Predictions 2012

At the time I’m writing this, we are merely hours from what could be the most consequential election of our lifetime. Of course, when you’re reading this, we will most likely know who has won. But I hope you’ll finish this column anyway, if only to see how badly I might’ve missed the mark. So without further ado, here are some predictions for election night.

I’ll start with the presidential election. Unfortunately, the dirty secret of modern election prediction is that we have opinion polling that is very accurate. Simply relying on these polls has provided an accurate prediction in most modern elections. There are various poll aggregators of varying degrees of fame that use different methods to convert the large volume of state-by-state polling into a coherent election prediction. As of this writing, FiveThirtyEight, probably the most famous of these poll aggregating websites written by the recently polarizing Nate Silver  of The New York Times, gives a 92-percent chance of Barack Obama winning re-election. I agree with Silver’s assessment that Obama is overwhelmingly likely to win the election. In terms of electoral votes, I think Obama will win by a smaller margin than in 2008 but will still win comfortably. In the end, I think Obama will win between 303 and 347 electoral votes depending on which way North Carolina and Florida swing. Personally, I’ll split the difference between the two and give Florida narrowly to Obama based on his turnout operation and generally positive reaction to how he’s handled Hurricane Sandy. I give North Carolina narrowly to Mitt Romney because of increased turnout of white male voters since 2008. Really, I think these could go either way. The popular vote is tougher to call because it is unclear how the displacement of populations by Hurricane Sandy will depress turnout in solidly blue states such as New Jersey and New York. My bold prediction is that Obama will end up winning about 51.5 percent of the popular vote.

In the Senate, polling has been a bit sparser but still common enough to give us an idea of what the outcomes are likely to be. In an election cycle where Democrats are defending 23 seats and Republicans are defending only 10, I believe the balance of the Senate will actually shift further to the left and come to rest at 54 Democrats and 46 Republicans, counting independents who are likely to caucus with Democrats. Such a conclusion would have been almost unthinkable three months ago, but stumbles by Republican candidates in Missouri and Indiana have opened the door for Democrats. I think they’ll capitalize. In the Massachusetts Senate race, Elizabeth Warren is generally viewed as a solid favorite because of favorable polling. I see no reason to think that such polling is wrong, so I think that Massachusetts will once again have two Democratic senators.

The House of Representatives is much more sparsely polled than either the elections for the presidency or the Senate, so making an informed assessment of how likely it is to shift one way or the other is much more difficult than in the other two. However, I think Democrats will make small gains on the order of five to 10 seats. Republicans would retain the majority in this scenario.

Those who know my political leanings might be unsurprised by the left-leaning tilt of my projections. I’m not sure that the polling data point to any conclusion other than the one I’ve drawn here, but it’s worth pointing out that I am far from perfectly confident in my projections. A 92-percent chance of victory means that Romney should win the election eight percent of the time. The polls could be wrong! That 8 percent might not seem like much, but it isn’t 0 percent. If I’m wrong, I fully expect to be laughed at for my confidence. I suppose that is the price of writing my predictions in a column. But no matter my level of confidence, I am still nervous (and excited) for election night. That is a feeling that I imagine anyone, no matter which side of the political divide they are on, can relate to. Regardless of how the election turned out for your side, I hope you’ll take a second to appreciate our American democracy. It’s pretty great. And then, once you’re done reflecting for a second, we can start speculating on who’s the favorite for 2016. (I hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has the inside track.)

Brian McGrail ’14 is a history and political economy double major from Arlington, Va. He lives in Morgan.

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