Sunday, October 28, 2012

Romney-Ryan's Real Poverty Plan: Soak the Poor

| Fri Oct. 26, 2012 3:03 AM PDT

So what would Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan do for the poor and the working class if they were elected? Let's recap:
  • They would repeal Obamacare, which would immediately kick about 17 million low-income earners and their family members off of Medicaid.
  • They would allow the payroll tax holiday to expire. This would immediately raise taxes on everyone, and would hit the working poor especially hard.
  • In addition, they want to block grant Medicaid and cap its growth. In some states, this wouldn't have a big immediate impact. In other states, conservative governors and legislatures would use their newfound authority to limit enrollments and cut benefits substantially. Over time, all states would have to cut enrollments dramatically, probably by another 15-20 million within a decade.
  • If they pursue the cuts outlined in Paul Ryan's budget plan, they would cut funding for SNAP (food stamps) by more than $100 billion over the next decade. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that this would reduce enrollment in the program by at least 8 million people.
  • They would cut funding for Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health organizations. This would especially hurt poor women, since they don't have the resources to pay for services at full-cost clinics.
  • They would cut the college tax credit, the child tax credit, and the earned-income tax credit. All of these are programs designed to help the working poor.
This is a short post. Sometimes it's better to lay out the facts simply and starkly, because Romney's priorities really are pretty stark: He wants to cut taxes on the rich and cut spending on the poor. That's Romney's real poverty plan.
Front page image: Chris Wilson/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Zuma

Bain-Owned Sensata Illegally Threatens Workers for Organizing

Thursday, 25 October 2012 10:08 By Dave Johnson, Campaign for America's Future | Report

102512-4(Photo: Peoples World / Flickr)Bain-owned Sensata threatened to retaliate and immediately close their Freeport, Ill plant if workers there don't stop protesting the outsourcing of their jobs to China. Retaliation threats happen to be illegal. The workers have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Threats Of Retaliation
The story is up at For some background, Bainport is named for Bain Capital which owns Sensata, and Freeport, Ill, the town where Sensata is closing a factory and sending all the equipment and jobs to China. The workers and supporters have set up a tent camp across from the factory and are asking Bain's former owner Mitt Romney to come and help. Bain Capital + laying off workers in Freeport = Bainport.
Monday: Rally and march on Sensata: Freeport Journal-Standard, Jesse Jackson speaks to Sensata protesters,
Civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke to a spirited crowd at the “Bainport” encampment in Freeport on Monday. Jackson stressed to the workers that Sensata is “foreign policy for the greedy” and told workers that they deserved a full severance package from the plant.
After Jackson’s speech he led protestors across the street to the lobby of Sensata, where in recent weeks nine protestors had been arrested. The crowd chanted “full severance now” and “save our plants, save our jobs” as they converged on the lobby.
Once inside the lobby, Jackson spoke by phone with security asking for entry and full severance for the workers. After being denied access to the building, police arrived on the scene and asked protesters to leave the grounds. No arrests were made.
Posted last night: Breaking News! Sensata Threatens to Close Plant Immediately
Sensata has sent word that if we continue fighting to save our jobs they will close the plant.
Mayor George Gaulrapp and the Freeport Chief of Police have passed along news from Sensata management — who were in town today from their headquarters in Attleboro, Massachusetts — that if anyone else stands up and commits any further civil disobedience, the Sensata plant in Freeport, Illinois will close the plant immediately and for good.
... It is disgraceful that Sensata would threaten and intimidate us with plant closure in response to our request for fair treatment. This is a clear example of the cutthroat nature of the Bain economic model. Not only will Bain outsource your jobs, they want you to smile and thank them for it.
Reaction. From a press release posted at
Bain-owned Sensata Charged with Labor Violations for Threatening, Retaliating Against Employees
NLRB Charges Filed as Company Threatens to Shut Down Plant Early if Protests Continue
Unfair labor practice charges against Sensata Technologies were filed with the National Labor Relations Board this morning after the Bain-owned company threatened to shut their Freeport plant down immediately if its employees continued to organize to stop the outsourcing of their jobs to China.
The Sensata workers were shocked to hear yesterday that Sensata management asked the Freeport Police to relay a message to employees that they would close the factory earlier than planned if employees continued to protest at the plant. The plant is scheduled to be shut down in December, with the jobs and equipment shipped to a new plant in China.
“Not only are they shipping our jobs to China, they are also trying to take away our rights as American workers,” said Joanne Penniston. “We are not going to be intimidated. We are going to stand up for our rights and our jobs.”
Nine people have been arrested for protesting at the plant so far, and the protests show no sign of slowing down. Rev. Jesse Jackson will be joined by religious and labor leaders for another protest at the plant later today.
The Sensata Story Is Our Story
The Sensata story is the story of the devastation that the WalMart and Bain Capital business models have done to our wages & benefits, economy and entire regions of our country. Just drive around Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and other manufacturing regions and you see the boarded up houses, the wiped-out downtowns...
The WalMart/Bain Capital business model is to use "trade" treaties to escape the borders of democracy. When people have a say they say they want good wages, benefits, a clean environment, safety on the job -- things like that. And we make laws that say if you have a business here you have to meet certain standards, not commit fraud, not harm workers, not pollute, etc.
In places where people don't have a say they are told they can't have good jobs, benefits, safety standards, etc. That makes them "business-friendly." The Bains and WalMarts take advantage of this, and move our jobs and factories there.
And then the WalMarts and Bains use the money they make from this to undermine our democracy here at home. They say the solution is for us to become more "business-friendly" by lowering the taxes that support our schools and services, breaking unions, allowing pollution and otherwise undermining our rights and paths to prosperity.
We must stop allowing the Bains and WalMarts to become fabulously wealthy from sending our jobs to China and using that money they make to undermine our own way of life here at home -- our home.


