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2012 President

Sabato's Crystal Ball

Does Obama have an approval floor?

On Dec. 3, 2013, President Obama hit his low point in approval as president, at least according to RealClearPolitics’ aggregate average of approval polling. That day, Obama fell below 40% for the first time in RCP’s measure, sinking to 39.8%, though he has since rebounded slightly to 42.1%. Two days after Obama dropped under 40%, Gallup released a report on the president’s approval that showed how his support among different demographic groups had fallen over the past year, in some cases a great deal, with a particular focus on the decrease in approval among Hispanics. Needless to say, we can’t predict what will happen with Obama’s approval from here. Is the worst over for him? Will he dramatically fall off or bounce back up? Who knows? That said, it’s tempting to suggest that Obama might have an approval “floor” — basically, because of his strong support among nonwhites, he might not fall much below 40%. But is that true? Again, it’s impossible to say what events could impact the president’s approval, for better or for worse. But there’s little reason to think that Obama has a “floor” in approval that he can’t dip below. That evidence comes in part from

Geoffrey Skelley

Measuring Virginia Vote Share

In 2009, now-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) won the Virginia gubernatorial election in a 17-percentage point rout. Three years later, President Barack Obama (D) won Virginia by almost four percentage points en route to reelection. The obvious story centered around differences in turnout: In 2009, just 40.4% of registered voters turned out to vote, and that year’s exit poll found that 78% of voters were white. Just 16% were African American, and Latino and Asian-American voters made up just 5% of the vote. As for party ID, the electorate was 37% Republican and 33% Democratic. In 2012, 71.8% of registered voters showed up at the polls, and the exit poll showed that 70% of voters were white, 20% were African American, 5% were Latino and 3% were Asian American. The electorate was 39% Democratic versus just 32% Republican. Clearly, the make-ups of the 2009 and 2012 electorates were very different. Yet above the demographics, most Virginia localities* actually contributed nearly the same share of the vote in both the 2009 and 2012 elections. For example, take Virginia Beach, the state’s biggest city. In 2009, its voters made up 5.06% of the statewide total; in 2012, they made up 5.10%. That’s almost

Geoffrey Skelley

Why Campaign “Game-Changers” Rarely Change the Game

We’re pleased to feature a column by political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck about their excellent new book, The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election. We heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to understand what did (and didn’t) matter in 2012 and what factors are worth noting as we look ahead to 2016. — The Editors At the end of the 2012 presidential campaign, Tim Murphy of Mother Jones magazine undertook what became a monumental task: to count all the “game-changers” in the campaign identified by journalists and commentators. In total, he counted 68. Some of those moments were noted in jest, like Lindsay Lohan’s apparent endorsement of Mitt Romney. Some were more plausible, like the killing of Osama bin Laden. Regardless, 68 is a big number — enough for nearly three game-changers a week between May and Election Day. If you can’t quite recall three game-changers a week, don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with your memory. In our new book about the 2012 race, The Gamble, we show that almost all of the alleged game-changers were better described as “game-samers.” These events may have driven a few news cycles, but rarely did they move

John Sides and Lynn Vavreck

You’re Not From Around Here, Are You?

“I was born an American; I will live an American; I shall die an American.” — Daniel Webster While Daniel Webster died an American in 1852, his political legacy does not belong to just one state, but two: New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Born in New Hampshire, Webster represented the Granite State in the House of Representatives from 1813 to 1817. But he then moved to Massachusetts seeking to improve his legal career, only to wind up returning to the House as a Bay State congressman in 1823. (Republican ex-Sen. Scott Brown is currently pondering the reverse move.) Webster went on to have a lengthy stay in the Senate, becoming part of the upper chamber’s revered “Great Triumvirate” with Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. As a transplanted New Hampshirite representing Massachusetts, Webster’s individual case demonstrates how politics can be affected by the movement of Americans from state to state. In the aftermath of the 2012 election, the “demographics as destiny” discussion has dominated political analysis, with the latest data being provided by last week’s U.S. Census report on the 2012 electorate. But one demographic statistic hasn’t received much attention in the conversation: state nativity rates — that is, the percentage

Geoffrey Skelley

Demographics Overtakes Economy as Prime Presidential Election Indicator

One of the questions we asked prior to the 2012 election was whether or not state-level unemployment figures would matter much on Election Day. As it turned out, the answer was “probably not much.” Throughout the 2012 election cycle, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly jobs report became a highly anticipated event. Politicians, journalists and election handicappers (the Crystal Ball included) waited eagerly every first Friday of the month, anticipating what the national unemployment number would say about President Obama’s reelection chances. Then, toward the end of each month, the BLS released the state-by-state numbers, sparking further debate about the relative importance of state numbers, particularly in the swing states. In hindsight, the relentless focus on jobs numbers, at least in the states, was overwrought. Political science research indicates that while the national economic situation influences presidential races, the state-by-state rates do not appear to affect the outcome all that much. That the states swung relatively uniformly in their election results from 2008 to 2012, regardless of the changes in employment numbers, gives even more credence to the argument that individual state-level employment data are relatively unimportant. Just look at the case of Nevada. As Chart 1 shows, Friday’s state

