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Is Obama Underachieving?


"With a restive electorate, with an economy that's sort of chugging around, with a war in the background, at the end of eight years of Republican rule in the White House, Obama should be way ahead."
Karl Rove, Face the Nation, August 10th

The conventional wisdom put forth by political pundits is that Obama should be winning this election by huge margins. The argument is that with a weak economy and an unpopular president, the Democratic nominee should be "crushing" the Republican nominee and the fact that Obama hasn't had double-digit leads throughout means that there must be something wrong. But how well should the Democrat really be doing in this race? Is Obama really underachieving as much as most people assume?

To get a sense of whether Obama is underachieving, we first need to know how the Democrat should be doing in this election. This can be difficult to quantify, but one way of doing so is to borrow from political science models that are used to project presidential election outcomes. Each presidential election year, a handful of political scientists publish their predictions in PS: Political Science & Politics. Most of these models include at least some of the following: various measures of the status of the economy, an accounting for which party holds the White House (and how long they have been there), and the president's approval rating. This year, all but one model predicted a Democratic victory in the presidential race.

These models can provide us with some guidance on how well Obama should be performing in this race. After all, they are based on the same economic and political factors that pundits have used as evidence for their claims that Obama is underachieving. In the chart below, I show the percentage of the two-party vote that each model predicted the Democrat would win in this election. (I excluded 3 predictions that use polling data from earlier in the campaign as one of their predictors. Since a measure of Obama's support earlier in the race is included in the model, their predictions wouldn't provide good estimates of how the Democrat should be performing). The chart also includes the variables being used in each model to generate the predictions. The horizontal line indicates the share of the two-party support that Obama is currently winning in the Pollster.com national trend.

predictions.PNG

The predictions indicate that the Democratic nominee should win anywhere between 50.1% and 58.2% of the two-party vote. Currently, Obama is receiving 54% of the two-party support in the Pollster.com trend estimate. That places him right in the middle of the range of predictions. By the way, if you are keeping score, Alan Abramowitz's model is presently closest to the two-party breakdown in the national polling. His model generated this prediction based on the president's low approval rating, the second quarter GDP growth, and the fact that Republicans have controlled the White House for 8 years.

Despite the fact that pundits have claimed that Obama is not performing as well as he should be given the economic and political conditions, the models used by political scientists to predict election outcomes--models based on these very conditions--tell a different story. Obama is currently out-pacing the predictions made by some models and lagging only a few percentage points behind others. But his support does not stray more than 4.2% away from any of these predictions. Thus, there isn't much support here for the notion that Obama is greatly underachieving in this election. At least not at this point in the race.

 

Comments
VonnegutIce9:

This got completely overlooked by absurdity in the other forum, and it seems a little more appropriate here, so I'll post it again!

I've decided it would be fun to compare the Mid-October polls from the 2004 election in states that Bush won to our present state polls:

*Note: All current polls are RCP (Real Clear Politics) Averages:

Iowa:

IA: (CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll 10/16-18/04)
Bush +6.0

2004 Result: Bush +0.67
2008 Poll: Obama +11.8

Net Gain/Loss 2004: Bush -5.4
Net Gain/Loss 2008: Obama +12.4

Montana:

MT: (Mason-Dixon 10/18-20/04)
Bush +21.0

2004 Result: Bush +9.2
2008 Poll: McCain +9.2

Net Gain/Loss 2004: Bush -11.8
Net Gain/Loss 2008: McCain +0.0

Indiana:

IN: (Survey USA 10/17-19/04)
Bush +19

2004 Result: Bush +20.7
2008 Poll: McCain + 3.8

Net Gain/Loss 2004: Bush -1.7
Net Gain/Loss 2008: McCain -16.1

Ohio

OH: (Gallup 10/17-19/04)
Kerry +1.0

2004 Result: Bush +2.1
2008 Poll: Obama +3.2

Net Gain/Loss 2004: Bush +3.1
Net Gain/Loss 2008: Obama +5.3

West Virginia:

WV: (Mason-Dixon 10/15-18/04)
Bush +5

2004 Result: Bush +12.9
2008 Poll: McCain +1.5

Net Gain/Loss 2004: Bush +7.9
Net Gain/Loss 2008: McCain -11.4

Virginia:

VA: (Survey USA 10/16-18/04)
Bush +6.0

2004 Result: Bush +8.2
2008 Poll: Obama +8.1

Net Gain/Loss 2004: Bush +2.2
Net Gain/Loss 2008: Obama +16.3

North Carolina:

NC: (Survey USA 10/16-18/04)
Bush +3.0

2004 Result: Bush +12.4
2008 Poll: Obama +1.2

Net Gain/Loss 2004: Bush +9.4
Net Gain/Loss 2008: Obama +10.6

Colorado:

CO: (Rasmussen 10/18/04)
Bush +5.0

2004 Result: Bush +4.7
2008 Poll: Obama +5.8

Net Gain/Loss 2004: Bush -0.3
Net Gain/Loss 2008: Obama +10.5

New Mexico:

NM: (Mason-Dixon 10/15-18/04)
Bush +5.0

2004 Result: Bush +0.7
2008 Poll: Obama +8.4

Net Gain/Loss 2004: Bush -4.3
Net Gain/Loss 2008: Obama +9.1

Nevada:

NV: (Survey USA 10/16-18/04)
Bush +7.0

2004 Result: Bush +2.6
2008 Poll: Obama +3.0

Net Gain/Loss 2004: Bush -4.4
Net Gain/Loss 2008: Obama +5.6

Florida:

FL: (Survey USA 10/15-17/04)
Kerry +1.0

2004 Result: Bush +5.0
2008 Poll: Obama +4.8

Net Gain/Loss 2004: Bush +6.0
Net Gain/Loss 2008: Obama +9.8

Missouri:

MO: (Survey USA 10/16-18/04)
Bush +6.0

2004 Result: Bush +7.2
2008 Poll: Obama +1.8

Net Gain/Loss 2004: Bush +1.2
Net Gain/Loss 2008: Obama +9.0

North Dakota:

ND: (MSU/WDAY 10/18/04)
Bush +20.00

2004 Result: Bush +27.6
2008 Poll: Obama +2.0

Net Gain/Loss 2004: Bush +7.6
Net Gain/Loss 2008: Obama +29.6


States where Bush gained points between Mid-Oct. and Election Day: OH, WV, VA, NC, FL, MO, ND
States where Bush lost points between Mid-Oct. and Election Day: IA, MT, IN, CO, NM, NV

States where Obama gained +5.0 points from 2004 Result: All States
States where Obama gained +10.0 points from 2004 Result: IA, MT, IN, WV, VA, NC, CO, ND
States where Obama gained +15.0 points from 2004 Result: IN, VA, ND
States where Obama gained +20.0 points from 2004 Result: ND

States where Bush lost and Obama gained (from highest margin to lowest): IN (+15), MT (+10), CO (+10)

____________________

Thanks for providing a scientific basis for what I've been feeling all year. Even in the best of circumstances, no way would a black man be running away with a US election. I'm just thrilled he's going to get all he needs - 270.

See who's been inducted into the Hypocrites Hall of Infamy.

____________________

dthom71:

The idea that Obama is underachieving is ridiculous. John McCain has been liked by the public for a while. During the primaries, McCain was beating Hillary in head to head matchups and trailing Obama. When polled against other GOP candidates, Obama usually lead by 15-20 points. People genuinely like McCain and think he's somewhat different.

____________________



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