Articles and Analysis


Convention Observations and the LCG Vote Projection Model

Boy, you take two weeks off and the whole political world turns upside down. The following are some quick observations on the current political landscape. Let's start with Obama and the Democrats:

  1. Obama and his team made a tactical error by vacationing in early August. Our sense is that he lost a lot of momentum that his campaign had built up in the Spring and early Summer.
  2. This--combined with his lackluster performance at Saddleback and the campaign's uninspiring television advertising--resulted in his limping into the convention. Several national polls released just prior to the convention showed Obama up by just a couple of points or dead-even with McCain.
  3. However, the convention was a success by the only important measure: it successfully introduced Obama to millions of people who did not know him. Additionally, it matched the historical average for convention bounces (3-5%) by giving Obama a four-point bump in our post-convention poll analysis.
  4. The Obama team won the expectations game regarding the Clinton speeches. For days the media wondered aloud how strong the Clinton(s) endorsement of Obama would be and acted stunned by the strength of their vocal support.
  5. Bill Clinton's speech was a home run. The former President showed again why he is such an effective politician (even if you disagree with what he is saying). He gave the best comparison between the two candidates in explaining why the Democrats are the better choice this year.
  6. The image of Obama's convention speech will stick with voters. Simply put, the production was a show-stopper. Getting 84,000 people in a stadium to see a political speech was impressive enough, but combining that with the Greek columns, the fireworks, confetti shot from a cannon and grand orchestral music made this seem like a Hollywood blockbuster. Nearly twice as many people watched his speech on television compared to John Kerry's in 2004 (38 million viewers compared to 20 million four years ago). Those images will stick with people.
  7. Picking Joe Biden for VP was smart...announcing it on Friday at 1 a.m. was not so smart. The selection added much-needed experience to the ticket. Perception is everything, and the takeaway from most voters was that Obama had the good sense to pick a grown-up. However, we are stunned by the timing of the announcement. It was a major communications misfire and a wasted opportunity.
  8. While the Obama adverstising has been lackluster, some recent spots are beginning to tie McCain to Bush (a strategy which we argued weeks ago they should have been pursuing since June). These are pretty effective.

On the McCain/Republican side:

  1. The Palin pick is neither a game-changer nor a disaster. On the plus side, she has and will continue to invigorate the base, and she is the ONLY thing being talked about both on the convention floor and in newsrooms across the country. In 24 hours, the McCain campaign went from no buzz to being the political version of the iPhone 3G. She is a base pick who will have a cultural connection with alarge swath of the nation's voters. She also brings a reformer edge that compliments McCain. On the other hand, as hundreds of commentators have pointed out, she undercuts the experience argument against Obama. A few comments on the selection:
    1. Vice Presidential nominees do not matter. With the exception of Johnson in 1960 this is the truest thing you can say about Presidential elections. In the end, the only thing they can do is hurt you. This race has always been about Obama and (to a lesser extent) McCain...and it still is.

    2. She is a base pick, pure and simple. This is not about attracting Clinton voters. Her job is to energize a flagging Republican base.

    3. We think this pick will make Biden's job quite a bit harder. If Palin holds her own in the debates and exceeds expectations it is a victory for McCain.

    4. Finally, unlike the Biden roll-out, this one was done beautifully and blunted the Obama post-convention bounce.

  2. McCain's advertising has been vastly better than Obama's. As we pointed out in mid-August the McCain attacks on Obama in July and August kept this thing close. For the most part, the McCain ads have worked because:

    1. They usually make their point clearly and simply
    2. They contrast the two candidates in sharp and relatable terms
    3. They use third party validators (often Obama's primary opponents or his own words) They employ viscerally engaging video that help tell the story
    4. They tell a story that people are already pre-disposed to believe (that Obama is not ready to lead)
    5. Here is a quick sampling of the most recent McCain contrast spots that we think have made a difference:

  3. Yes, they tried to make lemonade out of lemons, but make no mistake: losing a day of free convention advertising was a major blow to the Republicans. They had no choice in delaying/curtailing the opening night, but that doesn't mean it was good for them. In fact, it means 25% less time for defining Obama and laying out McCain's agenda. They get some points for putting the country first but that may be long forgotten in a few days.

