

    He could win here.  He SHOULD win here, but he’s playing it cool.

    But the real poll to watch for Ohio is the Sherrod Brown / Josh Mandel race.  If THAT goes our way, then my hope for a Romney win here will be restored.

  13. ParisParamus

    How did polling do in predicting the scale of the 2010 House victory? Isn’t that a good place to start? The biggest difference I see with 2010 is that the MSM is on Def Con Highest (3?) now but less so in 2010

  14. Xennady
    ParisParamus: How did polling do in predicting the scale of the 2010 House victory? Isn’t that a good place to start? The biggest difference I see with 2010 is that the MSM is on Def Con Highest (3?) now but less so in 2010 · 

    From my recollection the polling wasn’t bad. I saw plenty of speculation that the GOP would pick up even more house seats and the win the senate- but I also saw professional pollsters who made predictions that were close to the actual result.

    I also recall quite intense hair-splitting analysis in 2006 speculating that all the polls predicting the GOP would get shellacked were were wrong for this reason or that.

    Nope. They were right. So I’m not sure I buy all the analysis now telling me Romney is really ahead because of oversampling of democrats, etc.

    Bottom line- vote. Ignore the polls.

  15. Boymoose

    Obama will lose by 6.625% popular vote.  Cuz I said.

  16. At The Rubicon

    My 84-year-old mother, a lifelong Democrat, surprised me the other evening my telling me she is voting for Romney.  The venom she exhibited when speaking about Obama was surprising.  really. very surprising.  As we drove down the road she said, “I worry about what the future of this country will look like for my grandchildren.”

    I’d venture that there are a lot like her.

  17. Sweezle

    I can’t think of a single reason to vote for four more years of Obama. I don’t even think he’s a “nice guy” so that won’t be on my list either.  And I remain hopeful that on election night I will be watching the MSM pundits struggle to explain why their guy lost. And I can sleep well with a big smile on my face.

  18. crizzyboo

    Can you please skip what we think about this and tell us your “really interesting, big, but mostly overlooked academic datasets?”

  19. Indaba

    It is Obama’s.

    I am a big fan of the RR team as I am in private equity and know Romney’s track record. Romney also had articles published in Canada that were about GM that explained why the government bail out was bad for business overall.

    I keep hearing that he presents himself on too narrow a platform. He coMes across as elite. Putting his wife up to speak to women is not going to do it as there are so many workng women.

    I do apologize but Stephen Harper and his conservatives in Canada cracked the female vote by using marketing techniques. Harper targetted soccer mums as this segment spans at home and at work mums. His government gave a variety of tax refunds, not payouts, for child expenses from piano lessons to hockey. There are five planks to the conservatives and one of them is family. This is missing from RR.

    If Ryan and Romney did speak directly to soccer mums or their own segment, women will react well. I do hear that Republicans are white religious males who want the wife in the kitchen, pregnant. Is that image  true? 

  20. Strategoist

    Everyone is talking about +D polls, but not everyone is talking about White Vote/Non-White Vote. 

    Brownstein wrote an article in the Nat Journal about shifting demos and the polls that reflect them.  If the assumptions are White Vote = 75% or less: Obama wins.  Is 2012 more like 2010, or more like 2008?

    Most polls are assuming something like 28% Non-White Vote, and that is why they show an Obama edge.  It is a VERY slim edge-even with the segmentation.

    I don’t think Non-Whites will come out like they did in 2008, and the Anti-Obama wave has not abated.  Unless he rips off his face in the debates and reveals a space-alien visage, Romney should win a shocker for the MSM.  :)