JR Swift’s Blog

What I’m Thinking About Today

Election 2008…thoughts and predictions

Posted by jrswift on November 3, 2008

This is going to be one of those posts that totally goes against the idea of a blog. It is probably going to be way too long and that’s not really the idea. I’m supposed to be up here every day giving you little peeks into my life, not rambling on incessantly about some big issue that I could have covered over the last week or so. Well, too bad. If you read all this, I thank you for your patience and I hope you learn something.

This is the paragraph where I urge you to vote for what you want, not against what you fear. I respect the fact that many of you are genuinely sold on Obama or McCain and, if so, you should vote for them. On the other hand, if you aren’t genuinely sold on these guys or really don’t think it is going to make a “dime’s worth of difference” which one of them wins, I urge you to consider an alternative. It is probably going to be hard to convince some of you that you shouldn’t choose between these two guys and choose the better of the two or the lesser of two evils, depending on your perspective. If you live in a state where the polls are close, I suppose I can respect that viewpoint. Keep in mind that the chance that your vote will be the deciding one is in the same range of probability of being struck repeatedly by lightning but feel free to choose between the two if you must.

That being said, most states are not close. Unless you live in the dozen or so “swing states,” there is almost no chance that your favorite candidate will win or lose, regardless of what you do. There are alternatives for most of you and I wanted to make you all aware of them. A vote for one of these “other candidates” may not elect those candidates but it has a chance to make a real difference in the future and make future elections in this country less a matter of picking between two candidates you may not like and more a matter of voting for what you believe in.

Third party and Independent candidates have made a huge difference throughout American History, even though they have rarely won. Third parties were responsible for the first political convention. They were the first to speak out against slavery. They were the first to support a woman’s right to vote. While the Socialist party never earned more than 6% of the vote in a Presidential election, much of the platform they espoused, including Social Security, eventually was enacted into law. In recent years, Ross Perot ran a campaign largely focused on America’s budget deficit and, within the next four years, the budget was balanced for the first time. And, while many Democrats and liberals may rue Ralph Nader for running strong enough 8 years ago to derail Al Gore’s election, the aftermath has resulted in a more progressive and liberal Democrat party–not that I consider that good thing. šŸ™‚

Most of you will have a choice that goes beyond John McCain and Barrack Obama and I would urge you to consider that choice. I personally voted (early…all the cool kids did it this year) for Bob Barr who is the Libertarian candidate. If you are an individual who believes that the Federal government does too much, taxes and spends too much and gets too involved in regulating our lives and our choices, maybe you too should consider Barr. Or if you believe that America has a bleak future indeed unless we face the environmental issues of the day, perhaps you would better off supporting the Green Party. They offer a platform that favors greater democratization in government and the workplace as well as a strong pro-environment stance. Maybe you are a hard-core Conservative that thinks America has drifted too far from its Constitutional roots and that we need to return to the values and policies of the past. If so, the Constitution party may be for you. There are more small parties out there but these are the largest of them and the ones who will be on the most ballots. If these parties reflect your values, you should vote for them, even though they won’t win. More votes means more attention, a better chance to earn ballot access in the future, and an opportunity to show the Republicrats and the Demopublicans that they need to pay attention to the issues you believe in.

Interestingly enough, all the three of the parties I mentioned want to end the war in Iraq, want to restore the civil liberties robbed from us by the Patriot Act and opposed the 700 billion dollar bailout of Wall Street that we will all be paying for for many years to come. I haven’t heard much of a peep out of Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama about any of these issues lately. They mostly seem to be trying to “out-hawk” and “out-spend” one another. It seems to me that these are three of the biggest issues out there and neither of the major party candidates are spending much time talking about them. A vote for an alternative will tell them that they ignore these issues at their peril.

I did not mention Ralph Nader for a very important reason. I believe he is a honorable man who truly believes what he says, whether I agree with it or not. But he is running as an Independent and a vote for Nader will not build a strong alternative voice. Better to choose the Green party candidate if you lean that way. That way there may be more Green candidates on the ballot in the future and the Democrats and Republicans will be forced to pay more attention to the issues they raise. Furthermore, some people will decide to write in Ron Paul. Ron Paul is not even running. He could have done so but he chose not to. His views are close to both the Libertarian and Constitution party so vote for one of their candidates instead.

OK, so I’ll get off my soapbox. Now it is time for my nitty-gritty breakdown of what is actually going to happen tomorrow, not what I’d like to see. I will say that I think this is slightly more than the rants and raves of a random citizen. I spent many years studying political science and I think I know a little bit about that which I speak. Furthermore, I have been watching the polling data for the last month or so and have a bit of historical perspective, having been a student of American elections for over 30 years. That being said, your guess is probably as good as mine. šŸ™‚

So here’s the rub: Obama is going to win and, frankly, I think that is probably a good thing. It is a very good thing for America to elect an African American President and I think he is more stable and thoughtful than McCain. I disagree with him on many things but, on balance, I hope he wins. He will win because, for the first time in my memory, the electoral college deck is stacked against the Republicans and it is all but impossible to fight that.