  4. With Labor Day in our rear-view mirror, the fundamentals of this campaign (a bad economy, very negative impressions of the incumbent and his party, a dissatisfied electorate) are locked in and they overwhelmingly favor Obama. Every recent national poll (released over the last three days) has Obama up by anywhere from four to eight points. It is still Obama's election to lose.

LCG Regression-Based Vote Projection

Beginning today, we unveil our regression analysis/vote projection. To completely bore (most of) you, we have developed a single line projecting the net McCain vote. We have included all reputable publicly available registered voter polls since June 9th of this year (there are 56 polls in total). The most recent poll includes interviews conducted on Sept 1st. We used SPSS to develop a curvilinear polynomial regression model.
If you project the trend out to Election day, our analysis shows McCain losing by 3.1 percentage points.

Hats off to Chris Blunt who helped develop the model. Truth be told, there really hasn't been much of a trend. It's just a cloud of data points. The regression suggests that there has been some tightening but not enough to close the gap by November 4th. Of course, this assumes no change in the political environment and there will be hundreds of meaningful changes.

horserace regression 2008-9-2.png

Things to watch in the coming days:

  • If the Palin narrative becomes a "process" story. This would be devastating for McCain. The focus on Palin needs to be about her...and not how she was selected or vetted.
  • How much of the GOP convention focus is on Obama. Team McCain will try to bloody Obama with surrogates over the next 48 hours.
  • Whether tropical storm/hurricane "Hanna" is impacting Florida on Thursday evening enough to impact what McCain and the GOP say and do.

Thanks again to Pete Ventimiglia, John Zirinsky and Chris Blunt for their contributions to this Election Monitor.



I disagree with the point that Palin was "not about attracting Clinton voters"

I think this was exactly what the pick originally was intended to do, in addition to energizing the base.

But the McCain camp flopped with their poor vetting, and so now the Palin narrative has morphed into ita all about the base, because there is nothing else..


The Practical Progressive:

Regarding Point #7 on the Democrats:

I believe you miss the significance long-term play Obama made by announcing Biden in the wee hours.

Yes, the old-school conventional media and its audience were all asleep. However, the millions of email addresses and cel phone numbers that they harvested had younger people buzzing about it at clubs, bars, and parties all night long. And hours before the rest of the world woke up to the news.

Those people (who often aren't considered to be "likely voters") now feel they've been given an inside angle on something exciting. In 7 weeks they're going to be pounded with "get out the vote" emails and text messages. Seeds which will fall on more fertile soil than if the news broke at yet another boring press conference on CNN.



As I recall, AP broke the news of the Biden pick, forcing the campaign to announce it sooner than planned.


Florida Voter:

Point number 2 under McCains is troubling. They have to qualify that in saying that McCains "negative" ads have been then Obama's.

I can honestly say I don't know what McCain is going to do differently for my family from what Bush did in the past 8. At least I know alot about Obama's plans based on his ads. All's I know about McCain is that he hates Obama and the Democrats.




In the regression model, are polls weighted equally? Thanks for sharing.


Mark Lindeman:

I think the last time I saw a "curvilinear polynomial regression model" used for predictive purposes, someone fit a quartic to predict when Bush's approval rate would reach 30%. He was off by a couple of years, but I wondered why he stopped there and didn't extrapolate the projection out to zero.

This can't really work. It can be relatively harmless, but I think Steve would be better off without it.


Daniel Thomas:

It's bee na long time since I posted here. Just a quick thought.

I agree with much of what you said about the Republican side but I disagree strongly with point number two about Palin. If you think she is a base pick, you really don't get the Republican base. She is a base pick in terms of her policy but she is not a base pick in terms of her life story, her narrative. That is much more moderate in style and was designed to appeal to Hilly's voters.

I am developing a new blog (slowly) but I actually wrote a more detailed post on this point earlier today.



Gary Kilbride:

That was one of my favorite reads of the cycle. I think the bottom line is deadly accurate. My Excel model may be unsophisticated with too many ideas borrowed from my sports workbooks, but it consistently spits out the same likelihood, Obama by roughly 2-4, with 3 range the most likely. Subjectively I prefer the low end. It's still an open race and once Democrats isolated either a black or a woman I've got to expect tight.

