Princeton Election Consortium

A first draft of electoral history. Since 2004

The real news today…downticket

September 13th, 2016, 8:42am by Sam Wang

It is good for a cheap laugh to flay the media for its obsession with horserace. This week’s ongoing ruckus with Phlegm-ghazi confirms that reporters cannot get out of their mental rut of some older storyline. In this case, the storyline is “Clinton is secretive.” Let us pause for a moment. She was concealing her pneumonia because the press would make a big deal out of it. And, wait for it…the press made a big deal out of it.

You, Dear Reader, are complicit in this. I notice that more of you click Presidential links than on the nifty Competitive Congressional District Finder. You like the Presidential horserace. My reason for generating the best prediction I can is to reduce the noise of campaign news. I thought it would clear mental space for thinking about policies, or downticket issues.

The Presidential forecast [methods] takes a low-noise snapshot of state polls, then adds possible drift based on recent elections and this year. Because of intense polarization, few voters are movable. The calculation says that Clinton’s win probability is 90%. The Senate forecast does the same [methods], but also factors in Presidential-year or midterm-year bias. It says that Democrats’+Independents’ probability of taking control is 72%, which is in the 20-80% range, meaning that things could really go either way. Other forecasts tend to count uncertainties twice, or to overestimate how movable voters are. Other forecasts are also under commercial pressure to attract eyeballs.

Still, the comment section is still peppered with anxious questions about Clinton’s chances. Honestly, some liberals can be total ninnies. You don’t see the conservatives in hysterics…though actually, here is their version of a meltdown. I take it back. You go.

Here are some news items that matter more. [Read more →]

→ 92 CommentsTags: 2016 Election · President · Senate

Find a competitive House race near you!

September 9th, 2016, 8:51am by Sam Wang

This year, Republicans are going to lose seats in the House of Representatives – this is certain. How many seats, we don’t know. As analyzed by Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, their majority is protected by aggressive redistricting efforts in 2010 (see my Stanford Law Review article and David Daley’s book Ratf***ed) and poor candidate recruitment by Democrats this year. Nonetheless, there remains some chance that a strong enough national popular vote win can flip the House.

Even if the House does not change control, a closer seat margin increases the ability of the minority to get legislation passed by peeling off votes from the majority. Under a Hillary Clinton Presidency, this will affect legislative priorities that cut across party lines, such as an increase in the minimum wage.

If you want to make a difference for your side, you can volunteer for a campaign in a contested district. In response to my wish, PEC reader Sharon Machlis has developed the Competitive Congressional District Finder, a cool application in which you type in your address or ZIP code and get back a map showing competitive races near you, as identified by the Cook Political Report. Whether you support Democrats or Republicans, these are the races that matter. Give the app a try – and get out there!

Note the general location of competitive districts: in the Northeast, the Midwest, the Southwest, and Florida. Many of these districts are competitive thanks to good-government and/or nonpartisan redistricting practices – see especially Arizona, California, Florida, and New York. This demonstrates the power of redistricting reform, whether pursued through the courts or through voter initiative.

Note on Florida: for a week or two, the app will not show current boundaries, thanks to a court-ordered redistricting and delays in getting the map files. The currently competitive Florida districts are FL-7FL-13FL-18, and FL-26.

Sharon used Google Fusion Tables and the Searchable Map Template, which was created by civic tech builder and open-government advocate Derek Eder. Many thanks to Sharon for her fast work. Talented readers like her are a major source of gratification.

→ 48 CommentsTags: 2016 Election · House


September 7th, 2016, 11:00am by Sam Wang

Nervous about recent changes in polls? As usual, don’t pay attention to single surveys. However, it is true that the Presidential race has narrowed by a few percentage points; the median of national polls taken over the last week is Clinton +2%. PEC’s state poll-based analysis will probably continue to move toward Trump for at least a week as it catches up with national surveys.

There is a great way for you to redirect your tension – to downticket races. Current polls favor the Democrats to not only win the Presidency, but also potentially to take control of the Senate – with an outside chance of taking the House as well. These outcomes have major consequences for legislative and political action in 2017-2018. Under these conditions, where should you put your energy? [Read more →]

→ 49 CommentsTags: 2016 Election · House · Senate

What constitutes a good poll?

September 6th, 2016, 1:55pm by Sam Wang

Update: Natalie Jackson from HuffPost’s responds at the end of this post. Again I thank her for all that does.

Holidays are over. I see that journalists, including poll aggregators, are still focused on the Presidential horserace. As Zenger at has pointed out, sites such as FiveThirtyEight are under economic pressure to attract traffic. And there is nothing to attract eyeballs like a crazy Presidential race. Still, from a substantive standpoint, it might be more appropriate to spend efforts on, I dunno…issues? See this excellent critique of media coverage by Jeff Jarvis, which includes a good hard whack at the media obsession with “balance” and polls – basically, tricks to let reporters escape engaging head-on with substantive issues. If journalists insist on horserace coverage, at least focus on downticket races in Senate, House, and even state legislatures – and maybe write about some issues along the way. These races will determine the power dynamic in 2017 under the new President, whoever she may be.

