Saturday, November 10, 2012

The real final score: Obama 11, Romney 1

Nate Silver does have a way with data visualization. His analysis of the Democrats' current electoral college edge includes a electoral scorecard that lists the 50 states in order of the margin of victory, beginning with Obama's wins and moving on to Romney's. The close states in the middle reveal a striking fact: Romney won only one state by a margin of less than eight points. Obama won eleven.

Forget for a moment the demographic contest -- one candidate's large advantage among whites vs. the other's larger advantage among all ethnic minorities.  Forget, too, the strategic plusses and minuses of pursuing independents vs. turning out your base. Forget national popular vote margins. The simple fact is that Romney won only one state that any Republican would not have won.  A dozen states were competitive, and Obama won eleven of them -- by margins that were increasing rapidly at the end, and exceeded the final polls. He outperformed on every front --turnout, targeted advertising, and ultimately, the debates. He just kicked Romney's ass across the political field.

Update: it occurs to me that Silver comes to a very different conclusion: that even if Romney had won the national popular vote by two percentage points, Obama still would have won the electoral college. That is, Obama's advantage was structural, and would be shared by any Democrat at present. That assumes, I believe, a proportionality between Obama's margins in the swing states and the popular vote totals. But most of the direct competing was done in the swing states.  The tipping point, in Silver's reckoning, was Colorado: that is, Romney would have had to win Colorado and every other state that Obama won by a lesser margin than Colorado (Virginia, Ohio, Florida) to win the election.  And Obama won Colorado by 4.7 percentage points -- quite a large margin for Romney to have overcome. Does that mean that Obama's advantage was structural, i.e., that no competent Republican could have overcome it this year?  I don't know.  The margin there, and in all the truly competitive swing states, seemed much smaller just a few days before the election.


  1. As a fan, who enjoys your rhetorical analyses as exceptions from an otherwise rather dry diet of data, I want to politely suggest that this is going too far.

    All Nate Silver is saying is that the Democrats have an electoral college advantage. Kinda like how the Republicans have a (partially gerrmandered, largely "natural") districting advantage in the House. Split the total vote 50/50 (holding proportions between states and districts constant) and the presidency is Democratic and the House is majority Republican.

    So it's really not possible to infer much about the quality of the campaign from Obama's electoral margin. Just as it's not a reflection on the quality of House Republicans that they won so many seats while losing the aggregate vote.

    Unless I'm misreading the poli sci scolds, which is entirely possible...

    1. You may well be right, Bastanteroma. Ten minutes after posting (too fast, no doubt), I added an update that entertains a similar conclusion, potentially unraveling the whole post. Maybe the question of structural advantage vs. candidate performance can't be fully answered, since the 'structural' advantage of Obama's incumbency is partly a function of his performance as president, which really can't be separated from his performance as candidate for reelection.