Nate Silver, Artist of Uncertainty

(Flickr/Randy Stewart)

We’re heading into the last week of a tight presidential campaign, and polls are coming in too fast to count. Partisans everywhere are desperate for omens. But at moments like these, it’s people who care most intensely that the “right outcome” occur who run a high risk of getting it wrong—picking out positive polls for comfort, or panicking over an unusual and unexpected result they don’t like.

Fortunately, our most prominent number cruncher has been giving us the straight story instead of capitalizing on this anxiety. In 2008, Nate Silver correctly predicted the results of all 35 Senate races and the presidential results in 49 out of 50 states. Since then, his website, fivethirtyeight.com (now central to The New York Times’s political coverage), has become an essential source of rigorous, objective analysis of voter surveys to predict the Electoral College outcome of presidential campaigns.

Fri, Oct. 26 Electoral Vote Predictor

Are We Heading toward a Split Decision?

The closer we get to election day—and it is only 12 days away now—the more likely it becomes that the voters render a split decision with Mitt Romney winning the popular vote and Barack Obama winning the electoral college. A new WaPo/ABC national poll of likely voters puts Romney ahead 50 percent to 47 percent. This is the first time Romney has hit 50 percent in this poll. Both sides are enthusiastic, with 95 percent of the Obama supporters and 93 percent of the Romney supporters being somewhat or very enthusiastic. Noteworthy is that 52 percent of the respondents think Obama will win vs. 40 percent who think Romney will win.

Yesterday's Gallup tracking poll also shows Romney ahead 50 percent to 47 percent, but this represents a 4-point gain for Obama in this poll in a week. Romney led by 7 points in Gallup's tracking poll a week ago. While it is difficult to compare results from different pollsters due to different methodologies, Gallup's results suggest that Romney's momentum has stopped and maybe been reversed.

National polls aside, Obama maintains a small but steady lead in the electoral college. In the past two weeks in Ohio, nine polls have had Obama ahead and only one had Romney ahead. Three polls were tied. As we and everybody else has said a hundred times, without Ohio, it is nearly impossible for Romney to win, even if he gets every last vote in the Deep South and a large popular-vote margin. In Nevada, Obama has had leads of at least 2 points in all five polls in the past two weeks. Another key state is Virginia. There in the last two weeks Obama led in five polls and trailed in four. So a plausible outcome is that Romney wins the popular vote but Obama wins the states the Democrats have won the past five elections, plus Ohio, New Mexico, and Nevada, for a total of 271 electoral votes. Virginia would be icing on the cake. With such a narrow victory, Obama would have no mandate at all and we would have four more years of gridlock. Of course, an equally narrow Romney victory coupled with Democratic control of the Senate (thanks to the politics of rape), would yield a similar result.

Virginia Is Still a Toss-Up—and Romney Should Be Worried

In my dispatch from Virginia Beach, I wrote that the state was a toss-up: At the time, President Obama was tied with Mitt Romney at 47.4 percent, down from 48.5 percent before the first presidential debate. In recent days, however, Obama’s star in the commonwealth has brightened, if only by a little bit. The last ten polls, stretching back to the middle of the month, after the vice presidential debate, show a small move in Obama’s direction:

Marry Me in ... Maine?

The sixth in a Prospect series on the 174 ballot measures up for a vote this November.

Last week, I announced my caution about the chances of winning same-sex marriage at the ballot in Maryland. Just after I wrote that, a Washington Post poll showed that voters are leaning 52 percent to 43 percent in favor of upholding the marriage-equality law there. I got a lot of pushback, based on that poll. Look, that’s better than the reverse. But those of us who have watched same-sex marriage get voted on—and voted down—32 times since 1996 have learned a few basic things:

Let's Hold Off on the Champagne, Team Romney

One way to win any close contest is to project an aura of confidence. This is exactly what we’re seeing right now from the Romney campaign. From Politico, you have a campaign advisor declaring that Mitt Romney would win 305 electoral votes on Election Day. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell says that he has a “permanent sustainable” lead, and Romney strategist Stewart Stevens declared that “The majority of Americans don’t want to vote for Barack Obama.”

