Princeton Election Consortium

A first draft of electoral history. Since 2004

Symposium on the Law of Democracy – Stanford Law Review

February 7th, 2016, 6:03am by Sam Wang

This weekend I attended a symposium on the Law of Democracy at Stanford University. The schedule is here. The list of attendees and presenters included Stephen Ansolabehere, Nate Persily, Charles Stewart III, Jane Schacter, Bertrall Ross, Sam Isaacharoff, Heather Gerken, Rick Hasen, Robert Bauer, Ben Ginsberg, Richard Pildes, Bruce Cain, Maggie McKinley, Rabia Belt…this is quite a concentration of election-law practitioners and researchers.

Below I give live highlights of selected parts of the program, including:

  • Rick Hasen on voting rights under the current Supreme Court.
  • Federal Election Commissioner former chair Ann Ravel on the broken regulatory process.
  • The legal future of my statistical partisan-gerrymandering standards (article now accepted at SLR).
  • Ben Ginsberg on how this year’s Republican nomination process may play out.
  • The consequences of rising mistrust, not just in government institutions, but across many sectors of society.

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The post-Iowa bounce goes to…Hillary Clinton

February 6th, 2016, 12:54pm by Sam Wang

It is probably hopeless to counteract reporters who weave the tale that Sanders is surging. Based on actual data, it might be exactly the opposite.

  • In aggregated data, Hillary Clinton has gotten approximately a 6-point bounce in New Hampshire. The median margin was Sanders +21.5% in 4 surveys conducted January 26-30. This narrowed to Sanders +15.5% in 6 surveys conducted February 2-5.
  • A daily tracking poll from U.Mass. Lowell shows even more narrowing. On February 1 it showed Sanders +31%, which by February 6th narrowed to Sanders +14%, a 17 percentage point change in Clinton’s favor.
  • In national surveys, Clinton went from a median of Clinton +12% (4 polls, January 22-February 1) to Clinton +16% (3 polls, February 2-4). This is noisy data, but the median change is a national 4-point bounce for Clinton. It is possible there was little change in either direction (see confidence intervals below).

It is likely that Hillary Clinton has remained level or risen in her national standings. This may be counterintuitive, considering the tone of the coverage by the press corps. Since Sanders is still in the lead in New Hampshire, my guess is that few reporters will get static for portraying an imagined surge for him. [Read more →]

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On GOP side: Trump level in N.H., Rubio moves up, Kasich catches up with Cruz

February 6th, 2016, 8:51am by Sam Wang

In New Hampshire, Donald Trump is right where he’s been since August. In seven polls done February 2-4, he is at a median of 29.0 ± 1.4 %. He was rising in late January, but that came back down after the Iowa caucuses on February 1. So he’s stuck…in first place. [Read more →]

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Consequences of Iowa: Trump still strong, new life for Rubio, long-term trouble for Sanders

February 2nd, 2016, 1:21am by Sam Wang

My preliminary take on the Iowa caucuses is that they didn’t alter the trajectory of where things are probably headed for the Democrats: Hillary Clinton is still favored. However, the Republican field could potentially narrow to a three-way race (Trump-Cruz-Rubio) sooner than I had expected, thanks to a strong showing by Marco Rubio.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz switched places relative to polls. To compare the final polls with tonight’s counts, Trump underperformed by 26.5-24.3=2.2%, Cruz overperformed by 27.7-23.5=4.2%, and Rubio overperformed by 23.1-18.0=5.1%. The late swing for Rubio was visible in the final days of polling. All of this is well within the range of normal polling error in primaries. As expected, multiple delegates went to Cruz (7), Trump (7), Rubio (6), and Ben Carson (3). Numbers updated to reflect exact vote shares. After all the fuss, Cruz and Trump appear to be tied for first.

It is premature to say that Trump is doomed. However, he does look a little less inevitable. It is certainly possible that he can crash from his high position in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and nationally. But I think a bigger risk to him is the possibility that tonight’s results will pressure Rubio’s lower-tier rivals to get out sooner rather than later. As I’ve written before, if the field gets down to three candidates after New Hampshire, that opens up a narrow route to stopping Trump. In short, tonight kept Marco Rubio’s chances alive.

On the Democratic side, tonight was substantively bad for Bernie Sanders. After all the talk about hordes of Sanders supporters, in the end he only achieved a near-tie: 23 delegates for Clinton, 21 delegates for Sanders. Iowa is one of the most favorable states for him because of its ethnic composition. But it is not enough to win 50% of white Democrats. To have a chance overall, he needed a big win to (a) indicate that he can get enough white support to compensate for lack of support in nonwhite demographics in other states, and (b) create press coverage to boost him in the coming weeks. Outcome (a) didn’t happen. We’ll see about (b).

One of the most notable features of the Democratic race was the age gap. In an entrance poll, Sanders led by 70% among voters aged 18-29, while Clinton led by 43% among those aged 65 and over. That is a 113-point gap. This difference surely is on the minds of both sides for the weeks and months ahead.

Finally, a word about polling. There seems to be a persistent meme that polls are in trouble. There was no evidence for this. Primaries and caucuses are volatile situations – this is a well-known fact. I have been assuming that home-stretch polls can be off by an average of 5 percentage points. Any fuss tonight is based on the fact that in Iowa, with its tiny turnout and odd voting procedure, Trump was polling 3 points ahead of Cruz, and ended up losing by 3 points. It would be a mistake to conclude that Trump’s support is illusory in other states. Quite the opposite. A 6-point error would not affect his ranking anywhere else. For now.

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Iowa discussion thread

February 1st, 2016, 7:50pm by Sam Wang

Follow the returns at HuffPost, the New York Times, and Red Racing Horses.

