The In Box prediction: Obama will win

So all year I’ve been talking about what looks to me like a systemic Barack Obama advantage in the electoral college.  In the interest of good old fashioned hanging it all out there, I’m going to offer my analysis of what will happen on election day, one week from now.

Let me say first that I wouldn’t do this if I thought my views were even remotely important enough to matter.  I wouldn’t dream of predicting the outcome of local races, for example.  But I take comfort in this discussion about national politics in my own big-picture irrelevance.

Let me say also that this analysis does not reflect my own opinion about who should win.  NCPR does not endorse candidates, nor does the In Box, nor do I.  This is my read of the facts on the ground, not my personal wish list.

Those footnotes out of the way, here’s my prediction:  On election day, the ground game advantage that Barack Obama’s campaign has been bragging about will turn out to be real.

I’ve looked closely at the reporting and the facts surrounding their argument and I find it to be credible and significant.  Obama’s campaign built a revolutionary level of voter data in 2008 and those contacts have been enhanced and developed over the four years since.

Republican efforts at voter suppression will have served, ironically, to mobilize black and Hispanic communities that might otherwise have remained fairly complacent in this dreary, uninspiring election year.

Romney’s team, meanwhile, has done a credible, aggressive job of playing catch-up, but his campaign was plagued until very recently by dissatisfaction among party faithful, by a more balkanized political machine (relying more on state party organizations), and by the pressure of the calendar.

During the primaries and for many weeks after, Team Romney simply lacked the resources, the discipline and the focus to match the kind of ground work that Obama’s campaign has done.

If I’m correct in this assessment, liberal and younger voters in urban areas, along with African American and Hispanic voters, will turn out in numbers that will be slightly ahead of the “likely voter” models that most pollsters are using.  Team Obama will also capitalize on small but significantly superior early voting efforts in battleground states.

This effort will give Obama a razor-thin margin in the popular vote, and will give him a significant victory in the electoral college.  To hit this mark, Obama will win the states that are now essentially tied, including Colorado, Florida and Virginia.

Obama’s margin will be extremely narrow in a surprising number of places — Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin — but he will eke out wins.

Romney’s campaign will have accomplished essentially what John Kerry managed in 2004:  He will have pushed close to parity with a sitting president in many, many battleground states, without closing the deal — through argument or ground-game organization — in enough places to win.

One caveat:  I’ll stick with my prediction, and take lumps or praise on election day accordingly, but I want to toss out one significant possibility.  It remains plausible that the polls just have it wrong.

Currently, Obama leads or is tied with Romney in every battleground state except Florida and North Carolina.  (In Florida, the difference is well within the margin of error.)

But it may be that across much of the nation, weary, frustrated and nervous white voters will simply turn away from Obama when they reach the privacy of the booth.

I’m not suggesting that this rejection of the incumbent would be based solely on his race, though I think for many Americans race remains a significant and poorly understood factor in political decisions.

What I mean is that soft Democrats, many independents and late undecideds who are uncomfortable telling pollsters that they won’t vote for Obama may, at the moment of truth, just be more at ease in this stressful time with Mitt Romney — a guy who looks the part of a traditional president.

If this happens, we could certainly see a complete reversal of what I’ve predicted here.  We could see a lot of states in the Great Lakes Region, the Rust Belt, and the border South (Florida, Virginia) tipping to the Republican.

Again, that’s not a hedge, just another plausible scenario.  Come election day, score my prognostication skills against this mark:  Obama wins the popular vote 49%-48% and he captures the electoral college by a 332-206 margin.


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143 Comments on “The In Box prediction: Obama will win”

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  1. dbw says:

    I tend to agree. Gallup appears to be an outlier compared to the average of polls. I have stopped visiting RCP because they are cherry picking their polls and misleading people. I have also been also watching the “registered voter” numbers where available because they may be more accurate due to the Obama ground game. Romney’s national lead is due to racking up large margins in the Old South while Obama has lead in other parts of the country. The state polls in Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina are tightening. If Obama takes Florida or Virginia it may not matter what happens in Ohio.

  2. JDM says:

    It’s ok if you change your mind before next Tuesday.

  3. mervel says:

    When do October Unemployment numbers come out?

  4. mervel says:

    I would agree with your analysis (not that I have ANY insight just a gut feeling), but the only change would be a very negative or positive surprise in the October unemployment numbers.

  5. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Please explain in detail exactly what “Republican efforts at voter suppression” you are talking about. There have been no efforts at voter suppression, only efforts at reducing Democrat voter fraud.

  6. TomL says:

    I agree with your analysis, Brian, except I am not sure that Obama will win by quit as many electoral votes. I am expecting at least one surprise in Romney’s favor, but not enough to prevent Obama from securing a second term.

    I also expect the Senate to be split exactly what it is today, or possibly minus about one seat for the Democrats. The Senate will remain with a Democratic Party majority.

    The House will remain in Republican hands, with some modest seat gains by the Democrats.

    For better or worse, the next four years will likely play out like the last two. Or we can be optimistic, and hope that everyone learns to play better with each other when they realize they have to remain in the sandbox together.

  7. Gary says:

    ” NCPR does not endorse candidates, nor does the In Box, nor do I. ” Maybe not directly but it has been very obvious since the GOP primary.

  8. Paul says:

    “To hit this mark, Obama will win the states that are now essentially tied, including Colorado, Florida and Virginia.”

    Brian, I am curious, what “facts on the ground” lead you to this conclusion?? Your prediction really hinges on this.

  9. Paul says:

    Mervel, they are supposed to come out later this week? The right wing conspiracy theorists are saying that they could be “delayed” by the storm!

  10. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    I believe as of last Friday Nate Silver was predicting basically the same outcome….I recall him predicting just over 300 electoral votes for Obama and also that he would win the popular vote by a slim margin.

  11. JDM says:

    NPR’s poll has Romney up 48%-47% with oversampled Dems 35% – GOP 31%.

    Brian is way out on limb with his prediction.

  12. Brian Mann says:

    Rancid Crabtree –

    First, really? That’s your handle? Ick. Secondly, yes. While I don’t have time today to footnote it (I’m still chasing storm stories) I’ve looked closely at this question and the facts are incontrovertible.

    JDM –

    Yup. If you’re going to make a prediction, why not go out on a limb? But I think this poll supports my thesis. Obama is up by 4 points in the battlegrounds. With a week to go, that’s a lot. And more significant than a one-point lead in the horse-race, in my view.

    –Brian, NCPR

  13. MOFYC prediction: People will vote based on their own independent judgment rather than being a lemming to polls like the journalists.

    Ok, so it’s more a hope than a prediction.

  14. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:


    I believe that during the CBS News last night it was mentioned the jobs report would be delayed by the storm. That could have originated from a RWCT, but I don’t remember them reporting it that way.

    The weekly report that I read yesterday predicted a “slight” uptick, but not significant enough to warrant the administration calling for the delay of the report.

  15. Pete Klein says:

    My guess/gut prediction is there is a 90% chance Obama will win both the popular and the electoral college vote.
    Two major reasons for this. Romney flip/flops far too often, displaying a “I will say anything I think works today” philosophy.
    Second reason is the “it’s the economy” argument isn’t as strong as it might seem to be.
    Fact is the economy is getting better and most people who want a job have a job.
    Also, I think Democrats will do better in the House and Senate than expected.
    We know Wendy Long will get creamed, and for many the reason will be because of her extreme stand against abortion no matter the reason or the circumstances.

  16. dave says:

    I’ve been trying to figure out why websites like Drudge, and other right wing outlets, have been harping on and touting these national polls. They are smart enough to know they mean very little when it comes to predicting election night, so why give the false impression that your guy is doing well?

    Anyone else wonder that?

    I would think that they would want to do just the opposite. Make it seem like your guy is behind, and produce some urgency among those who would vote for him.

    So I recently asked someone who knows a lot more about this stuff than I do, and he told me that what they are doing is trying to give a false sense of momentum. It is believed that by this point in the race the base is as energized as it can be, so these “momentum” headlines are targeting those few remaining undecided voters.

    Essentially, they think that the type of person who hasn’t made up their mind by now is likely to be influenced and vote for whoever they think is winning. These people are thought to be front runners, in other words. We all know someone who doesn’t have a favorite sports team, and instead just roots for whichever team happens to be doing good that year… well, these undecided voters are thought to be similar.

    And so Drudge, Fox, et al, are trying to make it seem like Romney is the front runner. And in order to do that, they have to highlight these national polls…. because the polls that really count, electoral college and battleground polls, are not looking good for them.

    Anyway, that was a really long, round about way of letting JDM know that the polls that are getting him excited are probably not the ones he should be focusing on… assuming he cares about the outcome.

  17. Brian Mann says:

    I think one of the things that historians will say about Barack Obama is that he never really ran for president as a “national” politician.

    Instead, he ran — both in the 2008 Democratic primary and in both general elections — as a candidate seeking victory in a certain number of targeted battleground states.

    I read someplace where one of his top advisers said that the Obama campaign had never once commissioned a national poll. Which I think is plausibly true.

    Instead, they’ve focused on the winning math. How to get enough delegates for the Democratic nomination over Hillary Clinton. How to get a majority of electoral college vote in 2008. How to repeat that feat in 2012.

    I suspect that this “technocratic” approach to victory contributed to Obama’s crummy debate performance this year. And it has also, likely, contributed to some of his weaknesses as a president.

    Consider, for example, the healthcare bill. Obama cobbled together enough votes to win passage of historic health care legislation by doing ruthless math and ground game organizing.

    On the other hand, he never bothered to build any kind of larger narrative about the bill or about his vision for how government should (or should not) help people.

    We’ll see next week whether this Vulcan approach to campaigning can work for him one more time…

    –Brian, NCPR

  18. JDM says:


    I predict Romney winning popular vote 52% – 47% over Obama.

    320 – 218 Romney wins the electoral vote.

  19. Will Doolittle says:

    The Vulcan approach (nice phrase) has its weaknesses, which you point out. But it also has its strengths. So far, one of those strengths has been winning. It’s more than a quibble to say Obama has not made broad appeals to the American people, and has not been broadly inspirational. But it’s also no small thing to win an election, and to get your legislation passed. One of the reasons Obama is widely underestimated, I think, is because of his pragmatic (or technocratic, or Vulcan) approach. One of the reasons Reagan is widely overestimated, in his effectiveness at getting things done and in the positive effects of his presidency, is because he was Obama’s temperamental opposite — a master at inspiration, a failure at the details.

  20. Paul says:

    I think there was much hope that Obama would be that inspirational character. It just never panned out. Perhaps we should have seen him more as a Vulcan than a Captain Kirk.

  21. Paul says:

    If the president wins reelection I think it will be that folks wanted a change but they were afraid to do anything right now that will rock the boat. But a win is a win.

  22. Paul says:

    I think the election will be so close that John Roberts may get a chance to make it up to those he disappointed on the right!

  23. Rancid Crabtree says:

    THis is Rancids husband and I’m not settling for your word Brian Mann/. You made the charge that republiicans engaged in voter suppression when they didn’t. That’s a lie. Attempting to limit voter fraud is what they did and I say good for them. They’ve been caught in the act numerous times, it’s in the news if you’d bother to look. You made the claim, prove it.

  24. Brian Mann says:

    Rancid Crabtree (and husband?) –

    I’ll try to do a blog post on this issue before election day. Too busy today, but we’ll circle back to it.

    Will –

    I generally agtree. I think one of the groups most disappointed (and perhaps self-deceived) by Obama’s approach has been liberals. They told themselves they were voting for a crusader or a transitional politician, when anyone studying Obama’s approach will see that he is a first and foremost an incrementalist, secondly a pragmatist, and finally a guy who actually believes in (because he knows how to win with) our current system.

    –Brian, NCPR

  25. Well since making pointless predictions are what bored partisans, lazy journalists and others in the echo chamber do, I guess I have to fit in to be cool. So I’ll make this prediction: Gary Johnson and Jill Stein will combine to get 7% of the vote.

  26. Peter Hahn says:

    I agree with Brian M

  27. MissDillyLily says:

    Well Rancid Crabtree,
    Here’s one case of voter fraud/suppression by Republicans. Throwing out voter registrations IS fraud

  28. Paul says:

    Yes a kid throwing away 8 voter registration cards is voter fraud. But I would not call that some kind of GOP program of voter suppression? That is a felony and it looks like that kid is in for it.

    We will have to wait for Brian’s blog to see what he is talking about but I would assume that it has something to do with the push for voter id laws like the president must have in his home state (didn’t he joke with a poll worker that was checking his drivers license last week?).

  29. TomL says:

    Brian M,

    One could argue that Romney did not run a ‘National’ campaign either – if you mean national by all members of our diverse population. Romney has run a campaign targeting heterosexual (non-Latino) Euro-Americans. Obama has tried to run a more much inclusive campaign, in my opinion.

    This is why the only major demographic category for which Romney has a lead is Euro-American males. Obama leads among Latinos (by a lot), African Americans (by a lot), Native Americans, women in general. Obama leads Romney in the west, midwest, and northeast, whereas Romney leads (by a lot) in the south.

    I think that one could more credibly argue that the Romney campaign was narrowly focused on conservative (and middle-of-the-road) Euro-Americans. That is a big group in the US, almost big enough to win the Presidency, but (it appears) not quite enough.

  30. George Nagle says:

    Here’s a NYT article describing the downside of Obama’s technocratic or Vulcan approach:

  31. PNElba says:

    “heterosexual (non-Latino) Euro-Americans” = old white guys. Love it.

  32. Pete Klein says:

    I can only hope that male Euro-Americans continue to march toward being a minority group, a very minority group.
    Why? I like women. Never cared too much for men.
    Am I somewhat disappointed in Obama? Yes. Primarily because he didn’t have the guts to get rid of Medicare and Medicaid, call for making health insurance illegal, and institute National Health Care with the same deal for everyone from the President on down.
    Not that I expected it but….
    Do you realize all the town and county governments, and all the school districts would not have a problem meeting the 2% tax levy cap if it weren’t for what they pay for health insurance?

  33. Paul says:

    PNElba, hang on he didn’t say “old”.

    I have never thought of myself as a “heterosexual (non-Latino) Euro-American” but I guess if I need a label I am afraid this one works!

    What is a Euro-American? You have European roots right? (we all actually have African roots, but in the shorter term is what we are talking about here).

  34. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    I prefer the Dutch-American label. Thank you.

  35. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul – voter suppression laws are like in Florida where the Republican legislature and governor abolished early voting on Sundays. That was the day that African American preachers marched their congregations to the voting booths. The Republicans claimed they changed the law to stop “voter fraud”.

  36. Newt says:

    I feel the same way. While I am pretty happy with my own personal life, part of me can’t wait until my cohort of white males born between, say, 1940 and 1970 (I’ll let the Greatest Generation of the hook) pass into well-earned oblivion. Bunch of selfish, narrow-minded jerks. With some exceptions, of course. The current male supermajority vote for “Mr. I Lie All the Time, SO Elect Me President” our crowning achievement.

    Ever notice how nearly all the people who tried to stop our major disasters over the last two decades were women? The Enron VP who tried to blow the whistle onKen Lay & Co., the FBI supervisor who pointed out that some guy said he wanted to learn to fly a jet, but not land it(and was told to go make coffee , or something), Brooksley Bourne, the Commodity Board chief who tried to stop unsupervised credit default swaps and was thrown out of her job for her troubles (by Clinton people), Sheila Behr, (sp, probably for many of these) who ran the FDIC, and whose actions may have prevented the crash from being worse, and Elizabeth Warren, to name a but a few.
    If women had been running things, we would be in a far better world today.

  37. Will Doolittle says:

    It is tempting, Brian MOFYC, and easy, to weigh in on your favorite lightweight discussions with your favorite theme that the discussion is oh so boring, and lazy, but what the heck, I am above it all but right now have nothing better to do. How nice to be apart from the mess and able to comment upon it.
    Some who make a living at commenting and predicting really have little of value to add to the discussion — just their “gut feeling,” which is a mash of their desired outcome plus what their buddies are saying. I do agree that many in the media — David Brooks is a good example — take this approach. But some have real expertise — like fellow Times columnist Paul Krugmann on finance and the economy — and some predictions have real statistical weight, like those made by pollsters, and even more, those made by people analyzing lots of polls, like Nate Silver. It’s not simply hot air, a waste of time, meaningless conjecture, no matter how nice it feels to affect that world-weary pose.

  38. EB says:

    Nate’s got the president’s chances at 72% and an Obama win contract is selling at $6.29

    Both are notoriously accurate.

  39. scratchy says:

    Brian Mann,

    I can’t wait until the election is over and you can focus more on local issues and not so much on national horse race numbers.

  40. Peter Hahn says:

    Nate also claims that at the other betting sites, the odds for Obama are better (more in Obamas favor) than intrade. He claims that intrade markets to amateurs (who have driven the odds on a Romney victory up a little), but the other sites cater more to professional gamblers who like Obama more (and closer to the odds that Nate Silver gives).

  41. Paul says:

    “preachers marched their congregations to the voting booths”

    Interesting. Why do they need to march their congregants to the voting booths? Sounds like a good opportunity to intimidate the voters. I don’t think that should be legal. I went to catholic school and grew up in a very catholic family. If you don’t think that our priests were suggesting that we vote one way or another you would have to have blinders on and your ears plugged.

    I am sure these “preachers” could easily do the same. Marching the voters off to the voting booth is just the icing on the cake.

  42. Paul says:

    Especially when a catholic like John Kennedy was running. A bishop once said that “if you don’t vote for Kennedy you have to go to confession”

    Peter, do you really think that it is a good idea for these guys to be marching their congregants off to the voting booth? You do if you are Mitt Romney. I think that law isn’t voter suppression it is probably just common sense.

  43. Will: this piece is not a prediction on “finance or the economy.” It’s one about who’s going to win an election. And I’ve yet to hear a compelling reason why these tiresome poll/horse race analyses are of any actual to use to anyone other than the campaigns and their corporate sponsors. It fires up those who’ve already decided but adds nothing for those who haven’t. It’s really no different than the sorts of sports talk that the cognoscenti think themselves too sophisticated to engage in.

    Predictions may be fun (though I’m not sure how because 99% of people will “independently” pick the guy they personally support) but it’s not useful. There’s a difference.

    Besides, if I were really going to put any time in trying to pick a winner, I’d go to the horse track. It’d be more lucrative.

  44. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul – they (the preachers) are performing a civic duty getting their congregants to vote. They dont tell them who to vote for. The theory is that the more people who vote in a democracy, the better. The Republican strategy is to limit the ability to vote of demographic groups that tend to vote Democratic (e.g. African Americans and Latinos), while facilitating the ability to vote of demographic groups that vote for them (armed service members). The Democratic strategy is to get more people to vote by any means possible. It is self serving – those people are more likely to vote for Democrats, but morally it is easier to defend than the Republican strategy.

  45. Peter Hahn says:

    If they tell them who to vote for, they risk losing tax exempt status.

  46. Newt says:

    Seems to me that a whole lot of black folks down South are really fixated on exercising their right to vote. I wonder why that is?

  47. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Brian M., give credit where it is due, Obama’s Vulcan-like approach was copied from the success Karl Rove had in getting the Unmentionable One elected, and his approach to fundraising from small donors on the internet cane from the Dean campaign.

    For those of you who may not get all the fundraising email from the Obama campaign they are asking for donations as small as $3. Not that they need the $3 so much, but when you have a little skin in the game you are much more likely to take an interest in the outcome. Essentially they are getting people to pay to vote for Obama. I’m sure they get good statistical info from the responses as well. Pretty crafty. And a Vulcan wouldn’t have thought of it; not logical.

    I don’t think most liberals were disappointed in Obama because they expected him to be a flaming lefty. Liberals lined up behind Kucinich in the primaries with Obama as a second choice or maybe a third choice behind Hillary. Certainly we had some hope that he might have some closet liberality in him but we were quickly disabused of that. Still, Obama was and is far better than the Republican alternative.

  48. Aside from all the math based approaches the smartest thing Obama could do right now is continue to suspend his personal campaigning indefinitely until the Sandy situation looks well on the path to recovery which will probably be after election day. Being presidential will get him a lot further than looking presidential which is all Romney can do under the circumstances.

  49. Rancid Crabtree says:

    We can play this game for days Miss Dilly. As far as voter suppression, I’m sure we all recall the Black Panthers standing at polling places with clubs in hand. If that’s not voter suppression, what is? I’m sure no of you people would support the idea of KKK goons with clubs and sheets standing at polling places. Do you all really believe that Chicago style politics didn’t come to the WH? Vote early, and vote often!

    Mrs R

  50. Mervel says:

    Every generation has it’s people to blame, I think it is a dangerous road, didn’t you guys read Animal Farm as a kid? “If we just get rid of those guys everything will be better, progress will ensue”, you can pretty much replace “those guys” with any group you don’t happen to like.

    As far as right wing conspiracy goes and the storm, if anything Sandy should help Romney if it keeps people home from voting in Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. I think lower turnout will help Romney.

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