Princeton Election Consortium

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Ryan is a game-changer — but not for Romney

August 15th, 2012, 11:59am by Sam Wang


(Welcome to readers of The Daily Dish and Mother Jones.)

As I’ve written, Obama has a clear lead over Romney,  by 4.4% (326 EV to 212 EV) as of this writing. A lead of this size in August is very hard for a challenger to overcome, using the time histories of many past re-election campaigns as a prior guide. Based on polls past and present, Obama’s November re-elect probability is about 89%.* 2012 EV history with November prediction
Today I contend that a major consequence of the Ryan VP nomination is not for the Presidential race, but for control of Congress in 2013.

Past VP picks have not shifted the race in a lasting fashion. For example, in September 2008 Sarah Palin’s effect was temporary:
and Ryan is not particularly well-known or well-liked.

However, his entry onto the national scene does have one important effect: the Presidential Race is now more strongly linked to Congressional races. Why? He is chair of the House Budget Committee. And based on polling numbers, this is not a development that Republicans should welcome.

Consider the Senate – a hard prediction problem, but let’s try.

If polls (RCP) stay within a few points of where they are today, Democrats will control 47 seats and Republicans will control 46 seats. The remaining 7 seats are: FL, IN, MA, ND, VA, WI, and MT. Assume that by November, D-R polling margins move by an unknown amount, up to 3 points in either direction. The histogram of outcomes is thenAssumes a swing of -3% to +3% by November

In this neutral scenario (i.e. no Ryan effect), the median outcome is a 50D-50R split and the probability of Democratic control** is 52%.

What if the Romney-Ryan ticket causes candidates to campaign explicitly on GOP budget priorities? Imagine that slightly more voters switch their votes in one direction or the other based on what they hear. If 1% of voters flip toward Democrats, the resulting 2% swing leads to this:

In this scenario, the median outcome is 52D-48R and the probability of Democratic control is 82%.

Conversely, a 2% swing in the Republican direction gives this: 

for a 48D/52R median and a 20% probability of Democratic control. I consider this scenario less likely considering the unpopularity of ending Social Security, Medicare, and cutting discretionary spending by over 50%, all of which are in the Ryan budget. Once voters learn about these GOP priorities, they might not like them. Then again, campaign messaging can work wonders. So you never know.

I should qualify all of this by saying that Senate races are challenging to tie to national issues, and conditions may yet change in the coming months. The point is the same, though: even a small net shift can change the prognosis significantly.

Anyway, that’s what a knife-edge situation looks like. Pundits, please talk about this instead?

The House is also on a knife edge, though this is harder to calculate because those races are not very well-polled. I’ll write about that another day.

My takeaway: Romney effectively threw Congress under the bus to get a possible (but not guaranteed) advantage for himself. Call it a calculated risk on his part.

* This estimate has some uncertainty because of unexpected, black-swan events. It is possible to get a probability of up to 92% with different assumptions.

** This presupposes VP Biden with 89% probability, and VP Ryan with 11% probability.

Tags: 2012 Election · House · President · Senate

17 Comments so far ↓

  • Matt McIrvin

    A judge just refused to grant an injunction to halt the PA voter-ID law. Appeal to the state Supreme Court is pending.

    Obama had better hope his EV margin stays high enough that Pennsylvania can’t swing it (or that his lead in PA stays high enough that disenfranchising huge chunks of greater Philadelphia won’t swing it).

  • Olav Grinde

    That’s very interesting!

    You point out that “the House is also right on a knife edge, though this is harder to calculate because those races are not very well-polled”.

    I would really like to see a “Battle for the House” map (with polling data), similar to the one that RCP has for the Senate.

    Is there any such map out there? I have not been able to find one.

    And, Sam — are you saying that the House of Representatives is actually in play, and that there is a real chance the Democrats might regain the majority? If so, do you have a rough guesstimate of the odds?

  • Mark

    While I hope your analysis proves to be correct, the fact is that going back to 1980 only provides 8 data points. It seems pretty hopeful to be attributing so much certainty to such a small number of data points, particularly, as pointed out above, with the concern that Voter ID laws will tamp down turnout in urban areas of some states.

    • Sam Wang

      In my view, the likelihood of that kind of event can be quantified. Please read past posts. Yes, a rare event can happen. Therefore the black-swan assumption, which is included in the 89% estimate. Without the black-swan assumption it’s even higher.

