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A pause from our usual programming

November 5th, 2008, 4:59pm by Sam Wang

I realize that many readers do not share my politics. I’ve attempted to use my judgments, but not my preferences, in the analysis – perhaps with success. My intention was to provide any thinking person with relatively transparent analysis of polling data. So I was pleased to receive this note: “Although our politics are different, I certainly appreciate your state meta analysis. I especially liked the cheat sheet you posted. I used it last night during election coverage. Sincerely, T.W.”

The need to keep a critical distance has kept me from really appreciating what happened yesterday. I’ll offer more technical analysis after more scraps of returns come in. First I need a little recuperation time. Until then, I hope you’ll indulge me for a moment…

Last night, technical issues had my attention. I had already established the basic result as being overwhelmingly likely, and was testing the predictions (New Hampshire, Obama +11%, check). It wasn’t until midnight that the news hit. Even before Obama spoke, the sight of him and his family was so powerful. I found out that spontaneous parties assembled, including the street in front of the White House.

This morning I went to my class thinking that my students have grown up thinking of the Bush Administration’s assault on our nation’s institutions as typical government at work. Now we’re in pretty deep; Paul Krugman says it well, as does The Onion (two ways).

But today feels like walking into the sun.

Tags: 2008 Election

26 Comments so far ↓

  • Michael

    Thank you, Sam, and congratulations on the accuracy of the predictions. If this is the thread where we indulge each other for a moment, I have to say that I’ve been struggling since the moment when Ohio was called to put all of my feelings about this election into a few succinct words. The closest I’ve been able to come to is to say that I feel like I got Bobby Kennedy back last night. Those like me who are on the wrong side of fifty, but not by too much, might understand what I mean.

    As for Mr. Krugman’s comments, I certainly understand and largely agree with his point. But while I do think it’s fair to view this election as a repudiation of the politics of division, what matters is not whether we see it that way, but whether the politicians see it that way. I was genuinely moved by Senator McCain’s speech, and I sincerely hope that Republican strategists will spend at least some of their time in the coming weeks asking themselves whether they might have garnered a few more votes had those sentiments been the theme of his campaign.

  • bks

    Give me a break. McCain fought a dirty, cynical campaign, punctuated by the introduction of “Joe the Neanderthal” and Sarah Nieman-Marxist. One speech does not absolve him of the damage that he has done to our Republic. One million dead Iraqi civilians speak to that.


  • Peter Davis

    American flags were being waved amongst a spontaneous 4000 person street party in Seattle’s Capital Hill district last night. Cap Hill is Seattle’s equivalent of the Castro in SF. Everyone was delirious with joy after 8 years of feeling disenfranchised from our government. I have *never* seen an American flag hanging from a building here before. Amazing!

  • Blair

    Michael is on to something in his comment. I am (barely) on the right side of fifty and so was too young to realize how huge a loss the country experienced in Robert J. Kennedy’s assassination, or for that matter Martin Luther King, Jr., and before these, John F. Kennedy, Jr. Only in the fullness of time and education did I realize it. My father ran a race for the House of Representatives in 1986 (losing by a narrow margine to an incumbent Republican). Campaigning with him or separately, I was amazed to hear old-time Democrat operatives speak wistfully of those years, when rallies drew thousands of people who believe fervently that government can improve the human condition. Although there have been some minor upheavals since RJK’s time, it is only in the campaign and election of Barack Obama that this hope and enthusiasm has returned. Indeed, only future historians and analysts can tell us whether it has even eclipsed that of Bobby Kennedy and his peers. We as a nation should stand proud at our achievement, and certainly the world has applauded it. Provided the Obama administration follows through, there is no need to see further generations of Americans suffer the malaise that their forebears have endured.

  • Craig Z.

    My confidence in the meta-analysis relieved so much of the anxiety I might otherwise have felt while waiting for returns to come in (thanks!). I was able to just soak everything in and appreciate the interest that my kids (13 and 10) showed in the election. Our 10 year old, Peter, was especially cute–every hour when a new batch of polls closed he was glued to the TV to see the next set of projections. I’ll never forget, and I hope that he doesn’t either, the power and significance of the event. It was such a special moment to watch Obama’s victory speech with my son on my lap–it gave me so much hope for the future of our country and for the next generation.