At Priorities USA Action, we believe the stakes for protecting our country’s core values have never been higher as Republicans pursue an agenda that rewards only the wealthiest few at the expense of middle class families.
  • Jobs and the Economy: We support meaningful job legislation that will build the foundation for our future prosperity by investing in infrastructure, clean energy and American innovation.
  • Taxes: We oppose the “Romney Rule” whereby millionaires pay a lower tax rate than many middle class Americans. We believe tax cuts should not favor corporations, millionaires and billionaires, placing a crushing burden on the American middle class. 
  • The Judiciary: With two possible Supreme Court appointments at stake, we cannot afford a Republican president who will appoint leaders with an anti-choice, anti-gay rights and anti-middle class agenda.
  • Income Inequality: We oppose the permanent extension of Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and support economic policies rooted in fairness and opportunity.
  • Education: We believe education is the most essential investment in our future. We oppose efforts to slash America’s commitment to its future by gutting education. We support policies that strengthen our public schools, support community colleges and make higher education affordable for the daughters and sons of all working Americans.
  • Health Care: We support the Affordable Care Act and oppose attempts to repeal it. We support the requirement that health insurers cover people with pre-existing conditions. We support allowing parents to carry coverage of their adult children until age 26. We support shrinking the “Donut Hole” for prescription drug costs, and the other consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act, and will oppose efforts to roll back these hard-won consumer protections.
  • Medicare: We believe in strengthening the existing Medicare system, and staunchly oppose the proposed Republican destruction of the system outlined in the Republican/Ryan budget.
  • Right to Choose: With the Republican effort to defund assistance at the federal level, we stand for continuing the program which provides critical health services for women across the country.
  • Environment: We believe that protection of our air, our water, our Earth is a national priority that requires a national commitment. We oppose the radical right-wing agenda to abolish the E.P.A. and allow corporate polluters to write their own rules of the road. We oppose giving big oil tax subsidies and oppose allowing oil companies to drill in America’s most precious and fragile ecosystems.
  • Climate Change: We believe in science. We therefore accept and embrace the overwhelming international scientific consensus that the earth’s climate is warming and that human-generated pollution is a central cause. We support efforts to limit the pollution that causes global warming.
  • Energy: Republican energy policies left Americans more dependent than ever on Middle East Oil, while allowing our lead in clean energy technology to erode and, in some cases, even disappear. We are committed to energy independence. We are committed to clean energy. We are committed to American leadership in the clean energy jobs of the future.
  • Social Security: We oppose the Republican-proposed privatization of the system, which would make it far less sound and secure for future generations. We believe in strengthening the current system by reform in a sustainable fashion.
  • LGBT Issues: We believe in freedom, in equality, in dignity for all Americans. We believe that same-sex marriage should be legal. We support gay and lesbian service members who risk their lives for our freedom, and we oppose any attempt to discriminate against them by reinstating “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

NYPD Officer Accused of Plotting to Kill and Eat Women

Thursday Oct 25, 2012 12:45 pm 
By Lindsay Beyerstein
A New York police officer was arrested Wednesday in Queens by the Federal Bureau of Investigation after he discussed cooking and eating female body parts, according to a criminal complaint.
The evidence against the officer, a six-year veteran of the New York Police Department, consists of e-mails and instant messages in which he was “discussing plans to kidnap, rape, torture, kill, cook and eat body parts of a number of women,” according to the complaint against the officer, Gilberto Valle.
The complaint suggests that Officer Valle, who worked in the 26th Precinct in Manhattan and lives in Forest Hills, Queens, never followed through on any of the acts he is accused of discussing. He was charged with federal kidnapping conspiracy, and is expected to appear in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Thursday afternoon. Officer Valle, who is married, joined the force in July 2006.
In one message to a co-conspirator, Officer Valle wrote that he was contemplating cooking a person “over a low heat, keep her alive as long as possible,” according to the complaint. [NYT]
I wonder if he'll take a page from the "Rape Cop" playbook and argue that it wasn't official misconduct because he didn't benefit from scheming to dispatch and devour members of the public.

Rollingrck, Creative Commons.

“Rape Cops” Dispute Official Misconduct Charges

Which would Republicans call this 'rape' would they characterize  it as 'easy rape' or 'enjoyable rape'

Tuesday Oct 23, 2012 11:57 am
By Lindsay Beyerstein
Now that's what I call chutzpah: The two police officers found not guilty last year of raping a drunk woman in her apartment are now challenging their convictions on the lesser charge of official misconduct on the grounds that they didn't benefit enough from their dereliction of duty:
In arguments already rejected by the trial judge, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Gregory Carro, Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata are insisting that to properly win a conviction on official misconduct, prosecutors had to prove that the cops received a benefit, such as cash or a free meal, in return for being derelict of duty.
Yes, it was derelict of duty for Moreno and Mata to return three times to the East Village apartment of a drunken, 27-year-old fashion exec, but the two were acquitted of collecting the "benefit" of rape and burglary, their lawyers, Joseph Tacopina and Edward Mandery.
No rape, no burglary, no benefit -- and so no official misconduct, their lawyers argue. [NYP]
The accuser caught one of the officers admitting on tape that he used a condom when he had intercourse with her. Obviously, the jury didn't think that the prosecution proved that was rape, but it certainly sounds like a "benefit" derived from misconduct on duty.
As usual, the NY Post omits any context that might enable us to make sense of the issue. The cops' lawyers say the statute says X, but what do independent experts say? Is this a real loophole in the law that needs to be fixed, or is this just a frivolous gambit by the defense?

