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The election prediction game: The winners and the losers

The Times asked a few pundits and prognosticators to talk about how they arrived at their predictions and why they got them right — or wrong.

November 11, 2012
  • Pundits and prognosticators spent the presidential campaign season doing their best to predict the outcome of the race.
Pundits and prognosticators spent the presidential campaign season doing… (David Gothard / For The Times )

During the long presidential campaign, pundits, polls and prognosticators of all stripes weighed in on the final outcome. Some were brave enough to commit to actual numbers on the electoral vote count. The Times asked a few to talk about how they arrived at their predictions and why they got them right — or wrong.


Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry are professors of political science at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Colorado Denver, respectively. Romney 330 / Obama 208.

Our state-level economic model incorrectly projected the outcome of the presidential election. So this Thanksgiving when others are eating turkey, we'll be having crow.

Our model projected state results based on the vote in the 2008 election, the unemployment rate and changes in personal income. Historically, these metrics and incumbent performance have been strongly correlated. In 2012, unemployment remained high by historical standards and income growth was stagnant, meaning that President Obama faced significant head winds. Given these challenging economic conditions, he accomplished something rare by winning a second term.

Although the model proved incorrect, it nevertheless provides a baseline for beginning to analyze exactly how the incumbent party outperformed a poor economy. It appears now that campaign effects were unusually large and decisive, such as the early attack ads on the Republican nominee and the positioning of women's issues at the campaign's forefront.

Obama's success is also attributable to a better ground game. His field offices in battleground states more than doubled those of Mitt Romney. The mobilization of Democratic-leaning voting blocs was impressive. The Latino and youth vote — key to Obama's win in 2008 — increased their share of the electorate in 2012, each breaking decisively for the president.

Lastly, the president clearly benefited from the "October surprise" of Superstorm Sandy. Exit polls indicate that 41% of voters claimed that the president's response to the disaster influenced their vote, with 15% stating that the response was the single most important factor when they cast their ballot for the nation's highest office.

Benjamin Domenech is a research fellow at the Heartland Institute and editor of the Transom. Romney 278 / Obama 260

My prediction of a narrow 278-260 victory for Romney was based on the assumption that the high turnout for Obama in 2008 would revert toward the historical mean. I'm generally skeptical of the top lines of polls, and I relied on consistent signs from key demographics in October that pointed toward a Romney victory. Romney's support remained constant after adding Paul Ryan to the ticket, which also healed the rift with the conservative base. In the wake of the presidential debates, Obama's base showed signs of being less engaged, less active and less eager to vote than in 2008. Meanwhile, Romney appeared to be gaining ground in the white religious sector, just as Obama's contraception and abortion stands caused concern among religious groups. Church attendance is one of the best signifiers of voting likelihood, and I believed this would help Romney among the white working class in the Midwest, mitigating the damage from his "47%" video and more.

However, this election instead turned out to be what Obama's Chicago brain trust claimed it would be: one in which Republicans were hampered by an out-of-touch candidate simultaneously deemed heartless and severe. The Democratic ground game proved vastly superior and the president's lost ground among white voters was made up for by maximizing the minority and youth vote. Although Obama got 9 million fewer votes than in 2008, Romney added only two states to John McCain's electoral total. And while Romney won voters ages 30 and up, and even won white voters under 30, young minority voters just crushed him, delivering historic highs for Obama among Asians and Latinos.

Exit polls found that the majority of Americans simply did not believe Romney cared about people like them. Bill Clinton once said that the No. 1 rule of competitive politics is having a narrative rooted in the lives of people. Until Republicans get that right, they are unlikely to expand on their increasingly homogenous 48% of the electorate.

Dave Weigel is a political reporter at Prediction: Romney 276 / Obama 262.

I traveled to every swing state this year, which gave me a somewhat false sense of what they were actually like. The Republican effort in Virginia looked strong, bolstered by new outreach to the Asian community. The Colorado suburbs seemed to have fallen away from the Democrats.

If I were Romney, I'd say that conservatives gave me just about the greatest brainwashing you can have. While I didn't doubt the polls, I assumed that more ties would go for the Republicans because so many of their 2008 losses could be traced back to McCain's meandering campaign and low base enthusiasm.

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