Monday, November 10, 2008

yes we did

By now, you have probably read or heard some variation of this:


Rosa sat so Martin could walk

Martin walked so Obama could run

Obama ran so our children could fly …


Andrew Sullivan at his Atlantic blog summarized at least one element of my post-election emotions:


Knowing that the Bush-Cheney-Addington axis will be forced out of power is an immense, slackening relief. I've felt compelled by politics these past few years in ways I don't like or enjoy. With men and women finally back in power I can trust to act reasonably and ethically and within the rule of law, I feel less hesitation in getting on with life.

I woke up on election day at the Marriott Residence Inn in Billings, Montana. Thanks to our friends Nick and Leslie Hanauer, I spent election day and the two previous days doing get-out-the-vote (GOTV) work in Billings. Why Montana? It was the closest “toss-up” state to Seattle. (We need to abolish the Electoral College and go to a direct popular vote for the president. Every vote in the country should count, not just the chosen few blessed to live in battleground states.) There was no doubt in my mind Obama would win the election. But I was going for a mandate and part of how that mandate would be judged was the visceral, visual image of the red/blue map of the country.

Here is the final map of the Obama win:





[From fivethirtyeight.com]

[Note: Obama even got one electoral vote from Nebraska. It is one of only two states – Maine is the other – that divide the electoral vote by Congressional district. Neither state had actually split their vote previously. This time around, Obama won Nebraska’s 2nd CD, which basically consists of Omaha. I guess that was the Warren Buffett vote.]

Think how much bluer it would look if that huge state of Montana at the top of the map nearly joined together Baja Canada in the West with the upper Midwest and East Coast states that went for Obama.

The final vote in Montana was McCain 50% and Obama 47% (Ron Paul was also on the ballot). That made Montana one of the biggest swings from 2004 – Obama’s margin improved by 17 percentage points over Kerry in 2004.
Daily Kos shows the improvement from 2004 in all 50 states (based on preliminary returns):

AL: D+4
AK: R+5
AZ: D+2
AR: R+11
CA: D+14
CO: D+12
CT: D+11
DE: D+16
DC: D+6
FL : D+8
GA: D+12
HI: D+36
ID: D+12
IL: D+14
IN: D+22
IA: D+10
KS: D+9
KY: D+4

LA: R+4
ME: D+9
MD: D+10
MA: D+1
MI: D+13
MN: D+7
MS: D+6
MO: D+7
MT: D+17
NE: D+17
NV: D+14
NH: D+8
NJ: D+8
NM: D+16
NY: D+7
NC: D+12
ND: D+20

OH: D+6
OK: Even
OR: D+11
PA: D+8
RI: D+7
SC: D+8
SD: D+14
TN: R+1
TX: D+11
UT: D+17
VT: D+15
VA: D+13
WA: D+10
WV: Even
WI: D+13
WY: D+8


An impressive 26 states show double-digit improvement over 2004. If you take out the home states of McCain and Palin, the Republicans improved their margins in only two states (Louisiana and Tennessee – Tennessee increased its Republican vote by only by one percentage point and Louisiana was almost certainly affected by the reduction of the African-American population as a result of the Katrina disaster). Another two states (Oklahoma and West Virginia) were basically even with 2004.

The New York Times shows the change from 2004 county-by-county. If it isn’t obvious, blue shows counties where Obama did better than Kerry – red show counties where he did worse.




[click to enlarge]

Basically, Obama did worse only in parts of Appalachia, the Ozarks and the Deep South (hhhhmmm, I wonder what those areas might have in common).

I like this
cartogram which shows the results by shades of blue and red and weights counties by population:

One thing this election did was demonstrate the amazing gains in the art and science of polling. I gained an appreciation for some of the difficulties of polling when we were knocking on doors in Montana. We were supposed to indicate on our sheets whether people were intending to vote and whether they supported Obama, McCain or were undecided. But in many cases after the door closed we would look at each other and ask, “What the heck was that one? Oh, well, let’s just put it down as ‘undecided’.” But the professional pollsters were amazingly accurate.

