(Update: In the comments I answer questions. Also see this analysis. -Sam)
(Update 2: A major bottom line of this post was to give to key races as detailed on my ActBlue page, or on the other side via the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Thanks to all who gave. -Sam)
I’ve noticed a lot of continued speculation about the Presidential race. You ask about the Bradley effect, voter purges, and other detailed topics. It’s all over the comments section, both here and on other sites.
As immersed as I am in the analysis, I am only now noticing that many of you are taking a little time to adapt to current conditions. This post is directed at those of you who are rooting for one side – Democrats and Republicans alike. It is time for you to take a good, hard look at what is going on. Whatever your personal preference may be, a Democratic sweep is coming. The storm is about to make landfall, and we know where. The question is what you should do about it.
Where the Presidential race stands. By the standards of Presidential elections since 1992, Barack Obama is far ahead. For most of this season he has been running about 50 EV ahead of where John Kerry ran at the same point in 2004, which ended in a near-tie. Currently the gap is even larger – it’s nearing Clinton v. Dole proportions. In the face of a down economy and abysmal approval ratings for the Bush Administration, a lead of this size by a Democrat is essentially insurmountable.
This is why John McCain’s tactics have become increasingly savage – it’s his last stand. It is why Obama has started to buy 30-minute blocks of time – he is shooting for a massive blowout. Conservative commentators are jumping ship, writing obituaries for the Republican Party or even coming out for Obama. The writing is on the wall. Every knowledgeable insider on either side knows it.
At a time like this, one impulse is to worry or grasp for straws, depending on who you are rooting for. You might like to speculate on the Bradley effect, in which polls overstate the support for the black candidate. This effect was never more than 2-3 percentage points in the first place, and signs of it disappeared over a decade ago. You might want to know if cell phone users are undersampled. Perhaps, but only by a little, and that’s a population that favors Obama by an even larger margin than the general population. You might want to know if pollsters’ likely voter models are off. This effect isn’t going to be more than a few points, and could well be zero. All of these potential errors are either negligible or suggest that Obama has more support than polls now state. In short, the wind is at Barack Obama’s back. I currently expect a final outcome of Obama 318-364 EV, McCain 174-220 EV.
The last normal game-shifting point in a national campign is the first debate, which worked in Obama’s favor. Of course, it is always possible to imagine an extreme scenario in which the outcome is different. Recent inflammatory words of McCain and Palin do increase the odds of a tragic event. But affecting the likelihood of such a freak occurrence is out of your reach.
Making your efforts pay off. An example of wasted effort at this point is making an additional contribution to either Presidential campaign. I realize that for some of you, this is a difficult proposition. If you are already committed to turning out the vote for your candidate, by all means do so. But if you still have time or money to spare, think about the following argument.
In general, any contribution you make to a strongly leading or trailing candidate makes little difference in the outcome. It’s like voting in Massachusetts or Utah: whether you do or don’t essentially makes no difference in the outcome. The same is true for campaign contributions. In the best of worlds, $100 to Obama-Biden or McCain-Palin would move the national win probability by an infinitesimal amount. Even 0.00001% would be an overstatement.
The place to make a difference is at the margins. Take the Georgia race, in which incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss is defending his seat. In 2002, Chambliss won office by tarring Vietnam war hero and triple-amputee Max Cleland with an alleged sympathy for Osama bin Laden. Now Chambliss is fighting for his political life, and is in a dead heat with Democratic challenger Jim Martin. If you had the choice of driving voters to the polls in Georgia or in South Carolina, you’d be dead wrong to pick South Carolina. By the same token, a contribution in Georgia, but not South Carolina, might make a small difference in the outcome.
What your contribution buys. The outcome of the 2008 campaign determines the size of the working majorities in next year’s Congress. Next year, top priorities for any President and Congress will be the war in Iraq, the financial meltdown, health care, and global warming. It will be an unenviable and enormously difficult task. If Obama wins, as I expect he will, what he accomplishes will depend critically on how many votes he has in Congress. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, your point of leverage in this process is the Senate, where a minority of 41 can stop a bill from becoming a law.
What I suggest you do. For all these reasons, I have identified three Senate races as being among the most effective places you can put your effort or money. This is my advice to everyone, Democrats and Republicans. The Republican National Committee may be about to act along these lines. These races may become less competitive. Others may come into the picture. But right now they are the best targets, period.
Tonight I’m donating to my side – Merkley, Franken, and Martin – via my ActBlue page. Some of you might want to contribute to the other side via the National Republican Senatorial Committee. I assure you that in either case, the donation will have the maximum possible leverage in what happens in 2009.