  • Ron E.

    I’m on the younger side of 50, so for me this was similar to what I felt when Bill Clinton was elected. Only I expect Obama with his cool, methodical approach will have more success than Clinton did at getting his agenda passed through Congress and I don’t expect that he will get bogged down in any of Clinton’s extracurricular activities.

  • James

    Also a bit on the wrong side of 50, I shared Michael’s sense that we got a bit of Bobby Kennedy back last night.

    On election eve in 2000, I had parked at Safeway when I heard the news about Florida flipping to Bush, and I cried for my children.

    Last night, by chance, I was parked at the same location, and saw a young couple walk by with an infant just as I heard McCain’s concession speech. This time, tears of relief as I looked at their child.

    Thanks again, Sam, for helping me keep my wife from completely stressing out these past few weeks.

  • Trispec

    An incredible night, miraculous even, not in then tradional religious sense, but in the wonder of all humanity shocking itself with possibilty of hopes and dreams coming TRUE right befor billions of eyes.

    So I believe in hard mathematics of statistics, as a math major in college. I kept quoting from PEC all week long. No one would believe the numbers. “Gabage in” dooms all statistical prediction. I kept saying, not if error is controlled, not ifnthe samples are true random.

    Thankfully humanity and math came together to reenforce each other in this incredible way.

    Let the healing to our souls and our minds from the horrors of the last eight years begin. Amen.

  • Michael

    One speech does not absolve him…

    Who said it did? What I did say is that I would hope that his party might come around to the idea that there are some pretty good reasons why his concession speech was a lot more appealing than the tone and substance of his campaign.

  • Oz Observer

    USA has just emerged from the worst eight years in its history, worse than the 1850’s, worse than Reconstruction, worse than the robber barons of the 1880’s and 90s worse than the Harding & Coolidge years…because you’ve involved the rest of the world in your Guantanamos, and your hopeless wars, and your separation of rich and poor.As a fervent admirer of American ideals as exemplified in Lincoln and the two Roosevelts, I’ve wept to see these ideals dragged through the mud by the monstrosity that was the Bush Administration.
    It may or may not be a New Dawn, but after listening to Obama I could at last say, God Bless America.

  • Observer

    Michael, I’m a bit further past 50, and last night really brought tears to my eyes, repeatedly. So much resonance from ’68 (when I worked registering new voters for RFK), but turning out so much better.

  • DFS

    Thanks for everything Sam

  • joe

    Care to handicap the still extant path to 60 for the Dems? Franken wins the recount, Georgians come to their senses and Chambliss loses the runoff, and Palin decides to run herself in the special election to replace Stevens, and loses because she has been exposed as incompetent.


  • Sam Wang

    joe – no way. I think P(Franken)=0.2, P(Martin)=0.1, and P(Begich)=0.3 (mainly because Palin might not run). That gives 0.1*0.2*0.6=0.6%, about 170-1 against.

  • Mark

    Thanks again for helping me to stay sane before the election, Sam. I too am optimistic, having seen that our country is still able to hold the incumbents accountable for their mistakes, even when they seemed as firmly entrenched as Bush and Cheney. And I think we may go from one of the worst presidents in the current occupant to an excellent leader in Obama. We are still only looking at potential greatness, but if Obama governs like he campaigned, the country will be in good hands.

    And Merkley has moved into the lead in Oregon, so Dems are at 57 minimum. 56 would have been quite an outlier on your senate chart. Slow counting of votes in Portland delayed the results in this case, but Merkley will probably defeat Smith by 2-3% when all votes are counted. Now if only we can find a few hundred missing votes for Franken…

  • Paul Luther

    I will never doubt you again. There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. And then there is Princeton Election Consortium.

