Tuesday, June 28, 2016

... but ignore the state-by-state polls for now

Yesterday, I argued that it was time to start taking HRC's lead in the national polls seriously.  Short of a major event to change the dynamics of the campaign, which is, of course, possible, she is the likely winner in November.  So, we should all obsess over the national polling averages to an unhealthy level.  Because really, if you read this pretentious, little blog, you weren't doing that already...

Of course, we don't elect presidents by a nationwide popular vote.  We have a convoluted vote aggregation system that allocates "electoral votes" in a winner-take-all manner by state (except Nebraska and Maine), and whoever gets over 269 wins.  So, we should watch the state polls, right?

Not so fast.  First, while a popular vote/electoral vote split is possible (2000), it requires an extraordinarily close election (like 2000).  If HRC's lead is in the 6 to 7 point range, it is closer to Obama's lead over McCain in 2008.  You don't get a popular vote/electoral vote split when one candidate has a 6 point lead in the popular vote.

HRC's lead will probably shrink.  That big a lead is just absurdly high and unstable.  (Watch my will power...  Not... going... to... make... the... obvious... joke... )  If and when it does, that is when to start paying attention to the state-by-state polls, because that will tell you which ones to watch.

So, this all comes down to some basic statistics and political science.

1)  Swing states tend to swing together.  The basic underlying forces of an election operate nationwide, which pull all states together.  So, whatever tends to pull Ohio in one direction tends to pull Florida the same way.  That's why we look at the national polls now.  Yes, it confuses some people that the national economy matters more than state-level economic data, but the world does not conform to your expectations.

2)  The potential versus actual battlegrounds.  This is about costs.  Running a campaign is expensive.  Here are the main potential battlegrounds, given the partisan balances of the states:  Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, North Carolina, Missouri.  Then maybe add in New Hampshire, New Mexico or a few other/smaller states depending on circumstances, but the point is that there are a lot of people in potential battleground states.  In reality, that will get narrowed.  And we don't know yet where.  Probably Ohio and Florida because it's usually Ohio and Florida, but until we know where, we don't know which states to watch.  A few cycles ago, we wouldn't have known to watch Virginia, and that's the point!  If the battlegrounds can change, we need to wait to see what they are this cycle.

3)  Remember that we need a lot of polls for the averaging technique to work.  We won't have that, particularly in the right battleground states, until much later.

So, if you go over to RealClearPolitics or the other sites right now, they will give you the current state-level polls and fret-and-fuss about how such-and-such a VP nominee might affect the electoral map, but that's all bullshit right now.  As I said yesterday, the nationwide polling averages tell you how things stand right now.  HRC has a clear lead.  State-level analysis or anything like that?  It just doesn't make sense yet, and won't for a while.

And if Trump is dumb enough to waste his efforts trying to win New York and California, it won't matter anyway.

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