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2012 Senate

Sabato's Crystal Ball


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


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


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

The presidential race: Where does it go from here?

If the presidential race seems like it’s hard to get a grip on, that’s because it is — the contest has gone through at least three distinct phases at this point, and where it might go over the final three weeks seems to be anyone’s guess. In the lead-up to the conventions, President Obama appeared to hold a small lead on Mitt Romney. The national polls would vary slightly, but the president generally held an edge of a few percentage points. This narrowed to an exact tie in the RealClearPolitics average on Sept. 5 — the second day of the Democratic convention — indicating at least something of a post-convention bounce for Romney. After Obama’s convention, the president got his lead back, and he eventually expanded his national polling edge to 4.3 percentage points in late September. While this was not Obama’s biggest lead of the cycle — he was up 4.7 points as recently as mid-August — it was enough to signal that, barring some big outside development or gaffe at a debate, the president was in a strong position to win reelection. Obama’s lead was down to 3.1 points by Oct. 3, the day of the Denver debate

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley


Two months ago, we said that “barring a major blunder by either candidate,” the presidential debates were unlikely to be all that decisive. After one debate, it’s fair to say that while President Obama didn’t make an obvious verbal gaffe during his first debate with Mitt Romney, Obama’s entire, listless debate performance can be characterized as a “major blunder.” And it’s costing him significantly in the race. This is what a historically bad debate performance looks like: On Tuesday afternoon, Romney took the lead in the RealClearPolitics average of national horserace polls for the first time this calendar year by grabbing a tiny, less than one percentage point lead (Obama was up 3.1 points the day of the debate). As of this writing, we do not have reams of credible, new information about the swing states, but in the days to come there will be many more surveys of the top states. Based on what we know now, however, we’re going to make a few changes to our maps. We’ve long thought that in a close presidential race, Florida would likely end up in Romney’s column. Given that it was the president’s third weakest win in 2008, it naturally —

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Election Tilts toward Obama, Senate Democrats

Three weeks after the Democratic National Convention, we see little indication that the lead President Barack Obama took after it has faded. Obama is leading Mitt Romney by about four percentage points nationally, according to an average of national horserace surveys, and his edge has trickled down to the swing states. So with 40 days to go, we’re moving several toss-up states in the president’s direction. Our changes push Obama over the magic 270 mark, but we are not calling the race. First, the debates are yet to come. There is at least the possibility that, if Romney fares particularly well or Obama does poorly, the drift of this contest could change. Second, other events — international (a crisis) or domestic (dramatically poor economic numbers) — could theoretically occur to re-write the narrative of the race. So caution is always in order with almost six weeks to go, yet President Obama clearly leads at the moment. Chart 1: Crystal Ball ratings changes, presidential race Map 1: Updated Crystal Ball electoral map These rating changes move five of our eight toss-up states into Obama’s column, giving him 290 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206, with Colorado, Florida and New Hampshire as

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Notes on the State of Politics

The Little Things Matter Many politicians may not want to admit it, but much of political success is built on timing and luck. In what is probably going to be a close election on Nov. 6, every small turn of fortune for each candidate could serve as the little push that puts one over the top on Election Day. Looking back at some recent events, who appears to be the luckier candidate at the moment, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? A federal judge ruled that Ohio must allow in-person voting on the weekend before the presidential election. Although the ruling is being appealed, 93,000 votes were cast during this period in 2008, and it’s believed to be worth tens of thousands of votes to Obama. Conservative ex-Rep. Virgil Goode has qualified for ballot access in Virginia as the Constitution Party candidate, potentially siphoning off some votes from Romney in Goode’s home state. Some Republican electors who support Ron Paul have threatened to withhold their electoral votes from Romney. A judicial panel ruled that Nevada can keep its “None of the above” ballot option, much to the chagrin of Republicans who didn’t want another voting option for voters who disapprove of