Sept. 27: The Impact of the ‘47 Percent’

After a secretly recorded videotape was released on Sept. 17 showing Mitt Romney making unflattering comments about the “47 percent” of Americans who he said had become dependent on government benefits, I suggested on Twitter that the political impact of the comments could easily be overstated.
“Ninety percent of ‘game-changing’ gaffes are less important in retrospect than they seem in the moment,” I wrote.

But was this one of the exceptional cases? A week and a half has passed since Mr. Romney’s remarks became known to the public — meaning that there’s been enough time to evaluate their effect on the polls.There’s a case to be made that they did damage Mr. Romney’s standing some.

In the chart below, I’ve tracked the progress of the national popular vote in the FiveThirtyEight “now-cast” over the past five weeks. The “now-cast” reflects our best estimate of what would happen in an election held today, based on a combination of recent national and state polls. Unlike our Nov. 6 forecast, the “now-cast” does not account for economic measures, and it does not adjust for the effect of the party conventions. This makes it a little bit more straightforward to interpret in terms of tracking the progress of the polls in real time.

In the chart, I’ve highlighted the dates of what are probably the four most important political news events of the last month: the Republican and Democratic conventions; the deaths of four Americans in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya; and the release of the “47 percent” tape.

The first of these events, the Republican National Convention, did not produce much in the way of a discernible change in the “now-cast.” My view is that Mr. Romney probably did receive a bounce in his polls, but it was small and short-lived, since the Democratic convention began only a few days after the Republican one ended. The “now-cast” is trained not to overreact to modest changes in the polls, and so it had trouble distinguishing any convention bounce for Mr. Romney from statistical noise.

The Democratic convention, however, did produce a clear (if quite middling by historical standards) bounce in the polls for President Obama. He went from being 1.4 percentage points ahead in the “now-cast” popular vote when his convention began, to four points ahead a week after it ended, once there had been time for it to work its way through the polls.

It’s not clear whether the Libya attacks had any impact on the polls, despite the news media judging Mr. Romney’s reaction to them very harshly (while spending less time scrutinizing a potential security lapse on the part of Mr. Obama’s administration).

By Sept. 17, the date when the video of Mr. Romney’s remarks was released and received widespread attention, the momentum from Mr. Obama’s convention appeared to have stalled (although not necessarily reversed itself). Mr. Obama led in the popular vote by 4.1 percentage points on that date, according to the “now-cast.”

Since then, however, Mr. Obama has gained further ground in the polls. As of Thursday, he led in the popular vote by 5.7 percentage points in the “now-cast,” a gain of 1.6 percentage points since Mr. Romney’s remarks became known to the public.

It’s hard to tell whether this recent gain for Mr. Obama reflects the effect of the “47 percent” comments specifically. But the most typical pattern after a party convention is that a candidate who gains ground in the polls cedes at least some of it back.

Instead, the more pertinent question seems not whether Mr. Obama is losing ground, but whether he is still gaining it.

Thursday’s Polls
What we can say with more confidence is that Mr. Romney is now in a rather poor position in the polls. In three of the four national tracking surveys published on Thursday, Mr. Romney trailed by margins of six, seven and eight percentage points. He also trailed by five percentage points in a one-off survey published by Fox News. The exception was Thursday’s Rasmussen Reports tracking poll, which showed the race in an exact tie, although that was improvement for Mr. Obama from a two-point deficit on Wednesday.

The state polling published on Thursday was more of a mixed bag. Mr. Obama led by seven points in an NBC News-Marist College survey of New Hampshire, a strong but not extraordinary result for him. He also led by two points in a Marist poll of North Carolina, continuing a streak of stronger polling for him in that state. For the first time all year, Mr. Obama is listed as the favorite in North Carolina in the “now-cast” — although he still trails slightly in the Nov. 6 forecast, which expects his numbers to decline so
me between now and Election Day.

However, Mr. Obama got middling results in a Suffolk University poll of Virginia, which put him ahead by 2 points, and in the Marist poll of Nevada, which also had him up by 2. Perhaps it’s damning Mr. Romney with faint praise to describe swing-state polls in which he trailed as constituting “good” news for him — but these surveys were a little bit better for Mr. Romney than other swing-state polls in recent days.

There were also a series of partisan-tinged polls released on Thursday: in Mr. Romney’s case, a poll by Voter Consumer Research in Iowa for the Web site The Iowa Republican, which showed him leading by one point in that state; and for Mr. Obama, a series of polls conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of the NRDC Action Fund in Ohio and other swing states.

We have taken a rather inclusive attitude toward which polls are included in the forecast this year — excluding only those conducted directly on behalf of the campaigns, or by “super PACs” very closely associated with them like Priorities USA Action. The philosophy here is that persistent bias in these polls will be corrected for by our “house effects” adjustment, and that there is little merit in making overly fine distinctions about which polls qualify as partisan and which don’t. There are nominally nonpartisan polls that have strong house effects — and arguably partisan ones that normally play it pretty straight. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t recommend that you rely on these borderline cases to tell you much about the momentum in the race.

