Saturday, November 01, 2008

My 2008 White House and Senate Predictions

With less than 72 hours until polls all over this country finally close on the 2008 presidential election, I thought I would make my White House and Senate predications. I believe that Barack Obama will win the White House with 364 electoral votes and that the Democrats will pick up 7 Senate seats, giving them 57 (58, but I expect Lieberman to fly the coop). These predictions are based on polls from RealClearPolitics, statistical analysis from FiveThirtyEight, and my own understanding of history, geography, and culture.

White House – I predict Barack Obama will win with 364 electoral votes. By comparison, Larry Sabato also has him at 364, and RCP at 353. Neither Charlie Cook nor 538 have made predictions. But the basic fact is this: Obama’s win is everything but a done deal. If Obama flips, as expected, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Iowa, he can lose Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida and STILL WIN exactly 270 electoral votes! Yet he’s still likely to win Ohio and Florida, and despite what the McCain camp says, I see absolutely no way he can lose Pennsylvania or New Hampshire. With those 8 swing states, Obama has 338 electoral votes. I think McCain will hold Montana, North Dakota, Georgia, West Virginia, and Arizona, but that we’re talking about them at all is absolutely stunning and speaks to the depth of Obama’s victory. Missouri, Indiana, and North Carolina are all a little trickier, but I expect black turnout and the Hagan-Dole backlash in NC to lift up Obama there. I think McCain will win EITHER Missouri or Indiana, I’m going to guess Indiana and give Missouri to Obama, just sort of a gut feeling. Finally, neither Nebraska nor Maine will split their electoral votes. If I’m wrong about any states, I think MO, IN, ND, and MT are the most likely.

As for the popular vote, my best guess is something around Obama 52, McCain 46. I'm ignoring all the buzz about the polls tightening because the only poll that's really any different than it was before is Zogby's tracking poll, and Zogby's weight sample assumes that turnout will be exactly the same as it was in 2004, giving Republicans an unrealistic boost. The poll I trust the most, Gallup Tracking Expanded, currently shows Obama 52 McCain 42.

On to the Senate. In order of certitude:

Virginia – DEMOCRATIC GAIN. All but a done deal; no analysis needed. 538 gives former Governor and Democrat Mark Warner a 100% chance of winning. Warner, I believe, is the future of the post-Obama Democratic Party.

New Mexico – DEMOCRATIC GAIN. All but a done deal; no analysis needed. 538 gives Rep. Tom Udall (D) a 100% chance of victory. I’m looking forward to Mo Udall’s nephew serving in the Senate.

Colorado – DEMOCRATIC GAIN. All but a done deal; no analysis needed. 538 gives Rep. Mark Udall (D) a 100% chance of victory. I’m looking forward to Mo Udall’s son serving in the Senate.

Alaska – DEMOCRATIC GAIN. I expected Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) to win even before incumbent Ted Stevens (R) was indicted; the wiff of scandal around Stevens and the entire Alaska GOP was just too strong. Stevens’ indictment seals the deal, even with Governor Sarah Palin on the top of the ballot. This has gone from a toss-up to, according to 538, a 100% lock for the Democrats.

New Hampshire – DEMOCRATIC GAIN. This state turned a very deep shade of blue in 2006, when NH Democrats (like me!) took back the state house, state senate, Executive Council, and both House races, and the Governor won re-election by a record margin. Folks are generally unimpressed with Senator John Sununu, who’s not much of a campaigner in the first place. His only real hope was John McCain’s coattails, but with McCain down by double digits even here in his second political home, put a fork in Sununu. True, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) was really unimpressive in the Senate debate. I had to turn it off, but seriously, how many people do you really think were watching in the first place?

Minnesota – REPUBLICANS HOLD. Even though 538 gives Democrat Al Franken a 53% chance of flipping this seat to the Democrats, I predict incumbent Republican Norm Coleman will pull through. Three of the four current polls show Coleman ahead, and the scandals that have plagued him just aren’t as odious as the ones that have hit at Franken. I like Al Franken and think he’d make a great Senator; he’s been more of a funny politico the last few years than he has been a political comedian. His problem is that he’s an atypical candidate running a typical campaign. If Minnesota Democrats wanted a traditional race, they should have nominated the lawyer who ran against Franken in the primaries. Franken should have embraced who he is and run a Franken campaign rather than a Senate campaign; as a result, I expect him to pay the price on Tuesday. But, if I’m wrong about just one Republican win, this is likely to be it.

Oregon – DEMOCRATIC GAIN. I actually originally expected Republican Gordon Smith (yet another Udall) to win re-election, but the winds have shifted and Democrat Jeff Merkley leads in all four current polls for an average lead of 5.3 points. 538 gives him an 88% chance of unseating Smith.

