Thursday, December 25, 2008

Breaking down my election predictions

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 6th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In last weeks column I made some rather bold predictions regarding what I believe will be a modern day landslide election victory for both Barack Obama and the Democratic Party on 4 November. More specifically I said Obama would end up with 393-396 or maybe even 401-404 electoral (and that) the Democrats will also pick up 34-36 seats in the House of Representatives and 8-10 seats in the US Senate.
Since the actual US election results will already be in by the time this column is published, in today’s column I will break down my projections so readers can ascertain just how close or how far off the mark I was with my post-election results forecast. Before I begin, I also want to note that it has been 20 years since a US Presidential candidate; President George Bush in 1988, won more than 380 electoral votes on Election Day. Thus the recent history of closer contests is the reason why I would characterize Barack Obama winning roughly 400 electoral votes as a modern-day landslide election.
In 2000, Al Gore won the overall US popular vote by a half a million votes but narrowly lost the electoral vote and the US Presidency by a margin of 271-266 when the disputed electoral votes of the state of Florida were awarded to his opponent. Given the closeness of past US Presidential contests, most media pundits have focused on which candidate will emerge as the winner in key battleground states like Ohio and Florida in their attempts to predict the likely winner of this year’s election.
But my belief that Democrats will gain more than 45 House and Senate seats in Congress and that Obama will win the US Electoral College vote (based on the candidate who wins the most votes in each state and thus the electoral votes of that state) by a much wider margin than any recent President is based largely on two key assumptions.
The first is that Senator Obama will win the 266 electoral votes of the same states previously won by losing Democratic candidates, Al Gore and John Kerry, even though Gore and Kerry won many of those states by very narrow margins. However, since Senator Obama had double digit leads in the polls of every single one of those states just days ahead of 4 November, this was also a fairly safe assumption on my part.
With this rock solid base of 266 electoral votes already in his back pocket, all Barack Obama really needed to do was swing one of the small states Bush had won by only a few thousand votes in 2004, like New Mexico or Iowa, into the Democratic column in order to win this year’s election. But Presidential candidates that win office by narrow margins usually begin their terms with the psychological handicap of being perceived by members of Congress as politically “weaker” and thus less able to make significant policy changes than Presidents who win big electoral victories at the polls.
Obama and his advisors correctly sensed that they had an opportunity to broaden the playing field and win this year’s election by a wide margin, thus giving Obama’s new Presidential administration a “mandate” from America’s voters to make whatever changes Obama believes are necessary. Members of Congress from both political parties are also much more likely to pass legislation in support of controversial initiatives put forth by President’s who have demonstrated broad national support with their election.
So the Obama campaign decided to pursue a strategy of not only taking the fight to John McCain and the Republican Party in traditional battleground states like Missouri, Ohio and Florida, but to aggressively pursue disaffected voters in states like Virginia and Indiana that had not voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate in decades. This strategy also forced McCain to spend time and money defending states previous Democratic candidates had ceded to their Republican opponents, instead of allowing him to focus Republican resources on winning the traditional battleground states.
With only one week left before the election the results of the Obama General Election campaign strategy looked impressive. By September, Obama had either caught up with John McCain or begun slowly building a lead over Senator McCain among voters in traditional Republican states like North Carolina that had provided President Bush with double digit margins of victory in previous elections. The efforts of Obama in these states were also having a positive impact on the election of Democratic candidates for Congress against Republican incumbents like Republican Senator Libby Dole in these same states.
So my second assumption is that Obama will not only sweep to victory in the electoral vote rich swing states of Missouri, Florida and Ohio, but that he will pad his vote totals by adding Southern states like North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia as well as the Western states of Colorado, Nevada, Montana and New Mexico to base of 266 votes.
I also believe Obama’s voters in many traditional Republican states will also choose Democrats to replace retiring Republican Senators in Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia and will elect Democratic challengers instead of Republican incumbents in Georgia, Alaska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon and Minnesota. If they have a really good night, the Democrats might just send Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell back home to Kentucky as well.
In the US House of Representatives I foresee a thumping of Republican candidates the likes of which is rarely seen in these biennial Congressional elections. Usually the party in power (Democrats this year) loses seats or at best gains only a handful of seats when the US economy is in the throes of a recession. But 25 long time Republican legislators opted to retire rather than run for reelection in 2008 thus opening the door for Democrats to snag all of these open seats as well as those of incumbent Republicans who suffer from “foot in mouth disease” like North Carolina’s Robin Hayes and Minnesota’s Michelle Bachmann.
Were these predictions accurate?

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