The final tally isn’t in yet, but it appears the current popular vote percentages were roughly Obama 52.6%, McCain 46.1. Four major pollsters called it almost exactly. Final polls by Pew and Rasmussen were Obama 52/McCain 46. CNN/Opinion Research and Ipos/McClatchy were Obama 53/ McCain 46. The final Real Clear Politics poll-of-polls was Obama 52.1/McCain 44.5. The Pollster.com final poll-of-polls was Obama 52.0/McCain 44.4. Overall, quite impressive.

The award for predications goes (not surprisingly) to the amazing Nate Silver at
fivethirtyeight.com whose final prediction was Obama 52.3% and McCain 46.2% (I was thinking of sending out a post the night before the election with my own predictions, but I realized I would probably end up just defaulting to Nate’s predictions). He got every state right except Indiana (and the one Nebraska Congressional district). (His final prediction for Indiana was McCain 50.0%/Obama 48.4%. The actual result in Indiana was Obama 49.9%/McCain 49.0.) And, note, this is the first election cycle where Nate has directed the statistical skills he has honed in baseball to the new arena of politics. (Last month, New York Magazine published a good profile of Nate.) Of course, most of the input to his statistical model is polling data and to that extent it is only as good as the underlying polling data.

A couple of other points to note from the polls: There wasn’t a “Bradley Effect” (i.e., white voters lying to pollsters about their racism). That doesn’t mean there weren’t racist voters – just that they didn’t lie to pollsters about their voting intentions. There also doesn’t appear to have been a “cell-phone effect” (polls skewed because of cell-phone-only voters who pollsters miss). Of the four leading pollsters who basically called the result right on, three did not include cell-phone respondents (only Pew did).

It’s been amusing to see some Republicans in denial trying to claim that this election does not represent an Obama or Democratic mandate. Robert Novak is typical when he
claims that Obama hadn’t “received a broad mandate from the public.” That is just silly.

George Bush declared a "mandate" from the people when he won in 2004 by a mere 35 electoral vote-margin. He did so despite barely eking out a majority with 50.7% of the popular vote -- only a 2.4% margin over John Kerry, the narrowest win for any elected incumbent seeking reelection since Harrison beat Cleveland in 1888.

Obama sailed over John McCain with a clear majority of almost 53% of the popular vote and a margin of victory in the popular vote of over 6%. His 7.4-million vote margin of victory was more than twice that of his predecessor. And his electoral-vote total was over twice that of McCain (his electoral-vote margin of victory was over five times that of Bush). Obama's win was a landslide by contemporary standards.

Actually, it has been 20 years since a president won with over 52% of the vote -- George H.W. Bush in 1988 (who won with 53% -- just barely more than Obama’s margin). You have to go back to 1964 for a Democratic win greater than 52%. Even in 1996, Bill Clinton only got 49% of the vote.

Reagan won with only 50.7% in 1980, but I seem to recall that was trumpeted at the time as a huge “Reagan Revolution” (because Republicans also ended up 53 seats in the Senate, although they still trailed by a large margin in the House). Gringrich’s big “Republican Revolution” in 1994 left Republicans with 230 seats in the House. The next Congress will have at least 255 Democratic House members and at least 57 Democratic Senators – more than any Republican majority in recent decades. So if 1980 represented the “Reagan Revolution” with his 50.7% win and 53 party members in the Senate, and 1994 represented a “Republican Revolution” with 230 Republicans in the House, what do you call an Obama win with close to 53% of the vote, at least 57 Democrats in the Senate and at least 255 Democrats in the House?

Obama won ALL the states that were considered “battleground” states. Indeed, if you look at the 11 states that either Bush or Kerry won in 2004 by less than five percent (Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado) , Obama carried them ALL. And he added the formerly solid-red states of Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana (which has only gone Democratic once since 1936 – in 1964) and almost snagged Missouri (losing by less than 5000 votes).

Remember how during the primaries the media narrative was that Obama had a “problem” with [fill in the blank] … Hispanics, Catholics, Jews, women, whites, etc.?