North Carolina – DEMOCRATIC GAIN. This has to be one of the dirtiest Senate races in the history of modern campaigns. State Sen. Kay Hagan (D) has been leading incumbent Elizabeth Dole (R) for the last couple weeks, so Dole went as negative as is possible, releasing an ad implying that the Presbyterian Sunday School teacher Hagan is an atheist. When the ad was criticized, Dole released another defending the first. Elizabeth Dole has gone from a respectable Republican to perhaps the most undeserving candidate out there this cycle. The ad even prompted me to donate a small amount to the DSCC. The question about this race is this: even if Hagan’s fierce reply has gotten out, has Dole’s ad created doubt in voters’ minds about Hagan, or is it just too disgusting and will create a severe backlash, sealing the deal for Hagan? I think so, particularly when coupled with strong African-American turnout for Obama. 538 agrees, giving Hagan a 78% chance.

Mississippi – REPUBLICANS HOLD. This, along with Oregon, is the one race I’ve changed my mind about in the last few weeks. I initially though that former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) would unseat incumbent Roger Wicker (R) given black turnout for Obama and the fact that it’s a special election with no party affiliation printed on the ballot. However, Musgrove has run a bit of a lackluster campaign, and the first polls out in weeks all show Wicker slightly ahead. 538 gives Wicker a 93% chance, which seems high to me, but I still think he’ll win.

Georgia – REPUBLICAN HOLD. This one is surprisingly close. 538 says it’s more likely to switch than Mississippi, giving incumbent Saxby Chambliss (R) an 43% chance. His average lead, according to RCP, in the last three polls is just 2.7%. Still, he’s pretty close to that 50% marker. No one expected this race to be a barnburner, and black turnout or no, it’s still Georgia.

Kentucky – REPUBLICANS HOLD. Democrats have been organized here for a long time, and some polls are almost tied, but KY won’t have the black of vote GA and MS and only one sitting Senate party leader has lost his bid for re-election in the last 50+ years. Mitch McConnell (R)’s average RCP lead is seven points, and 538 gives him an 84% chance. I think McConnell will hold on, but this may not be much more than a toss-up if Obama’s wave is large enough.

Louisiana – DEMOCRATS HOLD. 538 has moved the Republicans’ lone pickup opportunity to 100% safe for the incumbent Democrat, Mary Landrieu. I never figured she was in much danger anyway – if she could win reelection in the overwhelmingly Republican year of 2002, the overwhelmingly Democratic year of 2008 shouldn’t have been a problem for her, changing Louisiana demographics or not.

Texas – REPUBLICANS HOLD. – No one actually expects the Democratic challenger, Lt. Col. and State Sen. Rick Noriega, to win. I just include it on my list because I think it’s a missed opportunity, like Nevada in 2006. Had the national Democrats invested (they said TX is too expensive; the same amount of money was able to fully fund NC, GA, and KY instead) and had Noriega gotten his act together earlier, this could have been plum pickin’ for Democrats. Incumbent John Cornyn (R) has low name recognition and low favorability ratings, but will cruise to victory anyway. 538 gives him a 99% chance.

The open Republican seats in Idaho and Nebraska are also safe in Republican hands, and I always expected Maine's Susan Collins (R) to cruise to re-election, although perhaps not by this large a margin.


James said...

Of all those I know who opine on this issue, you're the one I'm putting my two pence on. How do you see Prop 8 in California coming out?

Cany said...

I think you are really close, but my numbers are 349. Maybe I am getting conservative (ha!) in my old age.

I disagree on your assessment of Alaska. The state really doesn't seem to care much about scandal. After all, they have been living with it for a couple decades now, not to mention their gov. Meaning, I don't think Stevens was off ticket until he was found guilty. Even so... WATCH what he gets. I do agree the dem Begich will win. But that is ONLY because of Stevens guilty, not because of his indictment. Alaska doesn't seem to have much of a political ethics construct. If they did, both Young and Stevens would have been out of there long ago and they would have raised holy hell at both Murkowskis. The state is a mess. More like a club than a state.

I think your call on Franken losing is, sadly, probably correct. Coleman is a nightmare. Worse, though, is "Ms. McCarthy" Bachman (a rep, not senator). Minnesota needs a serious spanking and a few less brats and Obama's help isn't playing the down ticket races here all that well in these two cases, at least. But I am keeping the light on...

Nathan Empsall said...

James - I'm not following Prop 8 all that closely. My assumption is that it will pass; I haven't seen any recent polling on it, but my limited understanding of the situation is that it's sort of old "no" polling vs. new "yes" efforts, and I would trust polling over field efforts.

Cany, Alaska hasn't been living with this particular scandal for decades. It's just the last couple years that Stevens has gotten in trouble and half the state legislature, including Stevens' son, has been indicted. And remember that in '06 the state showed an anti-incumbent zeal by overwhelmingly kicking out Governor Murkowski (R) in the primary. Polls showed Begich defeating Stevens even ahead of the indictment, when it was just an investigation.

Fortunately, Sabato is predicting Bachmann will lose... is she your rep?