All the variables are fun to debate but IMO they are mostly filler. If two horses are three lengths apart in ability they tend to end up in that relationship time after time, regardless of the pace or racing luck or jockey performance or whatever. In other words, I think it's remarkably meaningless that Obama took a vacation in early August. That reminds me of the nonsense that Ned Lamont blew the race via vacationing immediately after the primary win. The logical breakdown among Democrats, Independents and Republicans in the general election doomed him even if he campaigned 24/7 throughout.

Same thing here. The situational edge in an open race is hardly 6-7 points, or anything close to that. Obama has always been where he figured to be. Pundits are loony to assert he's underperforming.

BTW, Obama's commercials will improve dramatically in coming weeks. That's as safe a prediction as Sarah Palin would be a hit in her convention speech. Obama has clearly been holding back for the stretch run. Some of the best stuff like McCain's relationship to Bush and all the related quotes and pictures have been conspicuously absent. They won't be forgotten.



Thanks for the regression analysis.

You say "... there has been some tightening but not enough to close the gap by November 4th".

How could the model be so predictive? By straight line projection? Surely, it's more sophisticated than that.

Back in 1968, Humphrey was trailing Nixon by some 16 points around Labor Day. But Nixon's lead kept dwindling. And by election day, Nixon won by roughly 1 percent.

Still, your model can be a useful too. And if the political landscape changes drastically over the next few weeks, I'm sure your model will realign the projection accordingly.



Joseph Marshall:

I think I would disagree on one issue, the timing of the Biden choice compared to the Palin choice. Except for Hillary Clinton, there was no reason for anybody to do any more than yawn about all of the other Democratic possibilities.

You could have merely announced Biden any day of the week and nobody would have paid that much attention. The Obama campaign got incredible media mileage about when and how the pick would be announced, 7 full days of it as I remember. He had all the pundits on the edge of their seats with the buzz of it, despite the fact that the pick itself was about as exciting as the last serving in the box of cereal.

This has been one of the key strengths of their campaign from the start: McCain's people know how to make commercials [for a while it seemed like that was all they knew how to do] but Obama's people know how to make NEWS. Every major step for them has been Man Bites Dog. Until Palin, every major step for McCain was Dog Bites Man.

The classic example was two headlines I saw on the same news feed the same day: Obama Gets Rock Star Welcome In Berlin and McCain Visits German Restaurant In Columbus.

McCain finally made real news with the Palin pick, but he made it far too late in the game. At the DNC Obama gained about 4-5 points on his own numbers and 6-8 points on McCain in the space of a week. As of today, nearly a week later, he still has them. I defy you to find a better performance than that since 2000.

McCain probably made the right pick. He is going to need all the turnout he can get from the base. But I don't think he made it at the right time. Had he picked Lieberman, Guliani, Romney, or Thompson, the press would already know almost everything about them and there would have been no fuss.

But picking a complete unknown virtually guaranteed a fuss. No politician alive can avoid doing something doubtful now and then, and every possible blemish on Palin suddenly became news all at once.

It has turned the RNC totally into Palin's show and left our image of McCain as foggy and ambiguous as it has been from the start. A convention is supposed to showcase the candidate, and this one ended up showcasing the wrong one.

And, until the VP debate, there will now be no more reason to cover Sarah Palin than to cover Joe Biden.

He should have picked Palin far sooner, had the fuss, energized his base [who actually got more mileage out of the fuss than anyone else], schedule a bang up speech for her to make, and kept the coverage spotlight for a little while without getting it all tangled up around his key nomination speech. Obama's vacation time would have been perfect for it.

Finally, what McCain's people still have not learned is that keeping the focus on bashing Obama simply doesn't work. It's one of the major reasons Hillary Clinton lost. Bush could get away with it in 2004 because he had had four full years to set his image and his policies in our mind. But this is a totally open game and you have to make people want to vote for you rather than merely against the other guy.

McCain simply has not done this, which is why his numbers are so dismal, and picking a VP who is frankly more interesting than he is and making the RNC about her doesn't help.


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