The overall story line, however, is fairly clear: Mr. Romney is at best holding ground in the polls, and quite possibly losing some, at a time when he needs to be gaining it instead. Further, it’s increasingly implausible for Mr. Romney to attribute the numbers to temporary effects from the Democratic convention. Mr. Obama’s probability of winning the Electoral College advanced to 83.9 percent in the Nov. 6 forecast, up from 81.9 percent on Wednesday.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 28, 2012
An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to the organization on whose behalf Public Policy Polling conducted a series of polls in Ohio and other swing states. It was the Natural Resources Defense Council, not the National Resource Defense Council.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 28, 2012
Earlier versions of this post incorrectly referred to the organization on whose behalf Public Policy Polling conducted a series of polls in Ohio and other swing states. It was the NRDC Action Fund, not the Natural Resources Defense Council or the National Resource Defense Council.

Dear Mitt: The Emergency Room Is Not a Healthcare Plan

People don’t die from lack of health insurance, Romney claims.

 BY Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President
Romney, a quarter-billionaire born with a silver foot in his mouth, has shielded himself from the world in which America’s many Billy Koehlers exist. Their paths don’t naturally cross.
Billy Koehler died on March 7, 2009, for lack of health insurance. Mitt Romney said on Oct. 10, 2012, that’s impossible.
The Republican nominee for president told The Columbus Dispatch newspaper last week:
“We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.”
Technically, that’s true of Billy Koehler. He didn’t die in his apartment. He died in his car. Koehler suffered cardiac arrest and perished slumped over his steering wheel at a stop sign in Pittsburgh because he didn’t have health insurance and didn’t have $60,000 to replace his implanted defibrillator.
Romney, a quarter-billionaire born with a silver foot in his mouth, has shielded himself from the world in which America’s many Billy Koehlers exist.

Their paths don’t naturally cross.
  • Billy Koehlers don’t hang out with Romney’s NASCAR owner pals. 
  • Billy Koehlers don’t disparage the nation’s elderly and impoverished at fundraisers in the homes of private equity moguls
  • FDR and JFK made an effort to understand the joys and hardships of the non-rich. But Romney hasn’t. 
  • And that’s why he so carelessly called America’s Billy Koehlers a deliberately dependent underclass, albeit one comprising 47 percent of all citizens
Because Romney knows nothing of the lives of the nation’s Billy Koehlers, the Republican nominee can dismiss their medical predicaments as nonexistent and assure wealthy donors he won’t “worry about those people.”

Romney told the Columbus newspaper that no one needs to worry about those lacking health insurance because federal law requires hospitals to treat emergency cases:
“We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we say to you, ‘Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack.”
He continued:
“No, you go to the hospital; you get treated; you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital.”
Logically, then, the solution would be for no one to buy insurance. Why bother? Hospitals must treat and bill someone else, according to Romney.
But it doesn’t work that way. The late Billy Koehler is an example of how it actually operates–how it fails to work for 26,100 to 45,000 Americans who die each year for lack of insurance.

Billy’s sister, Georgeanne Koehler, a retired hospital worker and member of the Service Employees International Union, told his story at rallies for passage of Obamacare, taking with her an empty chair in his memory. She celebrated the law’s passage in 2010, particularly its provision forbidding insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. That might have saved her brother.

Billy was just 39 when he suffered his first cardiac arrest. An electronics technician, he had health insurance through his employer, and that paid for surgery to implant a defibrillator. Still, over the years, Billy spent his entire $25,000 in pension savings on medical bills that insurance did not pay.

In 2003, Billy lost his job and his health insurance when the company he worked for closed. He tried to get another job with health insurance but could not. He tried to buy health coverage privately, but every insurer in Pennsylvania denied his request because of his pre-existing heart condition.  He didn’t qualify for Medicaid because he earned slightly too much money in his new job as a pizza delivery driver.

While at work on Dec. 14, 2007, he collapsed in the pizza shop. He survived, but a cardiologist told him that his defibrillator needed to be replaced. Because Billy had no insurance, the doctor required payment up front.

Romney’s right about one thing. The hospital treated Billy as an emergency cardiac arrest victim. But the hospital emergency room wasn’t required to give him surgery to replace the defibrillator. And neither Billy, nor his sister, had $60,000 to pay for it out of pocket.

Less than two years later, as Billy drove home from work, he suffered cardiac arrest again. And he died. For lack of health insurance.
  • Under Obamacare, insurers can’t deny coverage to people like Billy because of pre-existing conditions. 
  • Obamacare also established high-risk pools for people like Billy. 
  • And Obamacare will extend Medicaid to more low-income people like Billy.
 Romney has pledged to repeal Obamacare on his first day in office. Like a 21st Century Marie Antoinette, he says: Let ‘em go to the emergency room.
Romney’s prescription doesn’t work. It wouldn’t work for his own wife, Ann, who has multiple sclerosis and survived breast cancer.

As quarter billionaires, the Romneys have the best insurance in the world. But without it, a hospital emergency room would not have provided Ann Romney with the care she needed.
  •  Emergency rooms don’t provide therapy for fatigue, dizziness, numbness or paralysis caused by MS.  
Romney’s clearly unaware of the empty chair campaign. Not having health insurance or $60,000 for surgery is inconceivable to him. He bought his wife a $500,000 dressage horse for MS therapy, after all.

