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Editorial note.The site will be down for a few minutes for a capacity upgrade tomorrow.

New Feature Starting Today: Tipping-Point Table for the Senate

From the server logs, it is clear that the tipping-point table for the presidential election is quite popular. Starting today, the same kind of table is now available for the Senate. It lists the bluest states on top down to the reddest states at the bottom. The table shows how deep into red territory the Democrats have to go to get 51 seats in the Senate. When read upwards from the bottom, it shows how deep into blue territory the Republicans have to go to get 51 seats in the Senate. The table is here. In the future, to get it, click on the word "Senate" on top of the main page and then select "Tipping-point state" from the menu to the left of the Senate map.

Two caveats go with this table, however. First, it shows how to get 51 seats, but either party can control the Senate with 50 seats and the Vice President. Since we don't know whether Paul Ryan or Joe Biden will be Vice President come Jan. 20, this possibility is not considered. Second, what to do about Maine? It seems clear now that former governor Angus King will be the next senator from Maine, but he refuses to say with whom he will caucus. Our guess is that he will caucus with the Democrats. Here are some clues. First, he has endorsed President Obama. If King wins and so does Obama, King would not be the most popular kid on the block in the Republican caucus. Second, he used to work for a Democratic senator, William Hathaway. Third, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Maine, Cynthia Dill, has been complaining that not only won't the DSCC give her a penny, but it has told Democratic donors to sit on their wallets. If DSCC chairwoman Patty Murray thought King would caucus with the Republicans, she would be helping Dill and she isn't. Probably King has given Murray a private assurance that he will join her caucus, like fellow New Englander Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). For these reasons, in the table King is considered a Democrat. However, in the scoreboard at the top of the page, Maine is considered a tie because it is easy for you to mentally add one to the Democrats' score if you like. It is much harder to mentally patch up the tipping-point table if a state is missing.

Conservatives Set Up Their Own Polling Website

The late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once told an opponent that he was entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts. It is doubtful he would have approved of people generating their own data. Still, Republicans unhappy with the national and state polls showing Obama leading Romney by an increasing margin have created a website with polls that weight the demographic distribution of voters differently, supposedly to reduce skew. Democrats counter that there is no reason to think that blacks or Latinos will turn out in lower numbers than in 2008 so there is no reason to reweight the polls with fewer of them.

In addition, while some pollsters use a demographic model to make sure that Democrats and Republicans are weighted according to their numbers in the electorate, other pollsters, such as Quinnipiac University, don't do that. If their sample has 37% Democrats and 35% Republicans, for example, they just assume that is the correct distribution and do not apply any corrections. So for these pollsters, accusations that the 2008 turnout model will not apply to 2012 are irrelevant; they aren't using it. Here is a good article on partisan identification and its impact on polling.

The unskewed polls site has been getting a lot of play on right-wing blogs but its numbers are more imaginary than the square root of -1. The average of all the national polls there has Romney leading Obama 52% to 44%. Unless the voter ID laws prevent massive numbers of minorities and students from voting, there is no way that will come close to being true. While individual pollsters may have bias, our technique of averaging all the nonpartisan ones should get rid of most of any residual bias. For example, in our current map, Colorado is an average of four polls by four different pollsters. Florida and Virginia are an average of six polls each, with six different pollsters per state. The map and numbers above include every poll Scott Rasmussen has published this year, even though earlier studies have shown he has a bias of about 4 points towards the Republicans.

Nevertheless, as a thought experiment, suppose all the pollsters had a bias of +3 for the Democrats, what would the map look like? It is easy to run this experiment. All that is necessary is to add 3 to every Republican score in every poll in the database and subtract 3 from every Democratic score. Here is the resulting map. The electoral vote score is 237 for Obama and 273 for Romney, with Wisconsin and Ohio ties. If we redo the experiment assuming only a 2% bias, Obama leads 284 to 248 with Iowa tied.

What does this experiment show us? Roughly, that Obama is about 2.5% ahead. While this is a completely different way of measuring public opinion than a national poll, in a way it is probably better since it uses data from more than a dozen state pollsters and has a vastly larger sample size than any national poll does. The conclusion is that if Romney does well enough in the first debate to shift public opinion in his direction by 3%, he will have a lead in the electoral college.

Romney Cratering on Intrade

Participants on the betting site are dumping stock in Romney-2012 with no end in sight. During most of August, Romney's chances fluctuated in a narrow band from 38% to 44%. In the past week it has dropped to 27%. If you are convinced Romney is going to win, here is a chance to quadruple your money in the space of 6 weeks. Not even Bain Capital could come up with an investment that good. Here is the graph of Romney's chances according to Intrade since Aug. 1, 2012.

