[Posted by Karl]
RCP’s Sean Trende is having none of this defeatism:
Conservative opinion maker George Will compares the GOP’s presidential fate to Barry Goldwater’s flop. Many key Republicans reportedly believe they are indeed “consigned to defeat.” Conservative blogger Erick Erickson promises that defeat if the GOP nominates Mitt Romney. Liberal analyst Ruy Teixeira predicts that Obama will retain the White House as decisively as he attained it four years ago.
RTWT for a wide-ranging explanation of what should be obvious to the doomsayers, i.e., the 2012 presidential election is far from over. I will focus of Teixera’s analysis from a different angle from Trende, because it turns out that I have already debunked most of it before it was written.
Unsurprisingly, Teixeira leads with some Emerging Democratic Majority theory, based on the results of a recent Pew poll. The most recent Quinnipiac poll still has Obama short of his demographic targets.
However, Teixeira spends most of his time with three cherry-picked election forecasting models (such models are generally developed to help explain elections, but people cannot help from forecasting with them). I have already written about two of them. Political scientists have found Nate Silver’s model has a larger mean average error than all of the most well-known election forecasting models. Alan Abramowitz’s “Time For a Change” model favors Obama, in part through the power of incumbency — but his model has over-predicted the vote of the incumbent candidate by at least 1.85% in each of the last four presidential elections. The third model, from Larry Bartels, relies not only on incumbency, but also implies that that income loss in 2009 will translate into a gain of more than 7 percentage points in Obama’s expected vote margin this year. Although untested by other political scientists, Bartels himself notes this theory runs contrary to his prior argument that “voters are overwhelmingly focused on the here and now” and “must be taken with a large grain of salt,” particularly given the high ratio of parameters to data.
Indeed, this is why I prefer simpler models that Teixeira conveniently avoids. The “Bread and Peace” model from Douglas Hibbs uses only two variables (real disposable personal income per capita and military fatalities in unprovoked wars). That model’s results last month were not encouraging for Obama, even if you modify the model to give him credit as the incumbent. Since then, real disposable income has fallen.
Among newer models, there is the “Nowcast,” from professors Charles Tien of and Michael Lewis-Beck, who have done a fair amount of work in this area. The Nowcast is based largely on the National Business Index (NBI), which the authors define as the percentage of respondents who say “business conditions are better” minus the percentage of respondents who say “business conditions are worse,” as measured in the national University of Michigan Survey of Consumers. This NBI, measured in April six months before the November election, correlates highly with incumbent vote share since 1980. The most recent Nowcast (.pdf) — just one month from April — has Obama at 47.4%, which not only projects an Obama loss but one outside the average overall model error of 2.2%.
In short, it is easy to be bearish on the GOP amid a fractious fight among ostensibly weak candidates. It is also easy to understand why someone like Teixeira would want to proclaim inevitable doom even before the GOP nominee. But it seems like Will and Erickson are letting their opinions of Romney cloud their judgment.