Is Obama Really Going to Win? (Part II - Big Data Baseline)
In my first post, I asked what baseline we’re working with this year . . . is it President Obama’s election to lose, or Governor Romney’s?
Instead of starting with current polls that try to guess at who in the sample are going to show up in November (some “likely” voters stay home, some “unlikely” vote), I think it might be more clarifying to begin with who we know actually showed up in 2008 and who likely showed up in 2010, then see what 2012 looks like if we put those two together.
There is a spectacular political science resource called the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) with more than 30,000 respondents from the 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections. The 2006 and 2008 data have been validated against voter file information, which means we don’t have to rely on self-reported voting (people lie).
The 2008 data match the actual vote totals for the election almost perfectly, and for about 19,000 people, we know that they really voted and that they cast their ballots for the person they said they voted for.
This is addictive data, overdose-grade for a political junky. It is Far more detailed, accurate, and useful than the exit-poll data that the mainstream media’s drowning in. And although the 2010 data aren’t vote-validated, pegging it to those who said they voted in 2008 and 2010 gives a close match to the known 2008 vote.
I think these two elections are the best place to start when we ask what 2012 is likely to look like ... after all, Obama was on the ticket (literally or figuratively) in both years, and it's likely that 2008 and 2010 are the high/low points for Democrats and Republicans.
In 2008, the electorate according to the CCES data was 77 percent white, 11 percent black, and 7 percent Hispanic (exit polls put the white share around 74 percent, but other data sources are closer to CCES). In 2010, the electorate looks like it was about 80 percent white, 10 percent black, and 4 percent Hispanic.
And, not surprisingly, more white 2008 Obama voters “defected” and voted Republican in their House election than the reverse for McCain voters. The House Republican share of the vote increased about 4 points over McCain when you include Obama “defectors” and (net) new Republican turnout.
Let’s give Romney that 4-point bump among white voters in 2012 (concentrating on the white vote just makes things easier and clearer, since the Hispanic vote is relatively small and Democratic, and the black vote, while larger, went so overwhelmingly for Obama).
The minority vote was way down in 2010, but President Obama wasn’t on the ticket . . . I think it’s reasonable to assume that most, but not all, minority voters from 2008 make it to the polls in 2012. Let’s add back in almost all (75 percent) of those Obama voters who stayed home in 2010.
So, what we have is an electorate that looks like a blend of 2008 and 2010, with turnout closer to 2008, and the net partisan shift in the white vote looking like 2010. I’m assuming that the minority vote stays the same as 2008 (for simplicity -- although I think it’s quite possible these voters will shift somewhat Republican).
This is my best estimate of the baseline for 2012 . . . Romney ever so slightly ahead with about 50.4 percent of the two-party vote. The starting point for this race looks exceedingly tight. Let’s hope voters are ready to shift in the right direction.