Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why Obama Will Lose

There is general fretting going on in Republican ranks that Obama is looking like a sure bet for re-election. Well, don't lose sleep over it, he's not. Unless the Republican nominee runs the worst campaign ever (always possible), Obama is toast.

The prediction markets currently say Obama's odds for re-election are 60%. As much as I am a fan of these markets, they've got it wrong. I'd say more like 30%.

There are many reasons why. Let's go through them:

  • Do you personally know a single person who didn't vote for Obama last time but plans to this time? No? Me, neither. And I've asked a lot of people. This sets a hard ceiling for his vote count, from which he can only lose support. Last time, he won by 5 ½ percent.
  • Of the people you know who voted for Obama, how many did so out of a sense of moral fashion, a desire to seem sophisticated and "with it?" A lot? Me too. And most of the ones I know feel like they were had. They feel that Obama ran a "post partisan" and middle-of-the-road campaign. He did, and he isn't. These voters won't get fooled again. If they are only 3% of the voting population, Obama loses. And 3% seems low to me. America is a center-right country, and Obama has not tacked to the middle, Bubba-style.
  • People always forget turnout in these discussions. 2008 was a perfect storm - the good kind - for Democrat turnout. Not only was there massive Bush fatigue after eight years, but world markets fell out of bed right before the election. Plus Obama was a charismatic candidate with almost no voting record to criticize. He spurred record turnout from Dems while McCain inspired almost none in the Republican ranks.
  • Of the 5 1/2 percent winning margin, fully three percent was from increased black turnout. Even though blacks are only 11% of the population, they turned out in such numbers they added almost 4% to Obama's margin. Blacks will still vote 95% for Obama, but with excitement levels down, and with history already having been made, look for black turnout to ebb. It probably costs Obama 2 points.
  • With Latinos, the picture is even worse. Last time, Obama won Latinos by 36 points. To put this in perspective, Kerry only won Latinos by ten. Right now, Obama's favorability rating with Latinos is a mere 44%. Let's be generous, though, and say he actually wins Latinos by 55-45, that's still a 26 point drop in the margin. But it's worse than that, because turnout will be lower. If you assume a 10% drop in turnout, combined with a 26% drop in the vote margin, that translates into roughly a 1.5 point drop overall for Obama’s margin. This, combined with the decline in black turnout, is enough to reverse 2008’s result.
  • The youth vote is another issue. Once again, Obama enjoyed a huge turnout and overwhelming support from this demographic. And while he still enjoys a slightly positive skew in their support, it is way, way off from 2008, when he won this demographic by 33 points. If we assume the youth turnout reverts to 2004 levels, and we assume a ten point drop in the margin, it costs Obama another 3.75% That’s enough of a margin to swing the election right there.
  • Conservatives, the biggest single voting philosophical block, will turn out in droves. Last time, the combination of a dreary moderate, McCain, and Bush fatigue suppressed conservative turnout. Not even another moderate like Romney will have that effect this time. Anti-Obama sentiment is just too high. The Tea Party will hold its collective nose and vote.
  • The economy, I don't need to point out, stinks. Gas prices are at record highs, etc. 
  • Obama's net approval rating (Rasmussen) has not been positive since June 29th, 2009. That's pushing 3 years. Presidents simply don't get re-elected with numbers like that.
    So, barring a remarkable turnaround in the economy, which, given Obama's own job-killing policies seems unlikely, it's difficult to see how he comes anywhere close to winning. (Of course, we've only addressed the popular vote here. We'll get to the electoral college in due course. I will roll out my electoral college model, which has been extremely accurate, this spring.)

    In the meantime, won't you take my little poll?

    Friday, February 24, 2012

    Ever Hear of Dunbar's Law?

    So, as you probably know, I have recently started a social polling app and website, www.wayin.com). In fact, the poll you see above is from the site. One of our brand new capabilities is being able to take those polls (we call them "wayins") and embed them anywhere.

    Anyway, this has had me thinking a lot more of late about social media and its impact. While researching a talk I gave at Yale this week, I stumbled on an academic theory known as "Dunbar's Law," which states that the human animal is capable of sustaining only about 150 personal relationships. I'm not talking about people you say hi to at the post office, I mean actively maintained relationships.

    Think about that. There are seven billion people in the world and you only get to have 150 relationships. One in every 46 million people. Those are special spots. You should allocate them carefully!

    I can see being at a party and meeting someone fun or interesting but having to say, "You know, you seem really nice, but right now I'm at my cognitive friend limit. Maybe if you send me your resume, we can talk."

    Of course, the 150 aren't static. In particular, as we transition through life's stages, some friends fade away and others appear. Think about the post-college years. Gotta leave some friends behind to make room for all the new ones.

    Not anymore. I know there's lots of ways to waste time on things like Facebook, but social media allow us to violate Dunbar’s Law. No one ever has to lose track of anyone ever again. This is a very big deal, because you never know who in your life will change your life.

    Think it’s one of your best friends? Think again. Research shows that when people hunt for new jobs, more often than not, they find one through a loose acquaintance, not from someone in their inner circle. Friend #137, not friend #2.

    So my advice is not just to use social networks, but be social. Go to parties, make new friends. Keep in touch with those that you have. Serendipity, it turns out, is really just making probability work in your favor.