Geoffrey Skelley


Now that we have official election results from nearly every state, we wanted to offer some closing thoughts on election 2012. So here are 10 bite-sized nuggets, an appetizer for your holiday feasts. As a programming note, we’re taking the next two weeks off to recharge for the next cycle. Our next issue of the Crystal Ball will hit your inboxes on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. From all of us here at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, we wish our readers Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas. — The Editors 1. Thank God it wasn’t close One of these days we’ll have another 2000-style election, where the result will be so tight that we will not know the outcome on the election evening — or for many days thereafter. Consider New York State — which a month and a half after the fact still has not certified its election results. (We remember Superstorm Sandy, but New Jersey was hit just as hard.) Even a critical New York state Senate race remains up in the air: George Amedore (R) has a 39-vote lead on Cecilia Tkaczyk (D), who is not conceding and is likely to appeal a court decision

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Post-election book will break down 2012

The University of Virginia Center for Politics is pleased to announce that its latest post-election book, Barack Obama and the New America: The 2012 Election and the Changing Face of Politics, is in final production, with a targeted release date of mid-January 2013. Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato has brought together top journalists and academics from across the political spectrum to examine every facet of the 2012 election, and what its outcome will mean for the nation moving forward. In frank, accessible prose, each author offers insight that goes beyond the headlines, and dives into the underlying forces and shifts that drove the election from its earliest developments to its dramatic conclusion. This book will feature contributions from: — Alan Abramowitz, Crystal Ball Senior Columnist — Diana Owen, Georgetown University — Jamelle Bouie, American Prospect — James Campbell, SUNY-Buffalo — Kyle Kondik and Geoff Skelley, UVA Center for Politics — Michael Toner, former FEC chairman — Nate Cohn, The New Republic — Rhodes Cook, Crystal Ball Senior Columnist — Robert Costa, National Review — Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics — Susan MacManus, University of South Florida The book will be published by Rowman and Littlefield. For more information and to

UVA Center for Politics


Programming note: The Crystal Ball is taking the week off for Thanksgiving next week, but we’ll be back with another edition on Thursday, Nov. 29. So what can we glean from last week’s election? Plenty. Here are 12 takeaways from the 2012 election, presented in bite-sized pieces. One note: all vote totals and percentages used in this piece were as of Wednesday morning; the figures may change as states continue to finalize their results. 1. 2012 results mirror 2008 Crystal Ball Senior Columnist Alan Abramowitz points out in the chart below that how a state voted in 2008 was predictive of how it voted in 2012. The correlation between President Obama’s margin in 2012 and his margin in 2008 across all 50 states and D.C. is .96. In other words, you can closely predict Obama’s margin in 2012 almost perfectly from his margin in 2008; his drop from 2008 to 2012 was fairly uniform, and limited the number of electoral votes he lost from 2008. Chart 1: Comparing 2012 Obama vote to 2008 Note: Click on chart for larger version. The biggest outliers are Utah, where Obama did substantially worse than expected in 2012, and Alaska, where he did substantially better

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Crystal Ball has another strong cycle

Despite a topsy-turvy, hurricane-interrupted election that looked closer a week ago than it actually was on Election Day, the Crystal Ball accurately projected Monday that President Barack Obama would comfortably win a second term in the White House. Our final projection had Obama winning 290 electoral votes. It now appears that he will do better than that, adding Virginia’s 13 electoral votes and probably Florida’s 29 to his column. Still, we’re glad we got 48 of 50 states, and we called some of the swing states long before the campaign’s conclusion. Bellwether Ohio is an example: We moved it to “leans Democratic” in late September and never wavered in that selection, even as the race tightened after the first presidential debate and some experts insisted it had become “too close to call.” As for the down-ticket races, we correctly projected 31 out of 33 Senate seats and, in all likelihood, 10 of 11 gubernatorial races and roughly 97% of the 435 House seats (some of the races have not been called yet). Our final projected House gain was Democrats +3 (after having been as high as +7), but the actual Democratic gain might actually tick up to +7 or +8

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley


With a slight, unexpected lift provided by Hurricane Sandy, Mother Nature’s October surprise, President Barack Obama appears poised to win his second term tomorrow. Our final Electoral College projection has the president winning the key swing states of Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin and topping Mitt Romney, with 290 electoral votes. This has been a roller-coaster campaign, though very tight ever since Romney dramatically outshone Obama in the first debate in Denver on Oct. 3. Yet for a challenger to defeat an incumbent, the fates must be with the challenger again and again. Who could have imagined that a Frankenstorm would act as a circuit-breaker on the Republican’s campaign, blowing Romney off center stage for three critical days in the campaign’s last week, while enabling Obama to dominate as presidential comforter-in-chief, assisted by his new bipartisan best friend, Gov. Chris Christie (R)? Adding to the president’s good fortune was a final jobs report that was basically helpful because it wasn’t disastrously bad — that is, the unemployment rate failed to jump back above the psychologically damaging level of 8%. Romney could have used that number to build a crescendo for change. Instead, the final potential obstacle to

