Who's going to win?

THE U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION on Tuesday November 6th will be won with a convincing electoral college majority. At least 70 votes.

That's my conclusion of poring over the polls, listening to what people are enthusiastic/despondent about, looking at where the money and candidates are being used.

The problem is, I'm not sure WHO is going to win by at least 70 electoral college votes.

The reason for this is that the polling data looks open to very different interpretation, depending on how one sees the last presidential election (which was won in convincing fashion by the then Senator for Illinois Barack Obama) in 2008.


If Obamacare loses, Obama wins?

It's premature to assume that the tough questioning by US Supreme Court justices will translate into a ruling that the Obamacare "individual mandate" is unconstitutional.

For what it's worth, the prediction markets at Intrade suggest a 60% chance of a negative outcome for the Obama administration (price at time of drafting this post).

What is perhaps more interesting, and will fuel conspiracy theories, is the effect on President Obama's re-election chances. They're creeping up (heading towards the 60% mark). Some people seem to think that if the Republicans win both the Senate and the House of Representatives this will ensure less public spending and borrowing, but with Obamacare out, or at least reformed, the suggestion is that President Obama can be like Bill Clinton's second term.

Is it possible that the hesitant performance of the Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli, and the sharp questions from Obama-nominated supreme court Justice Sotomayor, are the visible part of a strategy of dumping policy for a November presidential win?

I don't think this will work, unless there is either an economic recovery or some reason to believe that it is on the way. But it could defuse the biggest motivator for the Tea Party movement. And the Supreme Court can take the blame with Democrat voters...

Any offer of 40% or lower for a Republican presidential win seems generous at this stage.

UPDATE: The LA Times' Politics Now blog seems quite certain the whole Obamacare legislation is going to fall.


Burma election round up

After reading reports of voter intimidation in Burma (also called the Union of Myanmar), which has been under Socialist military rule since 1962, I thought a round up of how the election is supposed to work would be in order.

Wikipedia has a page dedicated to the elections which provides background and a lot of comment about how unfair they are, but no information about the procedures.

Here's a useful guide of the seven-step roadmap to "disciplined democracy" which is the basis for the current election.

There are 440 seats in the People's Parliament (Pyithu Hluttaw), of which 330 are elected, one for each township in Burma. The creation of a new capital, Naypyidaw, meant five new townships in Mandalay Division were established.

The Nationalities Parliament (Amyotha Hluttaw) is composed of 224 seats, of which 168 seats are elected, with the 56 remaining being military appointments. Each state and division will have 12 seats equally in the Amyotha Hluttaw.

A comprehensive guide to how the constituencies are spread across the country can be found here.

The outcome of this election is certainly to allow the military to keep control of most of the institutions, including an effective veto on ministerial appointments. The decision of the main opposition movement to boycott the election makes any attempt to gauge the popularity of the government hard to assess. The best indicator in such cases is turnout.

In some respects (guaranteeing four military cabinet ministers) the roadmap looks like the route adopted by Chile under General Augusto Pinochet to move towards democracy. The basic problem for the army is to work out a way of disentangling itself from being in charge (and blamed) for everything, without ending up dangling from trees and streetlamps.

Results can be found here, FWIW.


In the event of a tie in the 2012 Presidential Election...

...the House of Representatives votes, state by state, for the President. This means that if Great Plains were a state with 1 congressperson (Democrat), that person would presumably back the Democrat. If Metropolis were a state with 31 representatives (16 Republicans and 15 Democrats) then assuming party lines hold, that's one vote for the Republicans.

Here's a chart showing how this looked before the 2010 elections:

With a few results pending, the picture has changed:

The upshot of this is that if the Electoral College result (remembering that the distribution by states will change by 2012) produces a dead heat (269-269 for example) then right now it would mean a Republican President and a Democrat Vice President (the Senate gets to vote for the Vice President in this scenario).