Just to remind everyone, variations in this year’s race are quite narrow, consistent with the  last 20 years of partisan polarization. Polarization has made both the GOP and Democratic nominees unacceptable to nearly all supporters of the other party. In addition, Donald Trump is radioactive to about one-fifth of his own party. As a result, this year’s race is full of melodrama, but numerically stable. In 2016, the Princeton Election Consortium’s state poll-based aggregate has only varied between a median outcome of 310 and 350 EV for Hillary Clinton.

The Meta-Margin, which is defined as the front-runner’s effective lead using Electoral College mechanisms, is a very low-noise and stable measure – as opposed to single polls, which can be all over the place. You should generally ignore single polls, especially ones that surprise you. The Meta-Margin has varied between Clinton +2.5% and Clinton +6.5%, and is now at Clinton +4.0%, close to the season average of 3.8%. If it left the 2.5-6.5% range, that would be interesting. That has not occurred yet.


Now, a brief note about the virtues of casting the widest net possible when it comes to polls. [Read more →]

→ 54 CommentsTags: 2016 Election · President

The 2016 Senate Forecast

August 29th, 2016, 12:00pm by Sam Wang

Update, August 31: The prior for this model is based entirely on the history of past Senate polling trends: Presidential coattails this year, and “throw the President’s bums out” in midterm years. PEC offers, once again, a pundit-free prediction. The original version of this post is archived here.

Close readers of the Princeton Election Consortium know that we calculate not only a snapshot of current Senate conditions, but also predictions of final outcomes. Last week, Josh Katz at The New York Times’s The Upshot started publishing a comparison of models, including PEC’s. Today, I start featuring it in the banner above.

Today, according to our model, Democrats have a 77% chance of winning the Senate. Because the probability of Senate control is in the 20-80% midrange, it is currently an important place for both sides to put resources, Democrats through ActBlue and Republicans through the NRSC.

I will explain PEC’s Senate model. It uses the same math as the Presidential forecast, and consists of three steps: [Read more →]

→ 77 CommentsTags: 2016 Election · Senate

Politics And Polls #9: Top Three Moments of Campaign 2016 (so far)

August 25th, 2016, 5:00pm by Sam Wang

On Politics & Polls (SoundCloud, PodOmatic, and iTunes): Julian Zelizer and I chew over three pivotal moments in Campaign 2016. Also, I finger what I think is one remaining big moment. Hint: rhymes with Mouse of Mepresentatives. Listen now!

Comments OffTags: 2016 Election

Sharpening the Presidential Forecast – summary of comments

August 24th, 2016, 10:00am by Sam Wang

Comments on my sharpening of the Presidential forecast were helpful. The outcome is that I will keep the key new assumption, which is to cap future standard deviation in the Meta-Margin at 3.0%. Since Hillary Clinton’s Meta-Margin (effective popular lead, measured through Electoral College mechanisms) is 6.3%, that means that she is 2.1 standard deviations ahead. That is a lot of standard deviations.

A summary of the discussion follows. I will start with the key graph, which I produced in response to Joel. Like all my analysis of the 1952-2012 elections, this was made using Wlezien and Erikson’s data. Prof. Wlezien has helpfully provided the original dataset on his website.
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→ 74 CommentsTags: 2016 Election · President

Sharpening the 2016 Presidential Forecast

August 21st, 2016, 2:47am by Sam Wang

Today I present a beta version of the sharpened forecast. In May, I said that I would update the model after the dynamics of this year’s race became clear. Back then, I wondered whether the 2016 campaign would be more like 1952-1992 (high variability), or like 1996-2012 (low variability). This year’s data indicate that it is the latter – opinion is relatively stable. That stability affects the November forecast.

This is an open comment period. Technical feedback is welcome. (The comments section is rather good this time.) [Read more →]

→ 101 CommentsTags: 2004 Election · 2008 Election · 2012 Election · 2016 Election · President

Politics & Polls #8: How To Interpret Polls

August 18th, 2016, 9:36pm by Sam Wang

On Politics & Polls (SoundCloud, PodOmatic, and the slower-to-update iTunes): Julian Zelizer and I offer up a basic primer on how to make sense of the onslaught of polls. What should we think of a really surprising result? Are polling numbers twisting and turning with every week’s news…or are polls the best empirical measure we can count on in a crazy year? Want to learn a trick for aggregating polls that is so simple that it does not even involve arithmetic? All this and more…listen now!

→ 23 CommentsTags: 2016 Election

The Electoral Strike Zone (technical announcement)

August 18th, 2016, 8:00am by Sam Wang

Here at PEC, the likely range of electoral votes is set by assuming that opinion can drift in either direction, by an equal amount across states; and then converting that swing into electoral votes. This generates the red “strike zone” in the plots in the right sidebar. Today I make a small update. [Read more →]

→ 6 CommentsTags: 2016 Election · President