      It’s not just the sign of the change in past elections – it’s also the SD of the poll trajectories, and the tails of the distribution. There is actually rather a lot of data. At a future date I can return to that subject in tedious, loving, mind-numbing detail.

  • Ottovbvs

    I agree entirely with SW on this. Ryan’s entry has effectively nationalised down ticket races around the competing what I’ll call “visions.” The medicare thing has landed like a bomb in the election based on my entirely anecdotal impression. Up until Ryan’s entry I barely heard the election mentioned. Since Saturday I’ve heard repeated mentions of the Republican plans to scrap Medicare and every Republican candidate at the house and state level is going to be challenged on it.

  • Olav Grinde

    I have to admire the Obama Campaign for playing hardball. In my opinion, that is precisely what is required to neutralise — at least to some degree — the months and years of Republican shouting. It is highly problematic that the nation’s most watched news network, Fox, is essentially a Republican propaganda machine.

    I do hope that Democrats are able to insist on focusing on Medicare, the Republican vision of “unshackling” Wall Street, and having the middle class pay for further tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 %.

    I also wonder this: Lots of politicians are talking about the national debt. I have yet to hear anyone proclaim that the money that Congress took from the Social Security fund must be repaid…

    If the Democrats truly are able to flip > 1% of the electorate in local races — AND get out the vote — then this 2012 election can be a real game changer.

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  • Bill N

    I have been watching this site closely the past few weeks. I noticed over the past three days or so the meta-margin has been cut about in half. This raised the question in my mind as to the sampling variability associated with the meta-margin. Can this be calculated, and if so what is it currently? Is this change merely a reflection of sampling variability or evidence for a “Ryan bounce” (I realize that a few more days will help clarify the “Ryan bounce” question, but the sampling variability question remains). I also noticed that Ohio is now “white” where it was a rather deep blue just a few days ago (I think it was Obama +5% then). What has happened there?

    I have also been thinking about how to assess the possible effects of voter ID laws, such as that in Pennsylvania (which has been upheld by a court). I know the best way would be to get polling data based on who does and does not have the proper IDs, but my guess is that such polling data are unlikely to be forthcoming. One idea I have thought about is a kind of sensitivity analysis in which different scenarios of voter suppression are modeled, and then these results factored into the estimates as to how Ohio’s EVs will go. These results might be displayed as a graph showing the estimated effects under different voter suppression scenarios. I realize this would be including error in the analysis, but it might be interesting to try it as a form of sensitivity analysis.

  • Sam Wang

    Bill N - I think the big change that just happened was driven by a load of Purple Strategies polls that just dropped. It’s not just OH; VA and FL changed as well. Looking over those states’ results over the last few months, Purple Strategies’ results seem to be about on a par with Rasmussen, i.e. GOP-leaning. This creates a problem. Unfortunately, polls are sparser this year than 2008, as Nate Silver pointed out the other day. This might take through the weekend to sort out.

    The Meta-margin change could be real. For comparison, see the 2008 Meta-margin time series (scroll down). The Sarah Palin bounce peaked at about a 2.0% change and lasted 2-3 weeks.

    Interesting point about the perturbation analysis. Not hard, but requires a bit of tinkering around.

  • Olav Grinde

    Interesting exchange!
    It seems to me that a lot boils down to which side can set the agenda for the public debate. Fox News (and more than a few other news outlets) are focusing on Biden’s “put y’all back in chains comment”, and the insidious accusation that Obama has “leaked” intelligence information for political advantage and is taking undue credit for killing Osama Bin Laden.

    By the way, BBC’s North American Editor Mark Mardell has a very interesting take on the “chains” comment. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-19275484

  • wheelers cat

    hai im back.
    There just isnt enough discussion of Asymmetrical Political Behavior Bias to suit me….or game theory.
    Consider this balloon juice article and the recent Biden chains comments….are liberals finally learning Tit for Tat?
    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2012/08/15/all-hail-the-dickwhisperer/

  • wheelers cat

    @Olav
    that is a very interesting article. and I agree with you about the narrative. I think Team Obama is just waiting for Team Romney’s next move, and then they will play Tit-for-Tat.
    I imagine that once Team Romney starts talking about the “Ryan Plan” that Team Obama will chomp onto Ryan like a croc doing a death roll and drag the whole ticket under.
    Let the Mediscaring begin!
    BOO!

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