"Big picture" inferences about the 2008 election

I'm still chewing through the exit polls, though Steve is right that there are no big surprises. I think I'll put up a few charts which display questions where responses can be thought of in an ordinal manner just to make clear the trend lines. But of course Andrew Gelman has already crunched the data. His main findings are:

1. The election was pretty close.

2. As with previous Republican candidates, McCain did better among the rich than the poor. But the pattern has changed among the highest-income categories.

3. The gap between young and old has increased-a lot. But there was no massive turnout among young voters.

4. Obama gained the most among ethnic minorities.

5. The red/blue map was not redrawn; it was more of a national partisan swing.

6. The pre-election polls did well, both for the national vote and for the states.

Please read Andrew's post for all the charts which display the data from which these assertions derive. #2 in particular is interesting in light of related findings which suggest that support for the Republican does not increase monotonically with wealth. Some of you might object to #1, but my guess about the popular vote looks to be correct; Obama will win by 5 points. Remember that Bush won by 3 points in 2004. In contrast Reagan won by 10 points in 1980, while George H. W. Bush won by about 8 in 1988. Neither of these are assumed to be landslide elections on the order of 1964, 1972 or 1984, but they are substantially wider margins than 2008's results. I am willing to point the finger at increased polarization and partisanship over the last generation to explain these findings; we might not see the volatility which characterized the period between 1960 to 1988 for a long time (I think it is plausible that if Ross Perot was not in the race during the two Clinton runs, he would have possibly topped 50%, but just barely as most of the social science I've seen suggests that Perot voters had a Republican tilt and to a large extent came back to George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004). In 20 years we might be able to grade on a "historical curve," and so assess this as a very large and substantial victory, but until then we're still in the shadow of the 1970s and 1980s, when Republicans wracked up big majorities by picking up the pieces of the collapsing New Deal coalition.


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Re: the rich vs. super-rich -- Andrew Gelman (forget which blog) put up a post questioning this, suggesting that the super-rich sample size could have been only 6. You expect to see about 5, and the percentages are 16% and 67% -- 1/6 and 4/6.

I have to hand it to you. I thought you were much too low with your popular vote prediction, but you were much closer than my predictions were. (Although the pop. vote now stands at a 6 point gap. Later results often benefit the Democratic candidate since big cities and the West Coast often are the last to be counted.) But I thought Obama was going to win by 9 percent with 390 electoral votes, due to my belief that many disenchanted GOPers would either stay home or go for Bob Barr. It would appear that didn't happen. (Could it be all those images of black voters standing in line during early elections for the past 10 days that rallied them?)

The reason 1980 was assumed to be a landslide was because, although Reagan won only 50.7% of the popular vote, he also won 489 electoral votes. Hence, the term "electoral landslide", which could also be applied to the '88 Bush victory and maybe Clinton's elections. You're right, it wasn't a landslide this year. Call it a secure win instead. And it would have been even more secure had the Republican candidate been anyone other than McCain because then Obama would likely have won Arizona, and probably Missouri and Montana as well.

the final result will be 53-46. It's not so underwhelming when you consider this is the highest percentage a non-incumbent received since Eisenhower in 1952. I don't include George H.W. Bush because he was an incumbent vice-president and essentially this was a third Reagan term the people voted for.

And Obama's vote total might have been even greater had the people living in the East Coast gone out and voted in greater numbers. When compared to Texas, Illinois and even Virginia, the vote tally in New York is feeble. I'd even call it anemic. Did New Yorkers feel since the outcome for their state was not in doubt, some decided to just stay home?

In 1992, 1980 and 1968 you had significant third-party challenges. Reagan's margin in 1980 was bigger than Obama's.

The real reason that the 7% margin is underwhelming is that the Republican record of the last 8 years has been atrocious on all levels, at a level at which one would expect even Conservatives to notice.

It's not so underwhelming when you consider this is the highest percentage a non-incumbent received since Eisenhower in 1952.

with a small # of N's you can select all sorts of little facts like this. there's really no point without the bigger context. like danny said, was it so overwhelming considering how george w. bush sodomized the reputation of the republican party? (i'm not saying that was over or under, just that we need standards instead of pretending you can pin over & under by listing a set of facts).

And Obama's vote total might have been even greater had the people living in the East Coast gone out and voted in greater numbers.

who cares? might is weak. if only democrats were allowed to vote obama would have won 90%. so?

Illinois, Texas and Virginia had early voting. New York didn't. That may account for NY's "underwhelming" vote totals (which I wasn't aware of).

Yes, there are all sorts of ways to take statistics and spin them, but I don't think Reagan's 1980 election is a fair comparison. You're right that his margin of winning was greater, but overall the popular vote total was considerably fewer and his numbers were also helped by 3rd party candidate John Anderson, who drew votes away from Carter. (I'm sure most everyone who voted for Anderson in 1980 supported Mondale in 1984.) Of course, Reagan would've won anyway but it wouldn't have been a landslide, nor would it have been seen as a mandate, which is how it was seen in the early part of his administration.

If you find the 7-point gap underwhelming, maybe this mitigates it: Obama won every state Kerry won, and two more besides, by more than 10%. That's 262 easily obtained Electoral votes. Add the demographic gains that the Democrats are slowly acquiring, and we're seeing the beginning of a long-lasting majority. That's assuming the Obama administration isn't disasterous or that the recession doesn't drag on for years.

Simply put, it's the good ol' Confederacy that's cutting into Obama's numbers. It's practically why the GOP lives and breathes at all today. Practically half of all Republican representatives are Southerners. Obama did manage to win Virginia, Florida and North Carolina, if barely, and Georgia was in play. Otherwise, I'll bet the gap for the rest of the South between Obama and McCain is far greater than it was between Kerry and Bush in 2004. It's the classic city vs. country contrasts, the parts of the South that are populated by prestigious univerities and high-tech companies (in other words, parts of the South that could be confused for the North) vs. everything else. Anyway, this is my rambling way of saying I see a 7% gap as very promising, not underwhelming or unimpressive.