Romney on intrade

Takeaways From Today's Ohio and Florida Polls

Chris Cillizza has some interesting takeaways on today's Washington Post polls of Ohio and Florida (below), where Obama is up +8 points and +4 points, respectively. Here are his comments.

All in all, this is very negative for Romney. If Ohio voters like Obama personally, think he has done a plausible job on the economy given the cards he was dealt, and strongly approve of the auto bailouts, how is Romney going to win them over? Run another $20 million worth of ads saying he mismanaged the economy when the voters blame it on George W. Bush?

The Microtargeting of 338,020 Women Could Swing the Election

Ever since Republican pollster Alex Gage invented microtargeting for Karl Rove in 2004, politics has not been the same. Now NARAL, a pro-choice organization, is about to launch a campaign precisely aimed at 338,020 women who live in swing counties in nine swing states who it has labeled "Obama defectors." These are white, independent female voters under 40 who mostly voted for Obama in 2008 and might not this time. What is special about this microtargeting is that a large fraction of these voters will vote for a candidate who is pro choice on abortion, even if they disagree with the candidate on everything else.

This is a good example of what microtargeting is all about: out of a large database of voters, find specific subsets who care passionately about one specific issue and then send them flyers printed specifically for them about the issue they care about, possibly following that up with sending a volunteer to talk about the issue. In the past it was essentially impossible to determine for millions of individual voters what moves them, but by collecting data from hundreds of sources, including publications they read, organizations they belong to, products they have purchased, donations they have made, and much more, computer software can do data mining on huge databases and determine which individuals want to save the fetuses and which want to save the whales.

On the other hand, microtargeting gets you only so far if you have nothing to sell. Josh Kraushaar wrote a piece saying that Mitt Romney needs to be more like another famous businessman, Steve Jobs. Jobs had a clear vision of what he wanted the iPhone to be. He ignored surveys and focus groups and just followed his vision. Romney hasn't given a clear vision of what kind of America he wants. Instead he is running ads to microtarget coal miners in Ohio and Latinas in other states. An incumbent can sometimes get away with ignoring the big picture because people have a sense of what he wants. For a challenger, it is tougher.

The Republican Brain Drain

Richard Cohen has written an incisive column on what has happened to the Republican Party. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the Republican nomination in tough primaries. He beat a future President, two future Senate majority leaders and two congressmen, clearly top-flight competition. Fast forward to 2012 and Mitt Romney also won tough primaries. He beat a disgraced House speaker, a defeated Senate candidate, a former Obama appointee, a tongue-tied governor, a prevaricating religious zealot, and a cranky libertarian doctor. Then Cohen asks where did all the talent go?

Cohen's answer is that our nutty primary system that gives Iowa and and New Hampshire so much power now forces Republicans so far to the right that the good ones don't run and the winner ends up mangled by having to say things he doesn't believe for a second and which come back to haunt him later. To defeat Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), Romney attacked him for supporting in-state tuition for Latinos brought illegally to the U.S. as kids. Bingo, goodbye Perry. But also, goodbye Latino vote. As Iowa pulls the Republicans further and further to the right while the country is looking less and less like Iowa every year, the Republicans are going to have to figure out how to deal with this. Democrats don't have this problem as Iowa Democrats are moderately progressive, but not way out of step with the rest of the country.

Today's Presidential Polls

The big poll today is one showing Obama up 8 points in Ohio, a must win state for Romney, who is currently touring the state. If Romney can't turn Ohio around, he in deep trouble. Obama also has a lead in Florida, but not as big as Ohio.

State Obama Romney   Start End Pollster
Arkansas 35% 56%   Sep 17 Sep 17 Hendrix Coll.
Florida 51% 47%   Sep 19 Sep 23 Washington Post
Minnesota 48% 40%   Sep 17 Sep 19 Star Tribune
New Jersey 52% 37%   Sep 19 Sep 23 Monmouth U.
Nevada 52% 43%   Sep 18 Sep 20 PPP
Ohio 52% 44%   Sep 19 Sep 23 Washington Post

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % I I % Start End Pollster
Florida Bill Nelson* 46% Connie McGillicuddy 37%     Sep 20 Sep 23 PPP
Florida Bill Nelson* 54% Connie McGillicuddy 40%     Sep 19 Sep 23 Washington Post
Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren 48% Scott Brown* 48%     Sep 24 Sep 24 Rasmussen
Michigan Debbie Stabenow* 53% Pete Hoekstra 37%     Sep 20 Sep 20 Rasmussen
New Jersey Bob Menendez* 49% Joseph Kyrillos 34%     Sep 19 Sep 23 Monmouth U.
Nevada Shelley Berkley 48% Dean Heller* 44%     Sep 18 Sep 20 PPP
Ohio Sherrod Brown* 53% Josh Mandel 41%     Sep 19 Sep 23 Washington Post

* Denotes incumbent