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2010 Congressional races – where to donate

October 25th, 2010, 3:34am by Sam Wang

Dear readers: If you’re looking for analysis of 2010 US Congressional polls, see Stochastic Democracy and the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight. The bottom line: Today’s polling indicates that the House will flip to Republican control (233-202) and the Senate will stay under Democratic control (52-48). From Stochastic Democracy: Stochastic Democracy projections 25 Oct 2010
Where to donate. To get maximum effect from your campaign contribution, give to the closest Senate races, with an emphasis on small states. Currently the top states for donations are Nevada (Reid-D vs. Angle-R), West Virginia (Manchin-D vs. Raese-R), Colorado (Bennet-D vs. Buck-R), and Illinois (Giannoulias-D vs. Kirk-R). If you’re a Democrat, a convenient way to give is via this ActBlue page.

My recommendations are based on the jerseyvotes principle (for explanations see here, here, and here).

The power of your donation increases steeply as a function of 1/(M*P), where M is the current polling margin and P is the population of the state or district. The following states have M less than 2.0%: Illinois (D+0.1%), West Virginia (D+0.9%), Nevada (D+1.2%), Colorado (R+0.9%), and Pennsylvania (R+1.2%). See state populations here.

Polling analysis is harder this year because results show more systematic (as opposed to random sampling-based) variability than in 2008. A notable cause is new variation in methods among pollsters. Some pollsters are starting to incorporate cell phones in their surveys. Others are not because of the expense of manual dialing (federal law prohibits autodialing). The principle of averaging multiple polls is more important than ever for getting an accurate picture – but also harder.

Many of you have written me asking where campaign donations are most efficiently given. As I have written in the past, donations are most effective in the closest situations. In other words, don’t give to a race where your favored candidate is 10 points behind – or 10 points ahead. For example, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ12) is likely to win by 15 points. Delaware Senate candidate Coons (D) is likely to defeat Christine O’Donnell (R) by over 20 points.

A second factor is population of the district or state. States with large populations are harder to sway. I call this the jerseyvotes principle: in New Jersey, my vote is not influential because my district and state are overwhelmingly Democratic – the probability of affecting the outcome is vanishingly small.

Note that I am not recommending donations to House races. At this point the House is nearly certain to switch to Republican control. Effectively, P is very large. If you care about the exact vote count, you can still give to an organization like the DCCC (or its Republican counterpart). But I wouldn’t bother.

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