America can’t afford to have in the White House an empty Armani who has made no attempt to find out what it’s like to try to survive uninsured, who remains clueless about all the chairs in America emptied by lack of insurance. The nation can’t afford a president so comatose to the lives of average Americans.

Full disclosure: The United Steelworkers union is a sponsor of In These Times.
Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco's nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit

Oct. 27: Minnesota Moonlights as Swing State, but Ohio and Virginia Are More Crucial

 October 28, 2012, 2:50 pm
With the election so close, Saturday is no longer a day of rest for pollsters. Eight polls were released from potentially competitive states:
This is a diverse group of polls that does not really lend itself to a snappy summation. But let’s start in Minnesota, a state that we have given little attention this year.

There were two polls out in Minnesota on Saturday. One, from St. Cloud State University, gave President Obama an eight-point lead. But another, from Mason-Dixon for The Minneapolis Star Tribune, had Mr. Obama with a smaller lead of just three points.

Which of these polls represents the more likely state of play in Minnesota? The FiveThirtyEight forecast projects Mr. Obama to win there by 6.8 percentage points, meaning that it is somewhat closer to the St. Cloud State poll. Other recent polls, conducted after the first presidential debate in Denver, gave given Mr. Obama leads of margins between 5 and 10 points.
Mason-Dixon is a strong polling firm, but their results have been more Republican-leaning than the consensus in Minnesota and most other states. That does not mean its pollsters are a bunch of partisan hacks; they have a pretty good track record, and it is good for a candidate — in this case, Mitt Romney — when a strong polling firm consistently shows solid results for him.

At the same time, this context — what we call pollster “house effects” — is important to keep in mind. The odds are that if Mason-Dixon were to poll other states that they have skipped, liked Ohio or Virginia, they would also show reasonably strong results for Mr. Romney.

If Mason-Dixon’s hypothesis about what the turnout will look like is correct, then Mr. Obama is likely to have bigger problems than in Minnesota and may be the underdog. But the Minnesota poll does not necessarily present evidence that the state has moved all that much relative to other key states.
In other respects, however, it is surprising that Minnesota has not received more attention. In 2010, Mr. Obama won it by 10 percentage points — the same margin that he had in Iowa, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, and less than his 14-point win in Wisconsin.

Part of the neglect in Minnesota almost certainly reflects the way the campaigns have been treating the state. There are periodic rumors and reports that Mr. Romney’s campaign is dabbling with the idea of buying advertising buys in Minnesota, but he and Republican-aligned groups have spent almost nothing there.

In 2008, by contrast, Republicans held their convention in St. Paul, and John McCain’s campaign made a considerable effort to contest Minnesota. It was one of the few states, in fact, where they sometimes outspent Mr. Obama’s campaign.

For all those efforts, Minnesota still wound up being a bit Democratic-leaning, since Mr. Obama’s 10-point win there exceeded his 7-point margin nationally. The state has gradually drifted from the left wing of American politics toward the center, but its Democratic heritage is hard to overcome.
This year’s polls show that Minnesota has been about five points more Democratic-leaning than the country as a whole. Perhaps a late effort by Mr. Romney’s campaign could bring it back to within three points of the national average, as it was in 2008. But it is questionable whether that would be a good use of resources, since Mr. Romney would probably win it only if he were performing strongly elsewhere, especially in the Midwest, and that would mean that he probably would have already accumulated 270 electoral votes. Minnesota, despite the new polls, has only a 1-in-500 chance of being the “tipping-point state“, according to the FiveThirtyEight model, meaning that its electoral votes would be decisive given how all the other states might line up.

The most consequential polls of the day were probably in Ohio and Virginia.
The Ohio poll was a good one for Mr. Romney. The survey, conducted by the University of Cincinnati for a consortium of Ohio newspapers, showed the tied race, 49-49, with almost no undecided voters left. The same survey had given Mr. Obama a 5-point advantage before the Denver debate.

Some liberals have critiqued the Ohio poll for being out of date — it was in the field between Oct. 18 and Oct. 23, meaning that some of its interviews were conducted before the final presidential debate in Florida.

I think this criticism is probably overdone. There is little evidence that the race has changed all that much since the final debate; the FiveThirtyEight model finds that Mr. Obama has perhaps gained half a percentage point nationally since then, but probably not much more than that.

And apart from the timing, the poll has a lot going for it: it has a good track record and collected a reasonably large sample size, meaning that it gets a lot of weight in the FiveThirtyEight forecast.

But the poll should not be used to imply that the race is tightening further in Ohio. There have been 12 other polls of the state that also conducted at least some interviews after the Florida debate, and they showed Mr. Obama up by two points there on average, which is about where the FiveThirtyEight forecast now shows the state. If a candidate holds a two-point lead in a state, it is normal for some polls to show him tied or trailing by a point or so instead in contrast to others that might put him four or five points up.
That is pretty much what we see in Ohio right now, with the edge in the polling average remaining with Mr. Obama. The new poll reduced his chances of winning the state to 73 percent from 76 percent in the forecast.
The best poll of the day for Mr. Obama was in Virginia, where a Washington Post survey showed him four points ahead. The result is not a huge surprise since The Washington Post had also shown good numbers for Mr. Obama there in the past, putting him eight points ahead in a survey conducted before the Denver debate.