  • Bruce W

    Oz Observer, the wonderful thing about democracy is that people get to choose their government; the dangerous thing about democracy is that people get to choose their government. In a time of great prosperity and security, this country elected a president who played on people’s greed and selfishness, and in a time of insecurity and self-doubt, he was reelected by playing on people’s fear. In both cases, he barely succeeded and yet was able to do tremendous damage.

    I have seen photos of celebrations around the world, and can practically hear the world’s collective sigh of relief at the election of Mr. Obama, but I can assure you that nowhere are the celebrations more heartfelt nor the sighs of relief louder than they are here in the U.S.

  • Venkat

    Thanks for a great analysis. I am a frequent visitor and used your predictions as a borometer of the election atmospheric pressure through the campaign. And it looks like the predictions have been right on!



  • Kay

    Thanks for everything. Especially for keeping my stress level much lower than it would have been. I was constantly quoting your statistics to calm my friends too. Thanks! Now it’s REALLY “morning in America!”

  • blair alef

    Thanks for the tip on the Paul Krugman opinion piece. It captures something many of us have been thin kg about for a while now.

  • JoeCurran

    Sam, thanks so much for all you’ve done to ease my mind in the last two months, and also for bringing such clarity to this for someone with no skills in math at all. And thanks for the Onion links, which speak to Karl Rove’s recent obsersvation that we are a “post racial” society now. I, too, teach college students, and while I’m worried about how the last eight years have formed them to think about government and leadership, I’m cautiously optimistic that the next four or, please God, eight years can undo that. I hope that the positive attention that the Obamas are getting right now and will continue to get can help people to begin to think positively about leadership again. I also hope that we can get people thinking about and working toward the common good, and not seeing politics as the sum of one’s personal interests and fears. Now, that’s a tall order, but anything seems possible when I can sit with my two year old daughter in my lap and watch Barack Obama accept election as the President of the United States (via recording– I didn’t keep her up until midnight!).

  • E. Duvert

    Thanks for everything you’ve done for all of us. I’m enjoying the calm and the joy today and appreciate especially your contribution to understanding this election.

  • Ryn

    Thank you for the excellent polling analysis you’ve done this year, I live overseas and sites like yours have been helped me keep track of what’s happening at home even while I’m thousands of miles away.

    I’m an English teacher at a university in Vietnam, I think the significance of this election hit me this afternoon as I was standing in class, on a very long digression from my planned material, answering questions about the election, trying to give my students some sense of what it all means. To be able to say that America elected a President through the hard work of ordinary, average Americans, that so many people have a stake in this victory, it represents the best of what we talk about when we talk about American democracy.

  • Timothy Chase

    The count is now 364.

    Short story:

    SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — President-elect Barack Obama has won North Carolina, The Associated Press reported Thursday after canvassing counties to account for outstanding provisional ballots. North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes brings Obama’s tally to 364 electoral votes. The only outstanding state is Missouri with its 11 electoral votes. Sen. John McCain was leading Missouri, according to recent tallies.

    Obama wins North Carolina, says Associated Press
    By Wallace Witkowski
    Last update: 12:29 p.m. EST Nov. 6, 2008

    Readers might want to check your post dated October 15, 2008.

  • Sam Wang

    Timothy Chase – You mean this one I think. Yes, things were lodged at Obama 364 for much of October.

    As I wrote elsewhere, integrating data over a longer period would get rid of the jitter that plagued the campaign’s finish. That would have been a better way to approach the data. Easy to implement for the future. Now there’s a juicy dataset with which to validate various ideas for time integration.

  • Jerry Ludwig

    “Sunlight!”. I know exactly what you mean (my wife said almost the same thing to me. As for me, it seems like a fight between the Enlightment and the ideologists that ruled the rest of the world happens every 4 years now. The last 8 years, the dark age’s ruler won, and our government fought against science, thought, and individual rights as hard as they could (when they started torturing people, it really got a really scary for me). Now that we elected a rational, science believer (although he’s much more than that, of course), it’s almost unbelievable. I hope I can have enough patience for the changes that I hope for (enviroment, energy, economics, civil rights, competency in government, etc. etc.

    Congrats for a well run site.

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