Are Pollsters Undercounting Latinos?

In the most recent national poll from Monmouth University, Mitt Romney leads President Obama by three points, 48 percent to 45 percent. If you dip into the internals, however, you’ll see something odd: Obama has a small six-point advantage over Latinos, 48 percent to 42 percent. What’s unusual about this is that it runs counter to every other survey of Latino voters, which—on average—show Obama with a 48.4 percent lead over Romney among the group.

Will 2000 Happen Again?

In the last week or so, conventional wisdom has begun to settle on the possibility of an Electoral College/popular vote split. The situation is straightforward: Thanks to a persistent lead in Ohio, Obama ekes out a victory in the Electoral College, but Romney wins a bare majority of the popular vote.

Mon, Oct. 15 Electoral Vote Predictor

Obama Leads in Early Voting

Early voting has started in over 40 states and 7 percent of the voters have already cast their ballots. These votes have broken strongly for President Obama, 59 percent to 31 percent, according to a new Ipsos poll.

Both campaigns are urging their supporters to vote early because a vote banked early can't change, even if the candidate stumbles later. Typically, strong partisans are the ones who vote early. Fence sitters tend to wait until the last minute.

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Sat, Oct. 13 Electoral Vote Predictor

Another Poll Shows Biden Won the Vice-Presidential Debate

An Ipsos poll released yesterday gave Joe Biden a victory over Paul Ryan of 42 percent to 35 percent, with the rest undecided. Biden also won the CBS snap poll 50 percent to 31 percent but lost the CNN snap poll 44 percent to 48 percent. So the bottom line seems to be that Biden had two large wins and one small loss among the three major polls of the debate.

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Laughing All the Way

The most pressing question that Joe Biden faced, heading into Thursday night’s debate, was a tricky one: How do you handle an opponent who’s going to be lying his well-defined buttocks off for 90 minutes? The lack of a strategy for dealing with serial dishonesty had left President Obama dumbfounded in his first debate with Mitt Romney. He shouldn't have been taken aback: The Republican ticket-mates know perfectly well that being honest about their policies and platform would make it impossible for them to win a general election. You can’t advocate deficit-reduction and a $5 billion tax cut and a few extra billion in defense spending and be up front about what all that would actually mean—or whether it’s even mathematically possible.

Some Bounces Just Fade Away

The least interesting part of the latest Gallup poll is the fact that it shows Mitt Romney with a 2-point lead over President Obama among likely voters, 49 percent to 47 percent. Given the extent to which Gallup has shown a close race through most of the year, this was expected. What’s more interesting is the evidence, buried in the article, that Romney’s post-debate bounce was short-lived and is subsiding. Here’s the full range of post-debate polls among registered voters:

Obama: Giving Away Social Security

(AP/Rex Features)

Here is Mitt Romney’s proposal to cut Social Security benefits, from the Romney campaign website: http://www.mittromney.com/issues/social-security

First, for future generations of seniors, Mitt believes that the retirement age should be slowly increased to account for increases in longevity.

Second, for future generations of seniors, Mitt believes that benefits should continue to grow but that the growth rate should be lower for those with higher incomes.

The Great Reset Has Arrived

The Pew Research Center has near-impeccable credentials with its polls, which is why yesterday’s—which showed Mitt Romney ahead by four points among likely voters—inspired mass panic among supporters of President Obama. Andrew Sullivan was at the forefront of the freakout. In a post titled “Did Obama just throw the election away?”, he excoriated Obama’s lackluster debate performance:

Mitt Romney Finally Gets a Bounce

(Jamelle Bouie)

This weekend, the questions for everyone tracking the election was straightforward: Has Mitt Romney received a bounce in the polls on the strength of his debate performance? And has it turned the race into a toss-up? The national pollsters have yet to release their live-interviewer surveys from the last several days, but swing-state polls show signs of improvement for the former Massachusetts governor.