Other polls of Virginia this week have shown anything from a two-point lead for Mr. Romney to a five-point edge for Mr. Obama. Perhaps, along with New Hampshire, it has featured the least consistent polling of any swing state all year.

One critique I have seen of the poll is that it seems out of step with The Washington Post’s take on the national race. Their most recent national tracking poll, conducted with ABC News, gave Mr. Romney a one-point lead.

I agree with this question to some extent: it is unlikely that Mr. Obama will lose the national popular vote by one point while winning Virginia by four.
At the same time, The Washington Post is hardly alone among pollsters to show better results for Mr. Obama in the swing states than in their national numbers. This is a pattern that we have been observing all year, and it seems to have become more pronounced recently.

There are three ways to resolve the conflicting numbers: they could reflect a pronounced advantage for Mr. Obama in the Electoral College relative to the popular vote. Or there are the more pedestrian hypotheses that get too little consideration, in my view: that the state polls might be overrating Mr. Obama’s performance, or alternatively, that the national polls might be underestimating it.

The FiveThirtyEight model accounts for all of these possibilities, in its own way. It does find that Mr. Obama is slightly more likely to win the Electoral College than the popular vote. But our method also lowers Mr. Obama’s projection in the states, while raising it in the national polls, because they are somewhat discordant with each other.

Still, Virginia is a state that Mr. Romney is having difficulty putting out of play. (The other poll published on Saturday, from Gravis Marketing, should not necessarily give comfort to Mr. Romney. It showed a tie in Virginia, but its previous poll had given Mr. Romney a five-point edge instead, having been an outlier at the time.)

Virginia now ranks second on our list of tipping-point states. It has a 15 percent chance of deciding the election — well behind Ohio’s 49 percent chance, but ahead of everything else.

Suppose that Mr. Romney were to win all the states where he is currently favored in the FiveThirtyEight forecast, including Florida and North Carolina, and that there are no major upsets in the blue-leaning states, with Mr. Obama winning Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Michigan. Then Mr. Obama wins Virginia.

That would give Mr. Obama 250 electoral votes to Mr. Romney’s 235, with six states — Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin — unresolved.
Mr. Obama could win the election by winning Ohio, plus any of the other five states. (Ohio alone would not quite suffice, bringing him to 268 electoral votes.)

The real value of Virginia to Mr. Obama, however, is that it would allow him more paths to victory even without Ohio.

For instance, if Mr. Obama won Virginia but lost Ohio, he could still win the election by carrying Nevada and Wisconsin — where he has a clearer edge in the polls than he does in Ohio — and then any one of the following states: New Hampshire, Iowa and Colorado.

The map below represents one of Mr. Obama’s more plausible winning paths that would get him to 270 electoral votes without Ohio.
Over all, the stronger poll in Ohio for Mr. Romney slightly outweighed the poorer one for him in Virginia. His chances of winning the Electoral College inched up to 26.4 percent from 25.6 percent in Friday’s forecast.

Oct. 26: State Poll Averages Usually Call Election Right

 October 27, 2012, 5:16 pm 

The FiveThirtyEight forecast model has found the past several days of battleground state polling to be reasonably strong for Barack Obama, with his chances of winning the Electoral College increasing as a result. The intuition behind this ought to be very simple: Mr. Obama is maintaining leads in the polls in Ohio and other states that are sufficient for him to win 270 electoral votes.

Friday featured a large volume of swing state polling, including three polls of Ohio, each of which showed Mr. Obama ahead by margins ranging from two to four percentage points.

Between Ohio and the other battleground states, Mr. Obama held leads in 11 polls on Friday, against four leads for Mitt Romney’s and two ties. Mr. Romney’s leads came in North Carolina and Florida, two states where the FiveThirtyEight forecast already had him favored.

To the extent that there was a trend in the state polls, it was slightly favorable for Mr. Obama. Among the eight polls that had previously published numbers after the first presidential debate in Denver, Mr. Obama gained about one percentage point, on average.

Mr. Romney made gains in four of the five polls that had last surveyed the race before Denver. Nevertheless, his average gain in the polls – 2.4 percentage points – was less than the 4-point bounce he was seeing in the immediate aftermath of the Denver debate. This suggests that Mr. Romney’s bounce has receded some since his post-Denver peak.

The national polls out on Friday were not terribly newsworthy. Mr. Obama had a miniscule lead of 0.2 points between the eight national tracking polls that were published, reversing an equally small 0.2-point advantage for Mr. Romney in the same surveys on Thursday.

You can see here my thoughts on reconciling the differences between state and national polls. They may be reflective of a potential split outcome between the popular vote and the Electoral College, but there are other plausible hypotheses as well. Specifically, it could be that the national polls slightly underrate Mr. Obama’s position, that the state polls slightly overrate it, or both.

The FiveThirtyEight forecast has Mr. Obama leading the popular vote along with the Electoral College, because it uses both state and national polls to calibrate its estimate of where the vote stands. Also, however, Mr. Obama’s state polls were adjusted slightly downward because his national polls remain middling.

Still, our state-by-state forecasts are extremely similar to those issued by our competitors.

For example,
we had Mr. Obama projected to win Ohio by 2.4 percentage points as of Friday. That compares to a 2.3 percentage-point lead for Mr. Obama in the Real Clear Politics average of Ohio polls, a 2.9-point advantage for him in the Huffington Post Pollster model, and a 2.7-point edge for him according to Talking Points Memo’s Poll Tracker.