Geoffrey Skelley


In nearly every Senate election going back 40 years, there’s been at least one jaw-dropping outcome on Election Day — the election of a candidate few saw winning until the closing days of the campaign, if even then. So the question in this year’s Senate races may not be if there is a shock, but rather, where it happens. Chart 1 is a sampling of shocking Senate results since 1972. Unsurprisingly, upsets happen disproportionately in “wave” years, when one party is sweeping the close contests. For instance, quite a few prominent Democratic incumbents were defeated in the 1980 Ronald Reagan landslide; those races were close but broke for the Republicans. Meanwhile, recent Democratic waves in 2006 and 2008 contributed to big upsets, particularly Jim Webb’s (D-VA) narrow defeat of then-Sen. George Allen (R) in 2006, which gave Democrats a one-seat Senate majority, and Mark Begich’s (D) rather amazing 2008 victory over then-Sen. Ted Stevens (R), an institution in deeply Republican Alaska. Chart 1: Senate upsets, 1972-2010 * Special election ** Carnahan defeated Ashcroft even though he died three weeks before the election; his wife, Jean, was appointed to the seat. ^ This special election was held after the initial election,

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Rating changes: Two new toss-ups

Wisconsin now a presidential toss-up Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan hasn’t appeared to have had much of a polling impact nationally — at least not yet — but it has seemed to move the needle in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin. Four Wisconsin polls have come out since the Ryan selection, and they average just a 1.25 percentage point lead for Barack Obama. That’s comparable to other states rightfully called toss-ups, so for the first time in this election cycle, we’re adding a toss-up state. Wisconsin is shifted from leans Democratic to toss-up, joining Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia. That leaves 237 electoral votes leaning, likely or safe for President Obama, 206 leaning, likely or safe for Mitt Romney and 95 in the toss-up category. Based on its Democratic history and the historically minor effect that running mates seem to have in their home states, we have resisted the Wisconsin change. But we go where the data take us, and for now, that’s to toss-up. Chart 1: Updated Crystal Ball Electoral College ratings Outrageous Akin shifts Missouri Senate After the Missouri Senate primary on Aug. 7, it looked like anyone could beat Sen. Claire McCaskill,

Larry J. Sabato and Kyle Kondik


For the second straight week, the Crystal Ball is moving a toss-up Senate race to the Republican column. Now that ex-Gov. Tommy Thompson has captured the Republican nomination in Wisconsin — winning with 34% of the vote in a crowded, four-way field — we are installing him as a slight favorite to capture the Senate seat now held by the retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D). The Wisconsin Senate race now leans Republican. Thompson, a former four-term governor of the Badger State and Health and Human Services secretary under George W. Bush, was seen as the moderate in the race, a status that almost proved to be his undoing in the primary. As National Journal’s Kevin Brennan pointed out last night, the difference between Thompson and another establishment Senate candidate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in Texas, is the fact that there is no runoff in Wisconsin. If there were, Thompson would probably be doomed: 66% of the primary vote went to other candidates. But Thompson survived, and his more moderate profile is probably good for the general, where he will face Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D), a relatively liberal congresswoman. That’s not to say that Thompson is a sure thing to win

Kyle Kondik


Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) got the opponent she wanted. But she still enters the general election season as an underdog. Now that the Missouri Senate primary is complete, we are downgrading the incumbent Democrat’s chances from toss-up to leans Republican. Tuesday night’s surprise Republican primary winner, Rep. Todd Akin, has the inside track to defeat her. In another unpredictable primary night result, Akin roared back from what just a few weeks ago appeared to be third place to defeat free-spending businessman John Brunner, thought to be the favorite of national Republicans, and ex-state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who was endorsed by Sarah Palin. It was a strange race: Steelman started off as McCaskill’s likely opponent, but when her campaign got off to a lackluster start, Akin jumped in the race. And after Akin seemed to flop too, national Republicans got behind Brunner. No matter who won the primary, McCaskill became the most endangered Democratic Senate incumbent a few days after Christmas last year, when Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) announced his retirement. Part of McCaskill’s problem is Missouri’s Republican leanings; once considered along with Ohio as one of the nation’s top bellwethers, Missouri resisted Barack Obama’s surge in 2008 and does not

Kyle Kondik