“Will Marco Rubio come in a strong third, or a weak third?” That was an actual pundit question. Data-ish punditry welcome below.


12:09am, Tim in CA: “Iowa and New Hampshire may represent a high water mark for Sanders. And in the case of Iowa, that high water mark is a tie. That result doesn’t look good enough for him in the long run. New Hampshire is even more favorable to him, so he will probably win it. But then comes SC and NV, and after that the Super Tuesday states. The tide will start turning to Hillary. That is the big unreported story, right?”

12:07am: The Duke asks, “Will we get a ‘I was overconfident in the polls and my model was wrong’ post from you?” My short answer: no way!

Firstly, let me get out of the way that this misusage of “model” really grates on me. When I report simple poll medians, there’s no model to speak of. This colloquial terminology has always bothered me.

But to address what the Duke meant to ask: my estimate of probabilities was simple, and seems OK. I suggested that the Iowa data indicated a 70% probability of a Trump win, 60% for Clinton. These probabilities were based on the idea that poll medians could be off by an average of 5 percentage points. For now it appears that the polling error was about 2 percentage points for Trump, the same for Clinton. These are actually pretty small errors. The big story tonight was a net move from Trump to Rubio, as I pointed out. Also, think about it…those probabilities would only be both right 70%*60%=42% of the time…in other words, a 58% probability that either Trump or Clinton would lose. That’s the way it goes when outcomes are uncertain.

I will stick with one statement: Sanders needed a clear win tonight, and he didn’t get it. For the moment, I see tough sledding for him in the weeks ahead.

Here is one error I may have made: I didn’t think Iowa would narrow the field. But Rubio’s strong performance might just do that. We will see.

11:25pm: NYT now has delegate projections. On GOP side (97% reporting): 8 Cruz, 7 Trump, 6 Rubio, 2 Carson, 1 Paul. Democrats (93% reporting): 21 Clinton, 21 Sanders.

11:17pm: I agree with Pechmerle – the “strong third” thing ended up not being that silly. If it narrows the GOP race to three candidates soon (Trump, Cruz, Rubio), that’s the most likely route to a not-Trump outcome.

10:45pm: The Des Moines Register site was terrible.

10:25pm: Cruz, then Trump, then Rubio. With a chance that Trump will fall to third. That is about a 5% deviation from polls. Wow.

10:20pm, Froggy: “A reminder that Ann Selzer had it Trump 28, Cruz 23, Rubio 15, Carson 10. Oops!” but “Not a total loss for her – Carson does have 9.3%.” ow.

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What To Look For in the Iowa Caucuses

February 1st, 2016, 9:05am by Sam Wang

(updated since January 29th) After the mindnumbing levels of coverage over the last year…the first actual voting of the primary season finally starts tonight, with the Iowa caucuses. To answer the simple horserace question, Donald Trump seems positioned to come out on top on the Republican side, as is Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side. In both cases, polls narrowed over the weekend, adding a dose of uncertainty.

For the long term, a better question to ask is: can we get clues about who will eventually get the Republican and Democratic nominations? (For a hint, mouse over the image.) To get a sense of where things might be headed, here’s what I will be thinking about tonight.

On both sides, the race appears to have narrowed over the weekend. Iowa is a must-win state for Bernie Sanders. Neither Trump or Clinton needs it. And what other GOP candidates need, Iowa probably won’t deliver. [Read more →]

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On CNN w/Smerconish today, 9:30am Eastern

January 30th, 2016, 8:35am by Sam Wang

…to talk about Iowa and beyond. Tune in! (Update: here it is.)

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Thoughts on Faulty Priors

January 22nd, 2016, 9:15am by Sam Wang

Update: Reader Sourav takes a different view: “In this age it is hard for a Black Swan event to happen without any indication….People touting the ‘But Herman Cain was ahead this time 4 years ago’ theory were misreading the data. No one in 2012 had a consistent lead for so long. Trump has been the most retweeted candidate, highest Google search volumes. If the data pundits ignored all this, they did it at their own peril.” Sourav also has some analytics of Trump’s unusually large announcement bump here.

Like I said two weeks ago, Donald Trump is the strongest GOP Presidential front-runner since George W. Bush. Nothing’s happened to change that.

In this week’s news, Sarah Palin endorsed Trump. Then Bob Dole said Trump would be better than Ted Cruz. There are exceptions, but that’s quite a range. Belatedly, The Upshot and Nate Silver are coming around, which is quite a change.

This leads me to a question I have been pondering: what can we learn when quantitative punditry goes off track? [Read more →]

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The Semicentennial Upheaval

January 18th, 2016, 9:07pm by Sam Wang

About every fifty years, a major U.S. political party undergoes an upheaval. It’s graphically represented here by Randall Munroe, in what may be his finest chart.

Molly Ball asks whether we are witnessing such an upheaval. A fine piece of reporting in The Atlantic.

From comments, Kevin says:  The problem with the upheaval theory is that Republicans currently dominate Congress, the Supreme Court, governorships, and state legislatures. The rhetoric, tactics, and policy positions of the Republican party have been shifting drastically for years already. Stylistic differences aside, there isn’t much daylight between the pronouncements of Trump/Cruz and the rest of the field, even Kasich. If Trump or Cruz gets nominated, it will be a moment to look around and recognize that it has been their party for a while.

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Presidential candidates ranked according to their usefulness in a bar fight

January 15th, 2016, 11:31pm by Sam Wang

…because it’s Friday night. Time for a break from serious analysis. Instead, some drinkin’ and brawlin’. Check out this amazing list from

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