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Impact of multiple recounts could go beyond borders

Almost everyone fervently hopes that the presidential election result is decisive, whichever way it goes. Few who went through the “overtime” election of 2000 would ever wish that on America again. But wishing may not make it so. Two politically experienced attorneys, Steven Okun and Thurgood Marshall, Jr., give us a glimpse of what might be Christmas future this year, if Tuesday night produces very close contests in key swing states. — The Editors In 2000, with one state’s election results being contested for weeks past Election Day, the images were not pretty. There were congressional staffers, party activists and lobbyists all making their way down south to protest how they were being disenfranchised. Antiquated voting machines, confusing ballot designs and voter intent derived from analysis of chad perforations dominated every news cycle. Now, fast forward 12 years. The country is much more partisan, and the United States’ reputational standing globally has been changed by all of the events post-9/11. A replay of such a protest could increase the country’s partisan divide and diminish the United States’ ability to highlight its democratic foundation when it is needed more than ever throughout the world as many countries begin their own transition

Thurgood Marshall Jr. and Steven Okun


Remarkably, after a year of intense campaigning, this election is not in the bag for either major-party candidate. It remains on the edge of the butter knife; the state polling averages tilt the Electoral College slightly to President Obama, and the RealClearPolitics national polling average moved into an exact tie late Wednesday afternoon. On top of it all, a fierce Super Storm intervened, acting as a circuit-breaker that stopped campaigning dead in its tracks for several days in the election’s last week. Have Obama’s presidential actions in the wake of the storm, so highly praised by Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, had an effect? Will Friday’s unemployment report — whatever it may show — push the small percentage of remaining undecideds off the fence and toward one of the candidates? This election is going down to the wire, and we will issue our final Electoral College predictions, as we often do, on Monday, the day before the election. In our private conversations with Democratic and Republican leaders, we see two diametrically opposed visions of the electorate — almost parallel universes — and two visions of how the election will shake out. Unsurprisingly, the Democrats AND the Republicans are

Larry J. Sabato and Kyle Kondik


American electoral history is mainly a story of two parties. But every now and then, a third party or independent candidate makes a significant imprint on an election. In recent years, the main impact of third-party candidacies has been to play the role of spoiler, hurting one major-party candidate more than another. For example, Ralph Nader seemingly helped George W. Bush in 2000 by winning many left-leaning votes that might have gone to Al Gore. Obviously, the result in Florida that year was famous (or infamous), with Bush only winning by 537 votes while Nader won 97,488 votes. But Gore also could have won New Hampshire to win the election; he narrowly lost the Granite State by 7,211 votes while Nader collected 22,198. Thinking further back, many have argued that George H.W. Bush might have won in 1992 had Ross Perot not run. In 2012, there are a handful of states where a third-party candidate could hinder either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama’s electoral hopes — or cause havoc down the ballot in a few key Senate contests. Presidential interference Because only a small number of swing states will decide the final result in the presidential tilt, there are just

Geoffrey Skelley

President and Senate: Where we stand now

There are a lot of fishy things going on in the presidential race. An incumbent president’s approval rating is historically a good indicator of how he will do on Election Day. By this measurement, President Obama should be in decent shape: according to the RealClearPolitics average from mid-day Wednesday, Obama’s approval rating was 49.8%; that average includes polls taken of all adults (the bigger pool of people that includes non-voters), as well as likely voters (a smaller pool). And yet, the president is running more than two points behind his approval in the average of national horse race polls — at mid-day Wednesday, he stood at 47.2%, to Mitt Romney’s 47.8%. Meanwhile, Romney actually has taken the lead over Obama on “favorability.” Romney’s net favorability — the gap between the people who say they have a favorable view of him versus those who have an unfavorable view — is two points higher than Obama, although both men have roughly the same “favorable” ratings: 49.7% for the president and 49.3% for the challenger. On Oct. 3, the day of the first debate, Obama’s net favorability was 6.6 points higher than Romney’s. The changing opinions are almost certainly related to the first

Larry J. Sabato and Kyle Kondik

Unpacking the final debate

The conventional wisdom before the debate season was that President Obama would have the edge in a foreign policy debate, and the conventional wisdom was right. The president, through superior knowledge and having — after four years — a record that is defensible in the field, won the third debate on foreign policy. Incumbent presidents typically have the edge on foreign affairs, although Jimmy Carter is, as always, the exception. The question is, how big did Obama win? Not nearly as big as Romney in the first debate, obviously. But by a decent margin — more than debate two. Do two debate wins on points equal a giant win? No. And that’s Obama’s problem. Voters know him, and they didn’t know Romney — the first debate gave him a chance to make a first impression, and he nailed it. Obama isn’t going to deteriorate further because of this debate: If he goes down to defeat, it will be for other reasons. Meanwhile, it’s doubtful Romney did any real damage to himself, although his attempts to explain his position on the auto bailout — a key issue in vital Ohio — again fell flat. This debate won’t have the same viewership

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley