When you’re in the open spaces of the American west, you can see a storm coming from a long ways off. It takes a long time to get to you. Sometimes, it never does; it looks like something, but then it breaks up. Other times, it ends up being spectacular. You never quite know how big it is going to be. But there is that moment when you realize it’s going to be something—that’s it’s not just going to break up and fizzle.
When it comes to the upcoming election, now a little more than two weeks away, we are starting to get to the point where we see a possible Romney victory on the horizon. Possibly even a big victory. It’s still possible that anything can happen, but when you start hearing more and more people use the term “preference cascade,” it’s clear that a big event is on the horizon, and it may be approaching the point of inevitability.
Jim Geraghty has an hysterical vignette about the preference cascade:
When campaign strategists and political analysts go out on camping trips — they do, you know — they end the night by gathering around the campfire and telling stories of a terrifying, unstoppable, voracious and mysterious force that preys on vulnerable political campaigns: the Preference Cascade.
“The Preference Cascade only stalks totalitarian regimes,” the skeptics say. “I’ve read Glenn Reynolds’ field reports and eyewitness accounts, about how the Preference Cascade needs a lot of unexpressed emotion to feed upon. ‘A totalitarian regime spends a lot of effort making sure that citizens don’t realize the extent to which their fellow-citizens dislike the regime. If the secret police and the censors are doing their job, 99 percent of the populace can hate the regime and be ready to revolt against it — but no revolt will occur because no one realizes that everyone else feels the same way.’ You just don’t have that same group dynamic in American society.”
“Ah, but how many early-favorite candidates have tried to run on inevitability?” says the old timer, tossing a stick onto the campfire. “Everybody you know is voting for somebody, because everybody they know is voting for that guy. Nobody’s really giving the other candidates a serious thought, until something unexpected happens — and then the favorite finds out his support was a mile wide and an inch deep.”
Do yourself a favor and keep reading; it’s very amusing.
Some commentators love going out on a limb and making predictions. Others are more cautious. At this point, though, some flavor of cautious optimism is at least warranted. Barack Obama needed to destroy Romney in the second debate, and he was unable to do it . . . just as he was unable to destroy him with months of negative ads. Now, the American people, anxious to try a new course, are finding themselves feeling a lot more free to pick someone other than Obama. We may be on the cusp of a preference cascade indeed.
One sign that the environment has changed dramatically is the Orlando Sentinel’s endorsement of Romney:
We have little confidence that Obama would be more successful managing the economy and the budget in the next four years. For that reason, though we endorsed him in 2008, we are recommending Romney in this race.
Obama’s defenders would argue that he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression, and would have made more progress if not for obstruction from Republicans in Congress. But Democrats held strong majorities in the House and Senate during his first two years.
The Sentinel endorsed Obama in ’08 and Kerry in ’04. Things have changed. The ground has shifted, and the fundamentals now favor the Republican challenger.
Another theme that has been discussed is how far off a lot of poll samples have been, and how bad some of the “conventional wisdom” has been, in this election cycle. Though the polls are now showing Romney pulling ahead in many states, some of the samples are still skewed far more to the D side than is reasonable for this cycle, which means that Romney may be even further ahead in some cases than is being reported. Some of the analysis we’re hearing is also poor, such as the suggestion that Obama might win the election but lose the popular vote. While possible, this is probably unlikely:
I think the chart below blows away some of this conventional wisdom that Obama can win the electoral college but lose by a significant margin in the popular vote (e.g. greater than 2 percentage points). First and foremost that doesn’t happen often, and the way the map is drawn today I seriously doubt it will happen again. When the popular vote is close, the Electoral College will be, too. I went ahead and looked at the past three elections and compared the individual state results to the national results and came away with a pretty interesting picture. I have included the raw data below, but want to point out a few bullets.
1. In the past three cycles, the Republican candidate has done better in Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia that he has nationwide. This is why Obama will gradually move on from these states.
2. In Ohio, which has proven to be the most important state in the union over the past three elections, the GOP candidate done better than the national popular vote, except for 2004, where it was almost spot on (e.g. -0.2%). Chalk that up to massive campaigning on both sides, basically making Ohio a microcosm of the United States. Any poll that tells you that Obama is winning Ohio by 5 points when the national numbers are tied or slightly with Romney is, to put it mildly, whacked. On average over the past three cycles, Ohio goes 2.13 percentage points more towards the GOP presidential candidate than the national vote total.
3. Pennsylvania is very much in play. The Keystone State has been remarkably consistent with regard to following the national result, with the Democrat on average performing four percentage points better than he does in the national vote.
The chances are good that the Romney and the Republicans are going to outperform the polls in many places, possibly in enough places to produce a big victory.
People are using phrases like, “The wheels coming off” and “running on empty. Some in the media are even souring on Obama as the god that failed. Obama is still the incumbent, he still has most of the media on his side, and according to highly credible analyses and investigations, he still has a massive fraud machine operating on his behalf, albeit probably not with central coordination. He may indeed still win.
But that notion is looking less and less likely with each day.