Before I discuss the math that will make Obama President, let me warn you all what to watch out for tomorrow. Some of you are “young ‘uns” who may be new to this Election nonsense so you might want to know what to expect. The first thing you are going to hear tomorrow is how unbelievably high the turnout of voters is going to be. They do this every year. It may or may not be true but you will hear reports from whatever state you are in that the Secretary of State and your local election officials are just amazed at the number of people who are voting. Now there is some very strong evidence that turnout will be very high this year but, whether or not it comes to pass, you will be lead to be believe it is true. Just like Walmart never seems to remember to staff their stores on Labor Day, election officials always seem to forget all the early voters that they haven’t seen since the last Presidential election. Long lines at 5 PM are the sign of a big turnout, not a projection at lunchtime.

Secondly, you might want to pay less attention than usual to the “exit polls” that the networks like to use to project the outcome. They were just awful indicators of the outcome last time and they may turn out to be worse this year. There were a very large number of early voters this year, particularly in a few key states. Indications are that they were disproportionately Democratic voters. Well, they aren’t going to be available to interview tomorrow because they won’t be leaving the polls. I expect the exit polls to suggest a strong McCain showing tomorrow but it won’t last. The networks will play it up because it makes a good story and encourages you to keep watching their commercials but don’t trust their projections. On the other hand, early results that favor Obama are probably very good news for the Democrats.

Finally, if you vote, keep your eyes open. There have been some mighty suspicious goings-on in Presidential elections lately and you all need to be aware that not everyone wants the outcome to be determined fairly. If you see anything that seems “off” to you, report it. Election fraud may be real but it must be exposed. Overzealous people on both sides may feel it is right to make sure their candidate wins. It isn’t. Over a hundred million Americans CAN be fooled…if they don’t stand up and say “no” to corruption.

OK…so, now we tell you why Obama will win tomorrow. As most of you know, there is not one Presidential election tomorrow, there are fifty one. Your candidate can get hundreds of thousands (even millions) more votes than his or her opponent and still not win enough Electoral votes to claim the Presidency. It has happened several times and it happened in 2000. If you win a number of states by a large number of votes, but lose enough large states by small margins, you can still lose the White House. In most recent elections, the Democrats had a very small margin of error. They were only competitive in about half the states and, even though that included most of the larger states (with the most Electoral votes), it meant that had to pretty much “run the table” to win the election. Not so this year.

This year Obama and the Democrats are the ones who are more competitive in more states. This year, it is the Republicans who have to “run the table” to win and I see little evidence of that coming to pass. The Democrats hold leads in most every state they won in 2004 (and 2000) and there are very few of those states where McCain has any chance of winning. On the other hand, Obama is actually leading or competitive in 10-12 states that President Bush won in both 2000 and 2004. States like Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, North Dakota, Montana and maybe even Arizona are close enough that no one can reliably predict how they may go. Here’s the rub. McCain basically needs every one of those states to win and he could lose them all. Obama needs, at most 2 or 3 of them, as long as he holds the Gore/Kerry states and it looks like he will. This is one of the reasons McCain has spent so much time in Pennsylvania. It is a large Democratic state they think they have a chance to win.

So what has to happen for McCain to win and can Obama win BIG? McCain needs a couple of things to happen and he needs to cross fingers because even that won’t guarantee anything. First off, he needs undecided voters to break dramatically for him. It could happen but I don’t think it is likely. Generally speaking, the longer a voter remains undecided, the more likely he is to vote for the less-known candidate. McCain, in many ways, represents the status quo and the “safe” choice. Obama is the wild card. I think that, ultimately, Obama actually gets most of these voters.

Secondly, McCain needs to see a “Bradley effect.” Almost 30 years ago, Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles was running for Governor of California. All the polls suggested he had a large lead. But he was black…and he lost. Many have speculated that white voters did not want to admit they wouldn’t vote for a black man but ultimately decided to go against Bradley for that reason. Could it happen with Obama? Well…maybe. I suspect it is most likely in states with a large older, white population. States like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri or Indiana and maybe Virginia or North Carolina. Frankly, I think it will be the biggest non-story of the election and that is because of one thing: cell phones.

Polling may overstate Obama’s support among older white voters but I suspect it underestimates his support among younger voters. Most polls have a hard time reaching voters who do not have traditional land-line phones. I don’t know about you but I know an awful lot of people who have only cell phones. In fact, most people I know (who tend to be younger) only have cell phones. Polling may overstate Obama’s lead among older voters with land-line phone but I believe it is equally likely to understate his support among younger voters who only have cell phones. In the end, it is a wash. It may very well cost Obama a state like Ohio or Indiana but could win him a state like Colorado or Nevada.

So, to wrap things up, I think it far more likely we see an Obama landslide tomorrow night, leaving him in the 350-400 electoral vote margin than we are to see a McCain win. I believe the polling is actually understating Obama’s support and missing a number of the young and minority voters who are likely to vote tomorrow for the first time. If I’m right, you’ll see it early tomorrow evening as Obama will be very close or ahead in early states like Georgia, Indiana or Virginia. McCain needs each of the states and, if he isn’t winning them easily, he isn’t going to be in the White House next January. Anyway, hope you all have a good one and enjoy Election Day.

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One Response to “Election 2008…thoughts and predictions”

  1. Kevin said

    Excellent insight into the process as usual, sir. See you at the polls.

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