How often does a lead of two or three points in the polling average, with 10 days to go until the election, translate into a victory in the state?
This is the sort of question that the FiveThirtyEight forecast is designed to address. But a simpler method is to just look at what happened when candidates held similar advantages in the past.

In the table that follows, I have attempted to recreate a simple polling average for competitive states in past elections, using about the same rules that Real Clear Politics applies.

In particular, I’ve looked at all states in our database in which there were at least three distinct polling firms that conducted surveys in the window between 10 days and three weeks before the election. Like Real Clear Politics, I used only the most recent poll (the one closest to the 10-day cutoff) if the polling firm surveyed the state multiple times during this period. I used the version of the poll among likely voters if it was available, defaulting to registered voter numbers otherwise.

In the table, I’ve listed all cases in which the race was within the single digits in the polling average. If you focus on those cases where a candidate held a lead of two to three percentage points, he won the state in all six out of six cases, although the sample size was small.

Historically, this two- to three-point range has been something of an inflection point. Poll leads of 1.5 percentage points or less have been very tenuous and have not conveyed much advantage.

On the other hand, there was not a single instance in the database where a candidate lost a state when he held a lead of more than 3.5 points in the polling average at this point in time. (Bill Clinton, in 1992, lost Texas despite leading George H.W. Bush there by that margin.)

It is possible to generalize these findings by means of a probit regression model, where the independent variable is the candidate’s lead in the polling average and the dependent one is whether he won or lost the state.

That analysis implies that a lead of 2.4 percent in the polling average (Mr. Obama’s current edge in Ohio in the FiveThirtyEight model) would translate to a win in the state 82 percent of the time. This percentage is similar to, but slightly higher than, the FiveThirtyEight forecast, which gave Mr. Obama a 76 percent chance of winning Ohio as of Friday.

It is important to emphasize that this analysis covers cases in which there were at least three distinct polling firms active in a state; you will find more frequent misses in cases where there were just one or two polls.
In Ohio, however, there are not just three polls: roughly a dozen polling firms, rather, have surveyed the state over the past 10 days.

There are no precedents in the database for a candidate losing with a two- or three-point lead in a state when the polling volume was that rich.
Instead, the biggest upsets in states with at least five polls in the average came in 2000, when George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida, and in 2008, when John McCain beat Mr. Obama in Missouri. Mr. Obama and Mr. Gore had held leads of 1.3 percentage points in the polling averages of those states.
If you look at the actual track record of state polling averages, it may even seem as though the FiveThirtyEight forecast is being conservative in giving Mr. Obama “only” a 76 percent chance of winning Ohio. I do not necessarily think that is the case.

The state-by-state polling averages have performed very well in recent years, but that is not likely to have been the case in, for example, 1980, when Ronald Reagan substantially beat his polls on Election Day. Years like 1980 are not represented very well in the tables above, because there were few states with rich polling that year. But they are considered by the FiveThirtyEight model, which calibrates its estimates of uncertainty based on the performance of state and national polls dating back to 1968.

Still, it is misinformed to refer to Ohio as a toss-up. Mr. Obama is the favorite there, and because of Ohio’s central position in the Electoral College, he is therefore the overall favorite in the election.

Oct. 25: The State of the States

Thursday was a busy day for the polls, with some bright spots for each candidate. But it made clear that Barack Obama maintains a narrow lead in the polling averages in states that would get him to 270 electoral votes. Mr. Obama also remains roughly tied in the polls in two other states, Colorado and Virginia, that could serve as second lines of defense for him if he were to lose a state like Ohio.
The day featured the release of 10 national polls, but there was little in the way of a consistent pattern in them. On average, the polls showed a tied race. Furthermore, among the nine polls that provided for a comparison to another poll conducted after the first presidential debate in Denver, the net result was unchanged, on average, with Mr. Obama gaining one percentage point or more in three polls, but Mr. Romney doing so in three others.

Mr. Obama held the lead in nine polls of battleground states on Thursday, as compared to three leads for Mr. Romney and two polls showing a tied race.

This tally exaggerates the lopsidedness of the polling a bit, since the state polls released on Thursday were something of a Democratic-leaning bunch, some of which had shown strong numbers for Mr. Obama previously.
Mr. Romney’s strongest number came in a Fox News poll of Virginia, which had him 2 points ahead there – a sharp reversal from a 7-point advantage there for Mr. Obama before the Denver debate. However, Mr. Romney’s worst poll of the day was probably also in Virginia, where Public Policy Polling showed Mr. Obama’s lead expanding to 5 points from 2.
Among the 10 polls that provided for a comparison to another poll conducted after the Denver debate, Mr. Obama gained 1 percentage point, on average. The past week of polling suggests that Mr. Romney is no longer improving his position in the race.
Whether Mr. Obama has any momentum of his own, such as because of this week’s debate in Florida, is less clear. To me, it looks more like a gradual reversion to the mean than anything all that assertive.
At the same time, Mr. Obama has led in the polling averages all year in states that would allow him to win the Electoral College, and that remains the case now.
In the chart below, I’ve summarized the current FiveThirtyEight forecasts in a rather comprehensive list of states in which each candidate has at least a 1 percent chance of winning, according to the forecast. The chart also lists the most likely range of popular vote outcomes in each state, enough to cover 90 percent of all possible outcomes.
There is more uncertainty about the outcome in some states – not just because some are closer than others, but also because of a number of other factors that the FiveThirtyEight forecast accounts for in formulating its probabilistic estimates of the potential range of outcomes in each state.
Our research suggests, as intuition might dictate, that the outcome in a state is more certain when there is a higher volume of recent polling there.
In addition, the outcome is more certain when the polls are more consistent with one another. If a candidate leads by almost exactly four points in every poll of a state, that is a more reliable advantage than in a case where some polls have the candidate up by eight points, but others show a tied race – even if these disparate polls show a 4-point lead for him on average.
Finally, some states are more “elastic” than others, meaning that they contain more swing voters. New Hampshire, for instance, is notorious for unreliable polling and for voters making up their mind at the last minute. This is probably not just a coincidence; New Hampshire has a disproportionate number of independent voters, and their preferences are more fickle than those of strong partisans. Thus, holding a small lead in the polling average in New Hampshire will not translate into victory as reliably as in another state like Pennsylvania, which has fewer swing voters and where elections are usually come down to a contest to turn out the respective party bases. The FiveThirtyEight forecast accounts for these properties.
These details aside, it is possible to place the states in to several broad groups.