Let’s look at a few of those groups (as much as I hate group identity politics). Per the
exit polls:

Those Hispanics who supposedly wouldn’t vote for an African-American voted for Obama by more than two-to-one, 67 to 31 (Kerry won that group
in 2004 by only 53 to 44). Even in Florida, Hispanics (dominated by traditionally-Republican Cuban exiles) voted for Obama by an astonishing 57 to 42 (Bush won that group in 2004 by 55 to 44).

Obama won 54% of Catholics (Kerry – a Catholic himself – won only 47%).

Obama won 78% of the Jewish vote (Kerry won only 74%). (Any Jews who were concerned about whether Obama was sufficiently “pro-Israel” can take heart in his appointment as chief-of-staff of Rahm Emanuel, who was a civilian volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces during the first Gulf War.)

Obama won among women by 56 to 43, and even won among men 49 to 48%. (Kerry won women by only 51 to 48 and lost among men by 55 to 44.) The toughest demographic for Democrats has always been white men. Obama lost that group by 57 to 41. That sounds bad. But Kerry lost that group 62 to 37. Even Bubba Clinton in his
big election victory of 1996 won only 38% of white men. Yes, that’s right: Obama won a higher percentage of the white male vote than Bill Clinton did in 1996.

While we’re at it, I guess we should note that Obama won among Asians by 63 to 34.

Obama won that critical group of voters who call themselves independents by 52 to 44. (Kerry barely won that group, 49 to 48.)

Even those making over $200,000 went for Obama 52 to 46.

Remember during the primaries we were told Obama couldn’t win Pennsylvania – where McCain staked out his last stand during the general election? Obama won it by 11 points.

The most amazing outcome of the election: Obama carried the youth vote (under 30) by more than two-to-one – by an overwhelming 66 to 32. The only age group McCain won was the over 65 crowd (53 to 45). Obama also won among voters at every education level (he won whites with post-graduate degrees by 10 points), but McCain won whites with no college education by 58 to 40. So basically, McCain was left with old guys and poorly-educated whites.

This does not bode well for the future of the Republican Party. In the music industry it is understood that most people stick for the rest of their lives with the same music they were listening to in their 20’s. Similarly, voters tend to stick with the party affiliation they adopt in their 20's. Most of the young voters who went for Obama by more than two-to-one will probably stick with the Democratic party for the rest of their lives.

In the past, this generational effect was relatively minor. In the 70’s, young voters were liberal and Democratic, and in the Reagan years, young voters were actually conservative and Republican. But their vote didn’t vary from the overall vote by a very large margin. A Daily Kos
post shows the percentage of the youth vote won by the Democratic candidate in the past nine elections:

youth vote/overall vote
1976: 51%/50%
1980: 44%/41%
1984: 40%/40.4%
1988: 47%/45.5%
1992: 43%/42.9%
1996: 53%/49.2%
2000: 48%/48.3%
2004: 54%/48.1%
2008: 66%/52%

Prior to this year, in the eight presidential elections since 18 year-olds got the vote, the youth vote varied from the overall vote by less than two percentage points on average. This time, they went Democratic by an overwhelming 34%. That has to be the biggest story of this election.

Similarly, the suburbs have long been considered a Republican bastion. But this year, Obama won 50% of
suburban voters. Republicans still dominate in rural areas but less than 20% of the American population now lives in rural areas and their numbers are shrinking.

Sarah Palin and her ilk might consider the “Real America” to consist of old, poorly-educated rural whites. But the country is becoming increasingly urban and increasingly diverse with higher levels of education. Whites made up a smaller proportion of the electorate this year than at any point going back to the first exit polls; they were 74 percent of voters this year, down from 77 percent four years ago and a high of 90 percent in 1976. Almost half of American children under the age of five are non-white.

We have seen the future of America. And it looks a lot like Barack Obama.

On June 3rd, I booked air and hotel reservations for our family to travel back to DC for Obama’s inauguration. (That month I also made a few bets that Obama would win with at least 300 electoral votes.) So, how many people do you figure can fit on the Capitol Mall? Whatever it is, we’ll find out.


As I post this, it is 70 days, five hours and 39 minutes until Obama’s inauguration (but who’s counting).

1 comment:

L. Hjorten said...

Amazing summary of the entire election results, Russ. Everything is condensed in one place and now I feel (almost) like the expert that you are! Thanks.