2010 Governors' Election Results So Far

At the time of writing, CBS News reckons there are 28 Republican Governors, 15 Democrats, 1 Independent and six results to come. However, Brian Dubie the Republican candidate in Vermont, has reportedly conceded, so I make it:

Republicans 28
Republicans lead in 3 (Connecticut, Maine, Oregon)
Democrats 16
Democrats lead in 2 (Illinois, Minnesota)
Independent 1

N.B. Although the five remaining contests are coloured according to the current lead, I would be surprised if none of these changed, for example Connecticut and/or Illinois, which are virtual dead heats.


"Already voted" polling in New Mexico

RealClearPolitics has a report on polling of people who have already voted in New Mexico, a sort of postal vote exit poll. Current estimate is 60% Republican 36% Democrat. The same sort of polling in the state in 2008, found that although only 10% of voters had cast their ballot early, yet the exit poll disproportionately favoured the eventual winner. RCP speculates that this might be repeated next month.

Two points:

1) I'm opposed to the publication of any exit polling of any kind before the LAST polling station has closed ANYWHERE and the last postal ballot received. This is because this type of polling can be used to manipulate the result: you tell people in the state of Washington that the Republicans have lost nationally, therefore a million Republicans don't vote in Washington, giving a cheap victory to Democrats. The same would happen with Nevada if the exit polls told the opposite story.

2) I think it would be fair to consider the early voting as a sign of two influences - the "enthusiasm gap" between the two parties and the relative strength of local party organisation which may be helping supporters obtain postal ballots by sending reminders etc. Either way, unless a lot of Democrats read this and get fired up, I'm going to assume that the exit poll indicates a Republican victory in the New Mexico Governor's race.


U.S. House importance for 2012

In 2012, the U.S. presidential election will be contested with a new electoral college (538 votes), based on the redistribution of congressional seats (435 of them) according to the 2010 U.S. Census. However, in the event of a tie (269-269) the back-up system for electing the President kicks in.

The current House of Representatives at the time of the 2012 election, that's the people who are elected next month, will have to decide on a state-by-state basis, which candidate they want to win. For example, Delaware, which has one Representative, will have one vote decided by that representative, but California, which has 53 Representatives will have it's one vote decided by a vote of the 53 delegates.

It's worth noting that if the 2012 election were today and the current House of Representatives members were choosing, then the partisan breakdown would be Democrat 32 votes, Republican 16 and a tie for Hawaii and Idaho.

Using Nate Silver's Fivethirtyeight.com most recent forecast of the House elections, I've drawn up a spreadsheet showing how the latest forecasts could tip the state delegation counts.

Assuming the election goes according to the current estimates (which is unlikely, because things are bound to change at least a little in the next couple of weeks), we could see a switch to 29 Republican votes, 18 Democrats and three tied (Idaho again, Mississippi and New Hampshire).

If I were advising the Democrats on where to throw any extra cash lying around for this election, I'd pick the close contests in the following states:

Arizona, Colorado, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire and West Virginia. I wouldn't spend too much, because the odds of a tie in the electoral college are very low. Also, there are too many seats in play to defend adequately, to some extend luck and local resilience is needed.

If you want the specific seats I'd defend, here they are: AZ8 and possibly AZ5; CO3; MS4 (to keep the tie); NV3; NH2 (to keep the tie); and WV1.


Fox News and God

A POLITICO/George Washington Unversity Battleground opinion poll highlights U.S. President Barack Obama's midterm election problems and offers some insights into just how different the U.S. electorate is to the rest of the Western world. Commentators have latched onto the figure that only 38% would welcome the President's re-election.

If the Republicans had a figure with the ability to communicate that Ronald Reagan had, I would suggest that a 1980 catastrophe was awaiting the Democrats in 2012. My gut feeling is that President Obama may decide not to run for a second term. His place in history is assured, he is likely to face an obstructive Congress, like Mikhail Gorbachev, he is likely to be considerably more popular abroad than at home and Pres Obama does not strike me as caring that much about the job. But I stress that this is my gut feeling at the moment, so it has little (more like no) predictive value.

What I was more interested in were the matchups between President Obama and for Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, which show a 51%-42% split, with other figures suggesting that, like Hillary Clinton, Mrs Palin could be better at mobilizing opponents than supporters. This far ahead of November 2012, 42% is not a bad place to be, but the former Alaska Governor will do well to retain her position as a credible candidate after three years without holding any political office.