First come a set of blue-leaning states – Oregon, New Mexico, Minnesota and Michigan – which might theoretically have been competitive but where the campaigns have not spent very many resources. There is little reason, at this point, to expect them to play much of a role in the math on Election Night. If Mr. Romney wins them, or comes within a point or two of doing so, it will probably indicate that he is overperforming his polls across the board and is headed to a clear national victory.
Pennsylvania is somewhat more competitive, but Mr. Obama leads there by about 5 points in the forecast (that was also his margin in a Rasmussen Reports poll of the state on Thursday). With the exception of one strongly G.O.P.-leaning firm, Susquehanna Research, no other polling firm has shown Mr. Romney ahead in the state all year. A 5-point lead in the state with a week and a half to go should translate into a victory for Mr. Obama more than 90 percent of the time, especially in a low-elasticity state like Pennsylvania.
Wisconsin and Nevada come next. While both remain winnable for Mr. Romney, they have featured among the more consistent polling; Mr. Romney has led in just one poll of Nevada since the Denver debate, and none in Wisconsin.
If Mr. Obama wins Wisconsin and Nevada along with the states like Michigan where he seems to have a clearer advantage, he will have 253 electoral votes, putting him 17 votes shy of clinching an Electoral College majority.
Ohio, which has 18 electoral votes, is the state most likely to provide those votes to Mr. Obama. He leads in the FiveThirtyEight forecast by 2.3 percentage points in Ohio, and by a similar margin according to other Web sites that aggregate polls. The forecast gives Mr. Obama about a 75 percent chance of winning Ohio. This figure is, not coincidentally, close to Mr. Obama’s 73 percent overall chance of winning the Electoral College. (Ohio has about a 50-50 chance of providing the decisive Electoral College votes.)
New Hampshire and Iowa have featured less consistent polling than Wisconsin, Nevada or Ohio, and both are high-elasticity states that provide less overall predictability. Mr. Obama has about a two-in-three chance of winning each one, according to the forecast. However, these states alone would not suffice for Mr. Romney to win the Electoral College if he also lost Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin.
Colorado and Virginia appear as though they might be the closest states in an election held today. Mr. Obama arguably has just the slightest edge in Colorado, where three of four polls released on Thursday showed him ahead, and where a fourth showed a tied race – but those polls were a Democratic-leaning group, so it is probably best to view the state as a tossup. The outcome in Virginia, where the polling has been inconsistent all year and was so again on Thursday, is anybody’s guess.
However, the fact that Colorado and Virginia have been the closest states in the polling recently, and that both are fairly essential to Mr. Romney’s path to victory while being more superfluous for Mr. Obama, is evidence that Mr. Obama has an overall advantage in the Electoral College.
The forecast model continues to give a slight edge to Mr. Romney in Florida. There, in contrast to several other swing states, it has been the more methodologically reliable polls that have tended to show a clearer advantage for Mr. Romney. Florida is by no means a sure thing for Mr. Romney — Mr. Obama’s chances of winning it (35 percent) are larger than Mr. Romney’s chances of carrying Ohio (25 percent), according to the forecast. But the polls in Florida have historically done a good job of predicting the result, and it is unlikely to leapfrog several other states and be the Electoral College tipping point on Election Day.
All of this holds doubly for North Carolina, where Mr. Romney leads by about 3 percentage points in the forecast and has about an 80 percent chance of winning.
Beyond North Carolina, there aren’t very many states that Mr. Obama has a realistic chance to win, even if he is having a strong night overall on Nov. 6. Arizona probably provides Mr. Obama his best hope, but the forecast still puts his chances there at only about 3 percent.
It’s important to keep in mind that the potential errors in the polls between different states are partly correlated with one another. That is, if Mr. Romney overperforms his polls on Election Day in a state like Ohio, he is also somewhat more likely to do so in other states like Iowa, especially if they are demographically similar.
The FiveThirtyEight forecast accounts for this property in its overall assessment of the Electoral College, and it is one reason why our forecast gives Mr. Romney slightly better Electoral College chances than other forecast models that might assume more independence in the state polling. However, we may be approaching the point where the state polls will have to be systematically biased toward Mr. Obama in order for Mr. Romney to have strong chances of prevailing on Election Day.