Monday, November 10, 2008

Nebraska: 4 to 1

The person who wins the most votes in each state during the presidential campaign gets all the electoral votes, right?


That's true for 48 of the states where the electoral college vote is winner take all. Maine and Nebraska, however, do it differently. In each case, the state awards two of its votes to the winner of the state popular vote total. The other votes are apportioned to the winner of the popular vote in each congressional district.

In November, Nebraska for the first time split its electoral college vote. Nebraska is a very Republican state and McCain swamped Obama overall, winning two of state's electoral college votes. He also beat Obama in the Third Congressional District (most of the state west of Lincoln) and the First Congressional District (including the area around Lincoln and roughly the eastern third). Obama, however, beat McCain in the popular vote in the 2nd Congressional District, which is essentially Omaha.

So, Obama gets 1 electoral college vote from Nebraska, and McCain gets 4.

Odds are the Republican-controlled legislature (which is nonpartisan, but not really) will change the law so this doesn't happen again...

I've been recovering from the election. Expect more posts about the election, Obama's administration, and other current events soon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What the Election Means to my students

Last night was an historic election to be sure. Rather than give my thoughts about what happened, I thought it best to ask my students to reflect carefully on what November 4th, 2008 meant to them. I asked them to watch both Barack Obama's victory speech in Grant Park, and John McCain's concession in Phoenix, and then carefully reflect upon the last 20 months of campaigning. Attached to this, in comment form, are their thoughts. After they have their say, I'll try to add some of my own reactions.

Now, without further ado, the students who were part of that 18 percent.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Reverse Bradley Effect and Undecided Voters

Charles Franklin, who taught me statistics at the University of Wisconsin, has a great post addressing the so-called Bradley Effect and undecided voters. Read it here.

Franklin uses empirical data to suggest that the Bradley Effect, if it exists at all, will have a marginal effect in the aggregate. Second, he notes that it appears that undecided voters will break evenly for McCain and Obama.

There's been much speculation about both of these issues. Franklin's analysis actually looks at data to answer the question and is a great example of fine social science.

On the question of undecided voters, I've heard the following:

a) Undecided voters are likely to break for McCain, who is the known quantity.
b) Undecided voters are likely to break for Obama, because they want change.
c) Undecided voters are likely to not vote.

So, which is it?

Context matters in figuring out undecided voters. In the case of a presidential election, voters have enormous amounts of information available to them about both candidates. In this instance, it is hard to see--especially given the amount of money the Obama campaign has spent and McCain's long presence on the national scene--that an undecided voter does not have enough information to make a decision about Obama or McCain.

This is different from your run of the mill congressional election. For example, a congressional election generally features lots of information about the incumbent and relatively little about the challenger. Undecideds, in this situation, are likely to break for who they know best ABSENT mitigating factors. If, however, national events and the challenger's campaign have raised enough questions sufficient to put doubts in the minds of the voter about the incumbent, it is more likely that undecided voters will break for the challenger to express those doubts and concerns.

Undecided voters in a high information contest without an incumbent such as this year's presidential race are likely cross-pressured voters, to use the classic term from one of the earliest studies on voting behavior (Berelson et al 1954). In short, there are issues that pull them in both directions simultaneously. A good example might be a voter who is concerned about the economy and national security. Economically, perhaps they like Obama's plans better, but McCain's experience on defense matters pulls them in the opposite direction.

Franklin's data suggests that undecided voters will split their vote on Election Day between the two candidates. That is probably the case. But also important to remember is those who are cross-pressured face a difficult decision which is cognitively unpleasant. A portion of those voters are just as likely to stay at home than make the difficult choice.

To summarize, I do not anticipate McCain picking up undecideds by two to one, as his campaign suggests. If he does, then he's got a shot on Tuesday.