The more significant figures in my mind were those concerning media and God.

Rupert Murdoch's niche market: 42% of Americans

Page 8 of the survey carries the following question:
Now, thinking one more time about the elections this fall. I am going to read you several types of media that people use to get news and information. For each one, please tell me if yes, you do use this source or no, you do not use this source to get news about the elections this fall. Here is first one…

The results are only surprising for people who refuse to accept the decline of the mainstream media.

Cable TV news channels like CNN, FOX News, or MSNBC or their websites: Yes 81%, No 19%.
National broadcast TV news channels like ABC, NBC, or CBS or their websites: Yes 71%, No 29%
Local TV news or their websites: Yes 73%, No 26%, Don't Know or No Response 1%
Newspapers or newspaper websites: Yes 72%, No 28%
Other websites or blogs: Yes 39%, No 61%
Conversations with friends and family: Yes 79%, No 21%
Radio programming: Yes 58%, No 41%
Political advertisements: Yes 37%, No 62%, Don't Know or No Response 1%

It gets more interesting...

When those people who said cable (more than four out of every five responses) were asked which channel, the breakdown was as follows:

Mainly CNN.........................................................30%
Mainly Fox News.................................................42%
Mainly MSNBC....................................................12%
Other cable news channel/website.........................9%
UNSURE/REFUSED (DNR)................................7%

That means that Democrat-leaning media and Republican-biased are evenly matched at 42% each. And Rupert Murdoch has no competition for the conservative audience. Some niche market you got there!

For those sad people who obsess about the effect of political commentary, the following figures may be distressing. For the rest of us, they put things in some perspective:

John Stewart and Sean Hannity are about as influential as each other: positive influence on political debate 34% vs 35%, negative 22% vs 25%, "never heard of" 34% for both (heheheh!).

Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly clearly earn their pay: positive/negative are 38%/32% and 49%/32% with only 12% not knowing who the O'Reilly Factor host is, compared with 23% for Mr Beck.

I'd fire Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz if I knew who they were: 55% and 70% of respondents haven't a clue who the MSNBC commentators are, 18%/18% or 11%/11% positive/negative ratings would not get me excited to buy an advertising slot.

Keith Olberman seems to be someone the conservatives should be writing in to keep on air: the liberal pundit scores a negative -2 rating and is unknown by 42% of Americans, or it might be worse!

My take on this is that the Fox News operation is effective and its leading commentators do a good job. Only John Stewart of the liberals (and a decent comedian) seems to carry the American left.

More people go to church at least once a week than don't believe in God
On God, I was puzzled by the survey's lack of an option to respond "a mosque" when people were asked, "What is the church you or your family attends most often?" given that "Jewish" and "synagogue" were listed. I assume that the 3% "other" includes the Islamic community. It seems unnecessarily restrictive to have used the term "church" without offering "place of worship," but I don't know the context so I'll leave it at that.

The 20% who said "None" and 5% who did not respond is incredibly low for European eyes.

Looking at the detail is even more astonishing. How often do you attend church/synagogue etc?
More than once a week.........................................16%
Once a week.........................................................39%
Several times a month...........................................14%
Once a month.........................................................6%
Several times a year..............................................14%
Only on holidays....................................................8%
NEVER/DON'T ATTEND....................................3%

Those figures are badly presented so let me show you:

How often attend place of worship(%)
Never, don't attend or unsure/refused to answer4%
At least once a month75%
At least once a week55%
More than once a week16%

It is FOUR TIMES more likely that a person will go to church more than once a week than that they never go, among the 75% of adults who consider themselves as belonging to a religion. I would not be surprised if there are majority-Moslem countries where such devotion would be considered high.

Let me be clear, I don't equate religion with opposing liberalism/social democracy. My point is that this is not a society where one can take European assumptions about religion's part in democratic debate and transport them to the U.S.A. without adjustment.

Should the government take over healthcare is a different issue when "is my money being used to pay for abortions?" is not simply a question of cost. If there is a plurality of private insurers, some can do business by boasting of how many abortions they provide, while others try (if allowed by law) to refuse them. This is not an issue that most people paying for the National Health Service in the U.K, concern themselves about.